Back in July, when MTV announced the nominations for the 2015 Video Music Awards, we described them in the following terms:
The annual Video Music Awards (whose 2015 nominees were announced on Monday), once recognized as a go-to for recognizing achievement in the artform MTV popularized, have devolved into a celebrity-buzz-on-celebrity-buzz television and social media clusterfuck that can’t seem to decide whether it wants to empower art or devalue it, reflect popular taste or define it, or whether or not it’s even culturally relevant. Chalk it up to MTV’s youth-centric audience, which is maybe less likely to think about an award show’s “meaning,” but the VMAs seem like a decontexutalized vomit of everything good and bad going on in music culture today, with very little in between.
That’s still about the best way we can describe last night’s spectacle. We won’t recap all of the insane things that went down, mainly because other blogs already did it, but there were a few noteworthy moments, both good and bad, that caught our eye:
- The Weeknd crushed a performance of “Can’t Feel My Face” before starring in two Beats 1 commercials, one of which featured John Travolta, because why not?
- Host Miley Cyrus histrionically and constantly used racism and appropriation to stir up artifical controversy, which former Colorlines reporter Jamilah King broke down at Mic.
- Australian actress Rebel Wilson, who (like Cyrus) has been a sort of poster girl for body positivity and ribald stereotype-shattering, straight up mocked Black Lives Matter with a tone-deaf joke that fell flat:
If you thought this was funny your an ignorant insensitive ass and the reason why it’s hard to fight for anything anymore lost lives are not a joke and police brutality is an on going problem people are afraid of everyday and face all the time no it’s not just a joke it’s insensitive to lives lost , their families and anyone fighting against real injustice . Bye. #rebelwilson #vmas #blacklivesmatter #policebrutality
A video posted by Mariah |(@m.whizzle) on Aug 30, 2015 at 7:27pm PDT
- Nicki Minaj accepted an award presented by Wilson—after an electric opening performance where Minaj and Taylor Swift seemingly buried the hatchet—and seemingly did not care about Wilson’s bit while calling out Miley Cyrus for weighing in against her on the previous Swift-Minaj “beef.”
- Miguel Instagramed everybody’s feelings by mid-show:
A photo posted by Miguel (@miguel) on Aug 30, 2015 at 6:24pm PDT
- Big Sean received the Video with a Social Message VMA for “One Man Can Change The World” (feat. Kanye West and John Legend) and delivered touching remarks about West and his civic leader grandmother who inspired the song.
- A$AP Rocky played with Travis Barker and Fred Durs— Oh, wait…that’s Twenty One Pilots. Sorry. Thought nu metal was back for a sec.
All of this could have made for a grand waste of time and energy punctuated by some slightly cool or heartwarming moments, but for Kanye West’s Video Vanguard Award acceptance speech.
The remarks were typical Kanye: dramatic, wandering and making sense in bits and pieces. But the underlying messages inherent in his statements did much to underwrite the cynical ratings-mongering and fake conflict-manufacturing that MTV and much of mainstream media likes to do. The whole speech can be read here, but here are a few of the best quotes:
I still don’t understand award shows. I don’t understand how they get five people who worked their entire life … sold records, sold concert tickets to come stand on the carpet and for the first time in they life be judged on the chopping block and have the opportunity to be considered a loser! I don’t understand it, bruh!
I will die for the art! For what I believe in. And the art ain’t always gonna be polite! Y’all might be thinking right now, ‘Did he smoke something before he came out here?’ The answer is yes, I rolled up a little something. I knocked the edge off!
If my grandfather was here right now he would not let me back down! I don’t know I’m fittin’ to lose after this. It don’t matter though, cuz it ain’t about me. It’s about ideas, bro. New ideas. People with ideas. People who believe in truth. And yes, as you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president.”
And just like that, one of pop culture’s most prominent content makers sent up the reasons why none of these things are supposed to matter—right as they gave him the best platform and only real or meaningful honor they can offer. While nobody knows if that presidential run will be reality, Kanye has once again disrupted the fabric on which pop culture stands and made us wonder about the viability of it all.
Did we miss your favorite/worst/most-WTF VMA moment? Let us know in the comments!