By Devin Riggs, Regular ContributorAugust 6, 2015
If you haven’t heard about the latest drama from MTV’s Video Music Awards, I would be shocked and simultaneously unsurprised. If you’ve been anywhere on the internet in the last two weeks you’ve at least seen Nicki Minaj’s twitter comments in response to the nominations and Taylor Swift’s reaction mentioned, but for a lot of people it seems to be a frivolous misunderstanding between two female music artists over an award. I mean there are a lot more important things going on in the world than who got snubbed by MTV and who didn’t, right?
Except that’s simplifying the situation.
This may, on the surface, look like just another childish and ridiculous controversy that we’ll laugh about in the years to come, but its roots are based in something fundamentally wrong with the music industry, its artists, and the media.
image via all4women.co.za
Nicki’s main message was that black women in the music industry have a profound effect on pop culture, but they don’t get recognized for it nearly as much as white women. Her video for “Anaconda” broke the record for number of youtube views in the first 24 hours last year (previously held by Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” which also won Video of the Year) and sparked a cultural phenomenon. That’s what Video of the Year is about- impact. Nicki points out the impact her video made and states that if she were a “different kind of artist” it would have been nominated. Artists like Cyrus are doing very similar things in their art as Minaj, but they are getting recognized and she is not.
Some argued that Beyonce’s presence in the top category for which Nicki was snubbed negates her point that MTV mainly celebrates white slim bodied women. But it’s not just about this one time. Nicki is not just talking about this one recognition. It’s about the consistent lack of representation for minorities, especially women of color. It’s about the cultural appropriation from white women who get recognized for their work and the industry ignoring the influence women of color have on music culture as a whole.
Taylor Swift’s knee jerk reaction was that Minaj was singling her out as the problem. She is the only current nominee that fits the description Minaj gave. “Bad Blood” stars many of Swift’s famous friends (most of whom are slim bodied white models and actresses) and was nominated for Video of the Year. While it would be easy to assume she was the target, especially thanks to the media immediately spinning the interaction into a feud casting Swift as the victim and Minaj as the aggressor, the target was the system who holds up artists like Swift while artists like Minaj continuously feel slighted regardless of the impact of their work.
The system works for artists like Swift. The system supports Swift more than it supports Minaj. And while Swift works very hard for her art and for its right to be recognized, she doesn’t have to work as hard as Minaj does.
Swift missed her opportunity to show solidarity with another female artist and take on an unequal system like she so readily takes on an archrival in her video.
Instead, she condescended to give Minaj a consolation prize by welcoming her on stage if and when she wins. For all her talk about women supporting other women, one would hope (like Minaj commented) that Swift would speak on the issue as an ally to Minaj’s allegations of the system instead of turning the spotlight on herself.
Minaj’s points were overshadowed (and duly proven) by Swift’s involvement. Swift missed the point (though later apologized). Jokes were made at both these women’s expense. The only winner is the system that continually pits artists, especially women, against each other in an unequal playing field that only some are even fully aware actually exists and even fewer speak out against.
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