6 Times the 2015 VMAs Failed Women, People of Color and Queer Folks

mtv-video-awards-2015-imageEvery year after watching the MTV Video Music Awards, I feel like I’ve experienced something I won’t be able to unsee. Even though I never really remember anything for its artistic brilliance, I am always awestruck at how brilliantly the show seems to capture the worst parts of young America. Sunday night’s VMAs were no different. And, in case you don’t plan on watching for yourself, I have compiled a list of the most egregious instances of disrespect, marginalization, exclusion, antagonism, and hatred for your convenience. Enjoy.

1. Miley Called Snoop Dogg her “Mammy”

Yes, you read that correctly. Miley Cyrus, in a weed-induced hallucinogenic skit, called Snoop Dogg her “real Mammy.” But only after he used the term himself. So, you know, it’s OK and stuff.

In reality, Miley really does refer to her grandmother as Mammy, and this has been documented for years. But how is it that no one at MTV, home of the Look Different campaign whose main goal is to help “erase the hidden racial, gender, and anti-LGBT bias all around us”, thought that the use of such a derogatory term for African Americans would be OK? My guess? They didn’t care.

2. Nicki Minaj was the only Black woman honored (or really seen) at the awards show

Ms. Minaj opened the show with a Carnivale themed performance (with surprise collaborator Taylor Swift) and checked Miley Cyrus’ chin at the end of her acceptance speech for Best Hip Hop video. But, she was the only Black woman with any real presence in the show. Serayah McNeill from Empire showed up to hand out the Video With A Message award, but even her attendance was mostly predicated on being besties with Taylor Swift. And how sad is it that the only Black women that stepped foot on that stage (one the biggest female rapper in the world and the other a star of the biggest television show on air) were more defined by their relationships with White women than anything else?

3. Tyga’s predatory behavior was valorized

Tyga, the oddly named rapper that somehow banked an MTV show, was a target of much buzz during the telecast as he escorted his date, the newly “legal” Kylie Jenner, to the show. Since she recently turned 18, they can now call themselves a couple instead of just close friends and release steamy music videos, even though the truth has been obvious all along.

But beyond the coverage their relationship created, Tyga was also spotlighted in a Miley Cyrus skit that hung on rapper stereotypes such as frequent court dates and weed smoking. Somehow, MTV saw fit to further thrust this suspected statutory rapist into the limelight. Clearly celebrity wins out over clear misconduct, destructive behavior, and lawlessness.

4. Rebel Wilson “joked” about police brutality

#BlackLivesMatter can’t catch a break. In the face of the #AllLivesMatter looking to undermine everything the movement stands for, Rebel Wilson thought the VMA stage was the perfect opportunity to make light of people who regularly struggle with police violence and marginalizing law enforcement. A lot of things are funny, but lives needlessly lost to the actions reckless officers whose duty is to serve and protect citizens is not one of them. And relating the issue to police strippers is just outright demeaning.

Activist Deray McKesson said it best:


5. Pharrell “New Black” Williams showcased his colorblind “Freedom” song

Pharrell has quickly become one of White America’s favorite Black caricatures. He makes songs like “Happy”, he wears those obnoxiously sized hats, and he is “New Black.” He’s tired of that whole “structural racism limits my chances and ability to achieve positive life outcomes” story, and thinks that “it’s not a pigmentation; it’s a mentality”. And now, he went and made a song to elucidate his feelings.

“Freedom” sounds like a song we can all get behind, but in listening to the lyrics, it’s clear message is that you can have freedom if you just say so. If only it were that easy.

Our Editor-in-Chief summed up the song as neatly and succintly as ever.

6. Miley paraded around contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race as accessories

Just like in her “We Can’t Stop” video, Miley Cyrus found some new marginalized group to trot out like prize ponies for her show ending performance of “Dooo It”. This time around, Miley surrounds herself with a bevy of drag queens from Ru Paul’s Drag Race as she spouts B.S. lyrics and struggles to stay on key. On the one hand, you want to congratulate them for the opportunity; on the other hand you feel bad for them that this is the opportunity they’ve been given. I’ve posted the video below, but be warned: This video is not for the faint of heart.

In all, the 2015 VMAs were a complete trainwreck if you actually care at all about anyone who isn’t White, straight, or male. But, that’s not really news anymore, is it?


Did you watch the MTV VMAs? What were your thoughts on the “humor” and performance? Share in the comments below.

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

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