I can’t wait to sit my future children down and tell them where I was when President Kanye West announced his presidential run. I’ll then reminisce about my MTV memories of Madonna snogging Britney, President West letting Taylor Swift finish and Cher holding Lady Gaga’s meat purse, all courtesy of the Video Music Awards.
The VMAs have been home to the most iconic pop culture moments of our time. The broadcast is more about the events and shock value than the actual awards. I doubt many of us will remember who won the 2015 video of the year in 10 years, but we’ll at least be able to recall that time Miley Cyrus showed her entire left breast to America on live television.
MTV chose Cyrus to be the host for this year’s VMAs and it isn’t hard to see why. She is a modern god when it comes to knowing how to shock and gift the general public with memorable, pop culture events. MTV knows this, of course– they weren’t expecting a mild awards ceremony. Cyrus wasn’t hired to lead in the audience in silent prayer; she was there to piss off middle America and create waves of controversy.
The problem with Cyrus’ brand of shocking behavior is that it often appropriates black culture and uses minority groups as props. In the past, Cyrus has appropriated grills, twerking and, as of last Sunday, dreads, and made them into part of her act in order to seem edgy.
When Cyrus preformed “Blurred Lines” with Robin Thick two years ago, the duo broke Twitter records for most tweets per minute with their erratic behavior. While the performance went down as the defining moment of the 2013 VMAs, it was widely criticized for being overly sexual, promoting rape and using black dancers and little people as props.
There’s no reason for Cyrus to act that way though, especially since she’s proven that she can create a tidal wave of reactions without being insensitive towards other cultures. This past week, Cyrus’ name was splattered everywhere after she showed up to a Jimmy Kimmel interview in glitter nipple pasties, came out as pansexual and posted a topless selfie hours before the show. She knows how to promote herself and get people talking, but she doesn’t know when to stop.
Her nipple free-for-all press tour was interrupted last week after Cyrus told The New York Times that Nicki Minaj was out of line when criticizing the VMAs. Minaj pointed out the lack of diversity in the racial makeup of this year’s VMA nominees and that her “Anaconda” video wasn’t nominated for video of the year, even though it featured the same general content as the previous year’s winner, Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.”
Cyrus said that she didn’t respect Minaj’s argument because of the “anger that came with it.” Regardless of the stereotypical narrative of the angry black woman, it shouldn’t matter if there’s any anger coming from Minaj– she has a right to be angry. Cyrus ruined an opportunity to have a serious talk about racism in her industry. She has no problem jumping on the chance to use black culture in her performances, but when it comes to talking about real issues in the community, she brushes it off.
MTV wasn’t any help in trying to tame Cyrus’ antics. VMA producer Garrett English told Entertainment Weekly prior to the ceremony that Cyrus was given “free rein.” Producers later told Billboard that they were airing the show on a delay because of Cyrus’ potential antics. It made sense that MTV was desperate for a topical show, since ratings have been declining in recent years, but giving someone free rein doesn’t mean that you should excuse cultural insensitivity. Let her show her boob. Let her talk about marijuana all she wants. Just don’t let her go on stage with a dreaded wig.
She should have stuck with showing her boobs to promote the Free the Nipple movement, talking about her passion for marijuana and using queer artists in her surprise performance to garner attention. She would have made headlines and pissed off the Parents Television Council without bringing race into it. But until the media and enough people call out celebrities on their racially insensitive behavior, people like Cyrus won’t face any real repercussions and MTV will continue to reap the rewards of her ignorance. I just pray President Kanye will do something about this insensitive behavior when he takes office in 2020.