Miley Cyrus had a nip slip and dropped a surprise album. Jaden Smith was drinking milk in the audience. Justin Bieber cried on stage. And Kanye West announced his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election. The 2015 Video Music Awards were eventful. No one can deny that.
Even with the show itself being full of so many surprises, the most shocking story of the evening began to develop way back in July when the nominees for the Video of the Year award were announced.
“Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj was somehow not nominated, despite amassing 19.6 million views in the first 24 hours after its release. Since then, the video has been viewed over 37 million times. Nicki Minaj immediately took to Twitter to lament her nomination snub.
Minaj believed that her video would have been nominated if she were a “different kind of artist.” i.e., a white one.
She is probably not wrong. Of the past five Video of the Year winners, four have been white. Since 2010, only two out of 27 nominees have been black women.
Minaj was not complaining about her particular video being ignored; she was speaking about a much larger issue: that black artists are largely overlooked in the music industry.
Her point was not initially apparent to everyone. Taylor Swift took her comments as a personal attack at herself and her nominated music video for “Bad Blood” (which is honestly terrible). The two briefly engaged in Twitter warfare, and then Swift came out and publicly apologized. The two artists let it go.
Even if they were willing to bury the hatchet,the press was not done covering their Twitter spat. VMA host Miley Cyrus was asked about Minaj and Swift in an interview with the New York Times and said, “What I read sounded very Nicki Minaj, which, if you know Nicki Minaj is not too kind. It’s not very polite.”
Luckily for Minaj, and perhaps unluckily for Cyrus, “Anaconda” won the VMA for Best Hip Hop Video. After thanking her preacher, Minaj began using her speech as a platform to respond to Cyrus’ comments in The Times. Minaj said, “And now, back to this b*tch who had a lot to say about me the other day in the press: Miley, what’s good?”
Cyrus essentially brushed off Minaj’s comments. She blamed the media for twisting the words in her interview around, and then continued on with the show as if nothing had happened. Her response did hit on one of the biggest issues that women in the music and film industries face.
The media capitalizes on turning women against each other. However, by choosing to answer questions about what happened between Minaj and Swift, Cyrus was undeniably contributing to that phenomena. She could have declined to comment on the Twitter spat. But instead she chose to publicly criticize Minaj for the way that she spoke out against the issue of representation. Cyrus shamed Minaj for not talking about the racism in the music industry with more “openness and love.”
It will never be Cyrus’ job to tell a black woman how to talk about racism. Especially not with her long history of cultural appropriation. Miley Cyrus does not get a say in how people of color choose to speak about racism. Was it entirely appropriate for Minaj to call Cyrus out on live TV? Maybe, or maybe not. Even if not, I cannot really see a scenario where Cyrus is not in the wrong.