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Madonna, Britney, and Christina’s Kiss Caused a Stir 20 Years Ago—And Things Haven’t Changed

Twenty years ago today, one of the most iconic performances in MTV Video Music Awards history graced our television screens—and went on to cause a worldwide stir. Three of pop music’s top acts, Madonna, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera, hit the main stage together to perform a rendition of Madonna’s songs “Like a Virgin” and “Hollywood.” Madonna was dressed in black, as the “groom,” while Britney and Christina were her bridal babes, with white veils and all. The campy show came to a dramatic finish when the trio shared a steamy three-way kiss, prompting international headlines, a bit of hysteria, and a whole lot of controversy.

Of course, part of what made the moment so iconic (and messy) was the editing: Viewers will likely remember that, after Madonna locked lips with Britney, the camera cut to Justin Timberlake—Britney’x ex—looking very bothered, his eyebrows raised. The scene caused such a commotion, it’s easy to forget that Aguilera was involved at all. (According to Rolling Stone, Aguilera’s team actually tried to have more of her Madonna kiss edited into the footage.) “You wanted to make it fun and semi-chaotic,” former MTV president Van Toffler later said of the clip. “That’s what we did.” (Fun fact: Did you know that Jennifer Lopez was originally supposed to perform with Britney and Madonna?)

Post-VMAs, it didn’t take long for conservative commentators to express their outrage over the “raunchy” and “explicit” display. In a sit-down interview about the performance, Oprah asked Madonna if she was making a political “statement” with the kiss, telling the pop star, “I don’t know if most of America has seen [two girls kiss before.]” Celebrity tabloids speculated about a secret romantic relationship between Britney and Madonna. The homophobia was not subtle; many viewers couldn’t understand the kiss as anything other than a deliberate ploy to corrupt the minds of their children. “It was just a friendly kiss,” Madonna maintained.



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