Ex-MTV VP says Christina Aguilera’s team asked to have VMA performance re-edited to include Madonna kiss
Justin Timberlake’s salty reaction to ex Britney Spears smooching the Queen of Pop was too juicy to ignore, apparently.
Lester Fabian Brathwaite
The kiss between the two pop goddesses caused quite a stir, but history can be a fickle mistress, especially when MTV is trying to be as messy as humanly possible.
For the 20th anniversary of Madonna’s onstage pas de trois with Spears and Christina Aguilera (and, lest we forget, Missy Elliott), Rolling Stone chatted with the folks behind the scenes, who revealed Team Xtina tried to get the boisterous belter’s rightful place in history restored.
Madonna, Britney, Christina
Britney Spears, Madonna, and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 MTV VMAs
| Credit: Kevin Kane/WireImage
Madonna was given carte blanche for her performance opening the annual MTV Video Music Awards, scheduled for Aug. 28. Two decades earlier, the Material Girl had writhed around the VMA stage in a wedding dress singing “Like a Virgin,” scandalizing the airwaves, and becoming a bona fide star.
For the 2003 VMAs, the living legend decided to pay homage to herself, naturally, and recruited two of the hottest pop stars (and best dancers) of the moment: Spears and Jennifer Lopez, who had to drop out to film the otherwise forgettable Shall We Dance?. When Madonna chose Aguilera to replace J.Lo, the MTV brass nearly had a collective stroke from excitement.
Since hitting the charts in the late ’90s, Spears and Aguilera had been pitted against one another as rivals in the media — and Madonna, Mother of Reinvention and Motha of Controversy, was going to share the stage with them. Once rehearsal footage revealed Her Madgesty would also be kissing both of the erstwhile Mouseketeers, the MTV folks literally high-fived.
However, on the night of the show, the decision to cut away from Aguilera’s kiss with Madonna, which immediately followed Spears’ smooch, was made on the fly by associate director Stefani Cohen.
Timberlake and Spears dated from 1999 to 2002, cementing their celebrity couple status in matching denim at the 2001 American Music Awards. But by 2003, things had soured with the pair, and Timberlake, then free from *NSYNC and embarking on a solo career of his own, released his revenge anthem “Cry Me a River,” with a video featuring a Spears look-a-like.
Once the VMA directors noticed Timberlake in the audience looking ready to shed a tributary of his own, they put Aguilera’s genie back in the bottle and cut away from what should’ve been her also-iconic kiss.
Madonna and Christina Aguilera perform onstage during the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on August 28, 2003 in New York City.
Madonna and Christina Aguilera kiss at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards
| Credit: Scott Gries/Getty
“That caused a little bit of grief coming my way,” Van Toffler, former MTV president, told Rolling Stone. “It didn’t make life easier that night, but you have to make choices in a live show. Sometimes you’re wrong and sometimes you’re right, but I think the beauty of the VMAs was the combustibility. You wanted to make it fun and semi-chaotic. That’s what we did.”
According to Tom Calderone, MTV’s former executive vice president of music and talent, Aguilera’s team asked the network to re-edit the performance for future broadcasts to include her kiss with Madonna, but MTV declined.
Reps for Aguilera did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.
“It was weird,” Aguilera told Andy Cohen in 2018, when asked about being sidelined for Timberlake. “I definitely saw the newspaper the next day and it was like, ‘Oh, well I guess I got left out of that one….'”
Aguilera went on to say that Britney could “have the kiss” since she had her own “kick-ass” solo performance of “Fighter’ that night with Dave Navarro on guitar. But, epic shade aside, perhaps MTV made the right decision. After all, just look at this:
There’s so much going on in this one reaction shot. Timberlake is bopping his head and questioning his life choices. Mary J. Blige is confused and/or unamused. Queer Eye‘s Carson Kressley is getting every inch of his life. It’s a tableau for the ages. This is basically the 2003 version of The Last Supper. Eat it up.