For all of the legends who have won a VMA for Best New Artist — like Nirvana, Lady Gaga, and Eminem — there are also a handful of iconic artists who have lost (pour one out for Madonna, Kanye, and Rihanna). Looking back at the 2008 nominees, for example, the list reads like a murderer’s row: Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and Jordin Sparks were all up for the prize. They would go on to become four of the biggest pop stars of the decade, but on that VMA night 10 years ago, they watched from the crowd as the Best New Artist trophy got handed to a group of goth-punk rockers from Germany: Tokio Hotel.
You probably remember the band as a staple of the mid-aughts emo scene: Think black guyliner, sexy androgyne, and melodramatic song lyrics. On the back of anthems like “Monsoon” and “Ready, Set, Go!”, Tokio Hotel earned legions of fierce fans who were too cool for the Jonas Brothers, and by ’08, they became surprise contenders for the VMAs’ most coveted vote of confidence.
“We were super, super nervous,” singer Bill Kaulitz told MTV News this week about attending their first VMAs. “Now, even looking back and thinking about it, I get back that nervousness. We couldn’t sleep the night before, it was such a big deal.”
It was a huge deal, considering Tokio Hotel were underdogs in the race. Taylor, Katy, Miley, and Jordin all had burgeoning careers in the U.S., and Tokio Hotel were still relatively fresh and unknown in many circles. Bill admits they felt “disoriented” by the U.S., where “everything was new and nerve-wracking,” and that made the VMAs majorly intimidating. But the band had a plan for making a lasting statement: They were told that some artists pull off elaborate entrances for the awards shows (that same year, T-Pain arrived on the back of an elephant), so they hatched a scheme.
“We thought, ‘How can we make ourselves recognizable?'” said guitarist Tom Kaulitz. “Because we knew people were probably going to look at us like, ‘Oh, this is a German band, no one we know.’ So we thought, ‘We have to have a big entry,’ and we decided to have this monster truck printed with our album artwork.”
But despite pulling out all the stops for their attention-demanding arrival, winning an award was the furthest thing from their minds. Bill, for one, was “super nervous” about the prospect of even having to speak on stage, considering his English wasn’t great and the band mostly relied on translators at the time.
“I was like, ‘I can’t be spontaneous!'” Bill explained. “But then everyone was like, ‘No, we’re sure you’re not even gonna win.’ That didn’t even cross our minds, to be honest.”
That changed when, prior to the show, the band filmed a skit with fellow nominee Cyrus and got some surprising intel.
“Her manager talked to our publicist [and said], ‘Did the boys prepare something for tonight?’ And our publicist was like, ‘No, we didn’t prepare anything because I’m sure Miley is gonna win, or Katy,'” Bill said. “And she was like, ‘I don’t know about that! I heard some rumors, you better prepare!’ So our publicist said, ‘Well, maybe we should,’ and I was like, ‘There’s no fucking way, that’s not gonna happen!'”
Just hours later, Lauren Conrad and Gossip Girl heartthrob Chace Crawford took the stage to announce the Best New Artist winner. As soon as they read Tokio Hotel’s name, the band had the exact reaction you’d imagine: total and complete astonishment.
“I think I didn’t even say much, I was so overwhelmed. It was like a weird dream,” Bill remembers about his flustered acceptance speech. “I totally forgot everything I wanted to do. It was such a rush!”
After their big win, the band stayed up for 48 hours straight and “partied the night away” at a bash thrown by their record label. Bill and Tom remember that night super fondly, even though plenty has changed since then. These days, Tokio Hotel’s four original members are still together, and in the decade since the ’08 VMAs, they’ve released three more studio albums, including 2017’s Dream Machine. There was a time, shortly after the VMAs, where Bill admits the band got “burned out,” but they’ve since remedied that by seizing creative control and self-producing their own albums. To hear Bill tell it, “we got a lot more confident.”
And because you’re probably wondering: Yes, the band’s evolution encompasses their style as well — gone are the days of Bill’s gravity-defying mane. The proof is in the pics.
“I looked at the photos at the VMAs and my hair was the most,” Bill laughed. “That was a time when we were the most extreme — like, I totally looked like Cher. And it always took, like, two bottles of hairspray every morning. Yeah, we’ve definitely changed a lot. But I love that we have that history, and I enjoy looking back.”
Though Tom insists the band is “of course” going to bring back beloved hits like “Ready, Set, Go!” on tour someday, they’re firmly focused on the future. In fact, Bill and Tom phoned MTV News from a recording studio in Los Angeles, where they’re plotting their next album — they hope to put out some new music toward the end of this year or the beginning of next year. And as for that Moon Person trophy they won 10 years ago? It’s sitting on a shelf in that very same studio, bringing back a sweet, wild memory as the band embarks on their next chapter.