When Adele takes the stage at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, the focus will be on something that sometimes gets overlooked amid the spectacle of the VMAs – her voice.
When we think back on the best VMA performances in recent memory, acts like Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Usher spring immediately to mind with their extravagant sets, backup dancers and otherworldly energy. Don’t get us wrong, these guys sounded great – Beyonce and Gaga are known for their ability to keep up vocally while hitting all the right moves – but we shouldn’t forget to give a little love to the great, stripped-down sets that showcased the performer’s voice above everything else. From Florence + The Machine last year to Pink’s emotional take on “Just Like a Pill” in 2002, some truly great vocal performances have brought down the house at the awards.
Check out our list of the best of the best after the jump.
Pink, “Just Like a Pill” (2002)
Pink’s most memorable VMA performance happened at the 2009 awards when she sang her hit song “Sober” while performing the aerial acrobatics that made her ’09-10 “Funhouse” tour such a huge hit. As always, she sounded awesome (Can you imagine being able to sing like that while dangling from the ceiling in a harass?), but for our money, she delivered her best vocal performance at the 2002 awards, where she sang the emotional rock ballad “Just Like a Pill.” Clad in a revealing black leather ensemble, Pink put everything she had into the performance and she tore the very personal song apart.
Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone” (2005)
Is it really any surprise that the very first winner of the nation’s biggest singing competition delivered one of the strongest vocal performances in VMA history. Accompanied by a massive live band, Clarkson prowled the stage and had the whole room on its feet with her rocking, high-octane take on one of her biggest hits. She even kept it together when rain started to pour down inside the American Airlines Arena in Miami. What a pro!
Christina Aguilera, “Hurt” (2006)
This list would be a sham if we didn’t give a little love to Christina Aguilera. Arguably the voice of her generation, Aguilera sat in front of a full orchestra on an otherwise bare stage for a pitch-perfect take on her ballad “Hurt.” X-tina can tear the roof off of a venue with that powerhouse, multi-octave voice, but her take on “Hurt” at the 2006 awards was more restrained than her usual performance, revealing that she can be as affecting when she reels it in as she is when she lets loose.
Alicia Keys, “No One” / “Freedom” (2007)
At the 2007 VMAs, Alicia Keys showed the world that the only thing she needs to deliver an unstoppable live performance is a microphone. Well, she occasionally took to her piano too, but it wouldn’t be an Alicia Keys performance if she didn’t.
Florence + The Machine, “Dog Days Are Over” (2010)
Florence Welsh began her performance of “Dog Days Are Over” at last year’s VMAs laying on a rotating platform – just her and that otherworldly voice. Gradually, leaping dancers and a clapping choir were revealed, but Florence never got lost in the scene. As the song progressed and her full voice echoed throughout the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, the stage lit up a vibrant pink and a truly great VMA moment was born.