MTV has had a big influence on the careers of numerous artists, but there are some artists who’ve had heavy exposure on MTV but have never performed at the network’s biggest event—the MTV Video Music Awards. Here are the top five R&B/hip-hop artists who were MTV darlings but who never performed at the MTV VMAs.
5. New Edition/Bell Biv DeVoe
Years before New Kids on the Block became a sensation on MTV, New Edition broke barriers by being one of the first R&B groups to get heavy MTV rotation, thanks to videos like 1984’s “Cool It Now” and “Mr. Telephone Man.” New Edition members Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe formed the spinoff trio Bell Biv DeVoe, whose 1990 videos “Poison” and “Do Me!” were even bigger MTV hits. New Edition also continued to have hits for most of the 1980s. Bobby Brown left New Edition in 1986, and started a successful solo career, although he would be in and out of New Edition over the years. Brown has performed on the MTV VMAs multiple times as a solo artist, but neither New Edition nor Bell Biv DeVoe has performed at the MTV VMAs.
4. The Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls, was one of MTV’s most popular rappers of the 1990s (his videos won two VMAs in that decade), but he never performed at the MTV VMAs. His only appearance on the show was in 1995 when he and Bill Bellamy co-presented the award for Best Dance Video, which went to Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson’s “Scream.” It was one of the few times that Michael Jackson appeared on the MTV VMA stage and it was a rare moment that Michael and Janet were on stage together after their huge success as solo artists. The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in a drive-by shooting in 1997, and the MTV VMAs had multiple tributes to him after that, most notably when Sean Combs (also known as Puff Daddy), Sting, Faith Evans and 112 performed “I’ll Be Missing You” at the 1997 VMAs.
3. Tupac Shakur
It might be difficult for some people to believe in an era where hip-hop culture is huge with MTV, but Tupac Shakur (also known as 2Pac)—one of the most influential rappers of all time—never won an MTV VMA and never performed on the show. Shakur, who was a four-time MTV VMA nominee, did appear with Snoop Dogg at the 1996 MTV VMAs to co-present the award for Best Hard Rock Video. Sadly, it was the last award show that Shakur attended. He was murdered three days later in a drive-by shooting.
2. Destiny’s Child
Destiny’s Child’s massive success was due in large part to MTV exposure, but a lot of people may not know that the group that launched Beyoncé’s solo career never performed at the MTV VMAs. (Beyoncé has performed and won awards on the VMAs several times as a solo artist.) Destiny’s Child attended the VMAs three times—in 2000, 2001 and 2005—as presenters. In 2000, Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” won for Best R&B Video. The following year, the group won the same award for “Survivor.” Destiny’s Child amicably disbanded in 2006, and has chosen bigger events (such as the 2013 Super Bowl and the 2018 Coachella Festival) to perform one-off reunion shows.
1. Will Smith
Will Smith’s rap career took off in the late ‘80s, when MTV was starting to embrace hip-hop. And even though his music videos were extremely popular on MTV in the 1990s (he won all four of his MTV VMAs in that decade), Smith has not yet performed on the show. Smith did perform “Wild Wild West” at the MTV Movie Awards in 1999, but he hasn’t been a performer at the MTV VMAs, even though he has attended the show as a presenter (in 1988 and 1991) and as a member of the audience in 2013. Considering that Smith hasn’t put out a new album in years because he’s been focused on his work as an actor and a producer, it’s unknown if Smith will ever perform on the MTV VMA stage.