I’ve been thinking a lot about the VMAs. Before I dive in, here’s a list of cultural critiques of the event written by women of color. Please read them before continuing.
- Solidarity is For Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of her VMA Performance – Cate Young
- What We Can All Learn From Nicki Minaj Schooling Miley Cyrus on Tone Policing – Maisha Z. Johnson
- “Feminism, What’s Good?”: On Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj and “The Trouble Between Us” – The Sneakerhead Scholar
There’s a lot going on here, and I’m late to the game. Miley’s pick n’ mix brand of appropriation, the lackluster performances, and Yeezy’s campaign announcement.
Oh. And this gem.
The scorn. That ruthless sneer-to-smile. The subtext: “Say it to my face.”
Why was that so inspiring?
I mean, shouldn’t women be working to lift one another up, instead of fighting over awards? Women should love each other. Women should smile.
Let’s let go of “should” for a moment.
First, acknowledge that Nicki’s anger is rooted in legitimate personal knowledge that the Miley Cyruses and Taylor Swifts of the industry will never have to experience. As a black female artist, there’s a second glass ceiling to shatter. There’s pain and discrimination that white artists and audiences, myself included, can never fully comprehend.
Second, let’s take a look at the way white celebrities try on and discard culture like a series of halloween costumes.
The visual language of appropriation likens the image of race to desirable traits. But without the information behind the aesthetic the result is toxic. Ethnic iconography is influenced by cultural structures that cannot be learned online. This includes societal expectations, history, family schemas, genetic heredity, and social behavior. Additionally, it can be argued that culture is shaped by the adversity it faces. This is what makes Cyrus’ appropriative habits so complicated. The sharing of culture is special, but when those benefiting from the cultural exchange fail to advocate for, and outright dismiss, those they emulate… it crosses the line from appreciative to oppressive.
The beef in question began when Anaconda went unnominated for video of the year. Minaj tweeted the following:
It seems plain that the rap savant was commenting on the systemic racism within the music industry, that the VMA’s historically underrepresent POC despite the massive impact they have on culture.
Yet the message was lost on nominee Taylor Swift, who responded:
And Nicki followed up.
Pop culture consumers polarized. The media pounced, painting Minaj as the instigator, as the tired but profitable trope of the “Angry Black Woman,” and Swift as a pristine innocent. Ironic, considering this was the exact brand of racism Minaj originally criticized in her tweets.
A day passed, and Taylor graciously apologized. A month later, they’d sing on stage together, decked in red. Problem solved?
Two weeks later, an eon in viral-time, Cyrus weighed in on the late twitter beef in an interview with the New York Times.
What did you make of the Nicki Minaj controversy around the V.M.A.s — that she was upset “Anaconda” wasn’t nominated for Video of the Year?
I saw that. I didn’t really get into it. I know there was some beef. I don’t really know. There’s a way to talk to people …
Do you know what she said?
She was saying that everyone was white and blonde that got nominated, I heard? And then Taylor Swift butted in.
She may have alluded to “Wrecking Ball” also, saying that when a naked white girl breaks a Vevo record she gets nominated.
I didn’t follow it. You know what I always say? Not that this is jealousy, but jealousy does the opposite of what you want it to — that’s a yoga mantra. People forget that the choices that they make and how they treat people in life affect you in a really big way. If you do things with an open heart and you come at things with love, you would be heard and I would respect your statement. But I don’t respect your statement because of the anger that came with it.
And it’s not anger like, “Guys, I’m frustrated about some things that are a bigger issue.”
You made it about you. Not to sound like a bitch, but that’s like, “Eh, I didn’t get my V.M.A.”
But she was ——
If you want to make it about race, there’s a way you could do that. But don’t make it just about yourself. Say: “This is the reason why I think it’s important to be nominated. There’s girls everywhere with this body type.”
I think she did say that ——
What I read sounded very Nicki Minaj, which, if you know Nicki Minaj is not too kind. It’s not very polite. I think there’s a way you speak to people with openness and love. You don’t have to start this pop star against pop star war. It became Nicki Minaj and Taylor in a fight, so now the story isn’t even on what you wanted it to be about. Now you’ve just given E! News “Catfight! Taylor and Nicki Go at It.”
I know you can make it seem like, Oh I just don’t understand because I’m a white pop star. I know the statistics. I know what’s going on in the world. But to be honest, I don’t think MTV did that on purpose.
Perhaps it was all scripted. Award shows benefit from controversy, and MTV is getting their money’s worth with the surreality of the 2015 VMAs. But if Miley knows the “issues” as well as she claims, why doesn’t she recognize the validity of Nicki’s arguments? Instead of casting her in the “not very polite” role of the Angry Black Woman (just like the white media in question), why hasn’t she acknowledged her privilege and her part in the discourse? For her contribution to the issues?
And that’s what was so powerful about watching Nicki, dripping in gold, calling the living daylights out of Miley Cyrus. “You wanna speak my language? Let’s talk!”