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The 2015 MTV Video Music Awards was a compilation of ill-timed sexual jokes and a blatant ignorance of the social issues surrounding music today, with a dash of racism and overall incompetence by the beloved host.
I sat on my couch after the two and a half hour award show wondering what I’d just watched, wondering how to wrap my head around that many weed jokes and cringing moments. In the end, I still can’t.
While the VMAs, like all things, were nuanced in both their positive and negative aspects, it would be ineffectual to try and cover everything at once. Instead, here are two important things we should be talking about.
One: Kanye Running for President
At the VMAs Kanye West was presented the Vanguard Award (Lifetime Achievement). He then proceeded to give an eleven minute, unrehearsed speech speaking on how he treated fellow artist Taylor Swift at a past VMAs (getting up on stage and taking the mic from her, saying Beyonce deserved the award more than she did) as well as his own life now. He challenged pop culture, calling out MTV specifically, and spoke on how artists should “focus on how they feel in the moment”. He spoke about how he feels about award shows, a bold move considering he was at an award show. He ended the speech with the announcement that he would be running for president.
My Facebook after the rapper’s declaration blew up with #Kanye2020 and other related jokes. I did it too. I was caught up in the hype, I felt much of his speech was very well done and it really hit me. I went along with it, whether it was real or a joke.
A very influential person from my high school, someone that I admire dearly, called me out. They said that Kanye was anti-poor, anti-women, anti-black, and for those reasons he would make an “amazing president”. I was at a loss.
I was at a loss because they were right. I have a few Kanye songs in my iTunes, I’ve heard him spit lines such as, “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower”. I’ve seen the way he acts and treats people, especially women. Just because he is not an outright asshole like many believed he was due to his infamous VMAs moment with Taylor Swift, doesn’t mean he is not incredibly problematic.
And people went along with the idea of a Kanye campaign. Some college student started backing his campaign, many of my friends posted that they would vote for him. Hell, I posted that I would vote for him before my friend reminded me of exactly what that would entail.
Many people on my Twitter feed posted that Nicki Minaj should be Vice President, and a few volunteered Taylor Swift as Secretary of State. What does this say about us? That we want celebrities, most of which have a manufactured image to sell their music, to run our country? Is our government that much of a joke? Would you really want Taylor Swift in that kind of position of power?
There were many parts of Kanye’s speech that were amazing; he literally called out the VMAs, and MTV as a whole, while standing on their stage and broadcasting on their network. He apologized for his problematic behavior in the past. But he either ended it with a joke, which would undermine his speech, or he ended it with a serious announcement, which none of us really want.
Two: Miley Cyrus
My mom said to me that Miley Cyrus could be a great host, she has the ability and the talent to keep a show running. But she “keeps talking about sex and showing her boobs”. This is partly accurate. The singer wore a plethora of revealing outfits, made sexual jokes while artist Justin Bieber cried on stage after his performance, and it felt as if every other sentence out of her mouth had to do with drugs (specifically, marijuana).
I wanted to back Miley Cyrus. For months I’ve been saying that I wanted her to be my queer trans voice in the public eye, that she had an opportunity to really help the queer community.
Now, I’d rather her just stay away.
She walked out onto the stage wearing some, if I’m frank, nasty ass fake dreads. She even changed them into different colors throughout the show, adding another level I didn’t think could be reached. She said “mammy”, a racially charged word that was used to show the “benefits” of slavery in the past. She continues to flaunt her arrogance on race as a fashion trend.
Cyrus makes everything as outrageous as she can, therefore, perhaps unknowingly, pushing out things that actually matter.
There are artists out there, artists in that very room, that are working towards something bigger than them. They are trying to change the industry, trying to make the world a better place, as cliché as that may be, for themselves and for others.
Nicki Minaj is the prime example. She was snubbed for video of the year and took to Twitter with her frustrations. Taylor Swift, who got a nomination (and, ultimately, the win) fired back at her, obviously unclear that Nicki was upset at the VMAs, not the nominees. The fight was resolved, the two making up in a few days time.
She was right to be angry about not being nominated for Video of the Year. Anaconda was revolutionary in a sense; not only was it a feminist work, it permeated the pop culture sphere for months. She has a right to be angry. We should all be angry.
Cyrus stated that Minaj shouldn’t talk with so much hate, that if she was nicer about it Cyrus would listen. She, frankly, tone policed Minaj to a media that was already more than willing to make Minaj out to be an “angry black woman”.
Then, Cyrus has the guts to go out on stage half naked with her tongue out. I’m not saying this in itself is a bad thing; women should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies. But Cyrus, the Queen of Crude, the Goddess of Uncomfortable, the Leader of Impolite, said that Minaj should be “nicer”.
Does that make sense to anyone else?
Tone policing is nothing new to black women. They are always told that if they spoke kindly, if they were more forgiving, calm, etc they would get what they wanted. This is a blatant lie. Why shouldn’t Minaj be angry? Why shouldn’t she yell at Cyrus on live television? What has being nice gotten her? Any of them?
Cyrus closed the show with a huge performance and I just wanted it to end. Whether she meant to or not, it felt like a mockery of what the bigger picture is: skinny white girls can do whatever they want and black people have to fit certain categories, watch what they say, and always be nice and polite. Cyrus can make Jimmy Kimmel uncomfortable with her breasts but Minaj is not allowed to make people uncomfortable with her words. Got it.
I believe that Cyrus is trying to help the music industry, but purely for her own benefit. For every good thing she does for the LGBT community, for every time she puts people in their place for shaming women’s bodies, she pushes the movement back by silencing minority voices with her white priviledge.
Will I watch the VMAs again? Yes. There were good parts to the show; Kanye’s speech inspired me, Nicki’s dress made my eyes fall out of my head, my favorite band won Best Rock Music Video (which wasn’t even televised… but that’s another matter).
Will I ever back Miley Cyrus again? Not unless she does an entire image and personality rehaul, which, at this point, is wishful thinking.