Ex-MTV Boss Says Christina Aguilera’s Team Asked Him to Re-Edit Her Into Madonna-Britney Spears VMA Triple-Kiss – Billboard

It’s the most famous triple same-sex kiss in MTV Video Music Awards history. But chances are you only remember two-thirds of it, despite reported efforts from Christina Aguilera‘s team to re-re-write the narrative to correct what they saw as the most egregious cut-away in pop history.

In a new Rolling Stone story looking back at the 2003 MTV VMAs that opened with a surprise appearance from OG MTV star Madonna, former MTV president Van Toffler broke down his decision to kick off the broadcast with a call-back to the “Like a Virgin” singer’s legendary 1984 performance on the first VMAs.

“I don’t have to encourage Madonna to go over-the-top,” Toffler told the magazine on the 20th anniversary of the kiss-heard-’round-the-world. “That’s in her DNA. We were just saying, ‘We’re gonna give you a lot of real estate. It’s a big moment.’ We talked about guest performers.”

And, as usual, Madonna delivered by kissing her pop progeny, Britney Spears and Aguilera, on the mouth in a bit that whipped up a media frenzy at a time before such awards show provocations became commonplace.

But what most people remember is the Britney and Madonna part, and then the camera cutting away to Britney’s ex, Justin Timberlake, who seemed unsettled by the provocative performance piece.

According to RS, behind the scenes, Aguilera’s team was upset with the cutaway, with Toffler saying it “caused a little bit of grief coming my way… 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.”

Former MTV executive vice president Tom Calderone told RS that Aguilera’s team asked MTV to re-edit the performance for future re-broadcasts to include the Aguilera lip lock, a request the network did not comply with. A spokesperson for Aguilera had no comment on the report and RS said the singer declined to respond to their story.

Aguilera — who is no longer represented by anyone from her team at the time of the kiss — said the cut-away was “weird” in a 2018 interview with Andy Cohen. “You know, why they cut away for it… to get Justin’s reaction,” she said, noting that Brit and Justin were exes at the time and calling the edit a “cheap shot.” When Cohen noted that some people might not have realized Xtina was a part of the kiss, she said she definitely saw headlines the next day and her reaction was, “‘Oh well, I guess I got left out of that.’” The RS story does not touch on whether Aguilera was aware at the time that her team had made the re-cut request.

(You can see a rehearsal of the performance, without the Timberlake edit, here.)

The piece also noted that before the broadcast, Toffler and his team originally heard that Madonna had recruited Spears and Missy Elliott — who extended the performance with a run through her song “Work It” — as well as Jennifer Lopez, who was riding high at the time thanks to her hits “Jenny From the Block” and “All I Have.” Lopez, however, had to drop out because she’d committed to shoot the movie Shall We Dance? that summer.

According to the story, Madonna chose Spears and Lopez because of their dancing ability, but subbing in Aguilera added the extra layer of intrigue the VMAs have become notorious for thanks to her media-whipped teen pop rivalry with fellow ex All-New Mickey Mouse Club alum Spears.

RS reported that Madonna — always a cunning narrative mastermind — wanted as few people as possible to know her plans for the performance that would open with “Like a Virgin” and feature Spears and Aguilera standing astride a giant hydraulic wedding cake from which Madonna would later emerge. The plan was to switch to Madge’s then-new single, “Hollywood,” then throw to Elliott and end with a reprise of “Hollywood.”

The limited view of rehearsals that MTV execs got seemed mostly like the global superstar putting her charges through their paces, until two weeks before air when VMAs director Beth McCarthy-Miller called Toffler to let him know what to expect. “’You’re not going to be able to tell anyone, but I think this is going to make you happy,’” Toffler remembered her saying. “‘Madonna kisses Britney and Christina.’” 

Embracing the kind of viral moment that MTV relished long before there was a name for it, the MTV team reportedly broke out in triumphant high-fives at what they knew would be a one-of-a-kind TV segment. With Aguilera and Spears dressed as veiled brides singing “Like a Virgin” and rolling on the ground, Madonna emerged in shiny black coattails and top hat as their “groom,” with producers sprinkling in quick looks at audience members in real time.

There was Beyoncé smiling and clapping, Avril Lavigne and Kelly Osborne looking bored, Madonna’s then-husband director Guy Ritchie giving a standing ovation, as well as shots of Eminem and 50 Cent and the original Queer Eye For the Straight Guy cast freaking out. Most importantly, they made sure to include a shot of Timberlake, who raised a playful eyebrow at the site of the three on stage dancing sensually.

But 30 seconds later, after Madonna took off Aguilera’s garter and locked lips with Spears, associate director Stefani Cohen cut away from Aguilera’s kiss to focus on Timberlake again, who this time had a seemingly annoyed expression on his face. It was a split-second editing decision that the story says was a “no-brainer” considering that Timberlake had cast Britney look-alike in his shade-throwing “Cry Me a River” video a year earlier in the wake of their split

“It’s just quintessential Madonna,” Toffler said of the classic MTV awards show stunt. “You give Madonna the germ of an idea or just the real estate, and she’s going to take it. She had a history of pushing us and pushing culture, and that’s what was great about her and what was great about MTV. We pushed culture in provocative ways.” 

Watch the TV version of the kiss here.

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