There was her debut classroom performance of “…Baby One More Time” in 1999. Then just one year later she did a sparkling striptease to “Oops! …I Did It Again.” There was that infamous Madonna kiss in 2003, and the even more infamous comeback performance of “Gimme More” in 2007. Plus, her return in 2008 to sweep the Moonmen for Video of the Year, Best Female Video and Best Pop Video – all for the perfection that is “Piece of Me.” And of course, the triumph of being honored with the Video Vanguard Award in 2011.
But there’s no more iconic performance than when Spears took the stage in 2001 to blow the audience away with “I’m a Slave 4 U.” You know, the one with the python. The tigers. The choreography.
It may be hard to believe, but that perfect moment in pop culture history turns 20 this year — on Sept. 6, to be precise. To mark the (actually unbelievable) milestone, we’ve rounded up five wild facts about Spears’ most exceptional moment on the VMAs stage.
PETA Asked Britney Not to Use a Live Animal Onstage Before the Show
To no one’s surprise, Brit’s performance caused controversy before she ever even took the stage at Lincoln Center. When PETA caught wind that the pop star was planning on showcasing live animals during the jungle-themed number, the controversial animal rights organization publicly sent her a letter asking her to reconsider the decision.
“We asked her not to do it because the animals-under the bright lights, and with all the noise and just the training that goes into making these cats behave-is stressful for them, but also very cruel, so we asked her to not have the animals onstage,” said PETA spokesperson Jenny Woods at the time.
Surely, PETA was less than thrilled to see Britney kick off the iconic performance sharing a rotating cage with a giant cat and its handler. But more on that in a moment…
Britney Actually Had a Fear of Snakes at the Time
Britney’s performance is best remembered for one indelible image: a giant albino Burmese python draped over her shoulders as she writhes around stage to the song’s iconic chorus. However, it wasn’t until 15 years later — while promoting 2016’s Glory — that she revealed she actually has a fear of snakes!
“I think it was great but I wouldn’t do that now. Never. I’m totally scared of snakes but I was completely fearless,” she admitted in an interview with BBC Radio 1’s Scott Mills while performing in London at what would be the final Apple Music Festival in September 2016. “It was cool … I was [scared of snakes back then], but I was just so excited that I was like, ‘Whatever!”
And that’s not all: a couple months earlier, she flat-out called the decision to perform with the snake “so dumb.”
“It’s insane! Why did I do that?” she said to E! News on the set of her music video for Glory lead single “Make Me.” “Hell no! It’s so dumb. No! Never!”
Banana the Python Didn’t Have a Name Before the Show
While she didn’t appear around the pop princess’ neck until the track’s second pre-chorus, Banana the python became an overnight sensation thanks to her big moment on the VMAs stage. But guess what? She was actually nameless before her big break! In fact, according to the snake’s handler, Britney herself named the python Banana after her albino yellow color.
“She seemed like she was a really hard worker and very determined,” Hano told MTV News in 2016 of watching the pop phenom during rehearsals for the show. “She was scared of snakes, and this thing was right around her neck, and she had to dance with it on live television in front of millions of people. I remember when I got there, there was a whole bunch of people on the stage, and they’re all rehearsing. And even when the director told them to take five, she kept practicing her steps.”
See? It’s really true that everyone Britney’s ever crossed paths with on the job has nothing but good things to say about the pop star, and surely Banana — who’s reportedly grown to more than 100 pounds and 15 feet by now — would agree.
The Performance Had a Secret ‘Tiger King’ Connection
Remember when everyone was obsessing over Tiger King in 2020? What a weird time that was. But the exploitative Netflix doc that introduced all of us to Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin and the like also dusted off a piece of pop culture history: Doc Antle, one of the rival big cat zoo operators, actually shared the stage with Britney as a tiger handler!
During the performance, the self-proclaimed conservationist otherwise known as Mahamayavi Bhagavan Antle could be seen tending to the giant tiger caged in the back of the stage. In fact, after Tiger King became the topic of virtual water cooler discussions the world over, photographic evidence even surfaced online of Antle posing behind Britney in her iconic green and turquoise belly dancing ensemble.
Britney’s Costume Was Designed by the Duo Behind Her Most Iconic Looks
Speaking of Britney’s unforgettable outfit, the number was crafted by designers Kurt and Bart, who created numerous iconic looks for the pop star over the years, including costumes from the music videos for “Overprotected,” “Boys,” “Me Against the Music” and “Toxic,” as well as the Dream Within a Dream and Onyx Hotel Tours. (And yes, in case you were wondering, they were also responsible for the scandalous decision to put panties over Britney’s jeans in the official “I’m a Slave 4 U” video, too.)
The fashion design team would go on to create costumes for the last two films in a little movie franchise called The Hunger Games. (That’s Mockingjay – Part 1 & Mockingjay – Part 2 for those keeping track at home.)
As for where Britney’s VMAs outfit ended up? Last we can tell, the ensemble hit eBay back in 2017, years after the singer auctioned several of her costumes off in 2003. At the time, the highest bid for the look was just under $100,000. You want Brit’s VMAs costume? You better work, b—h!