May 27, 2022

Minaj, Cyrus VMA beef reveals only the surface of problematic music industry

Some intense drama took place on last night’s Video Music Awards (VMA) stage between Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus. As with most issues of pop culture, this outburst had a steadily simmering past that ultimately resulted in the boiling over on the VMA coverage.

For those who haven’t been following, some tension had recently risen between Taylor Swift and Minaj. Shortly after the nominations for Video of the Year were announced, Minaj went public on her Twitter to express her annoyance in her “Anaconda” video not being selected.

“If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year,” Minaj wrote on her Twitter.

Almost immediately interpreting her tweets as mere unsheathed hostility, Swift promptly responded, specifically subtweeting Minaj:

“I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.”

It’s important to now examine the disparity in argument that’s arising between the two female artists. Minaj’s initial tweet was not a direct jab at Swift in any way. Minaj was merely pointing out the obvious differences in the way that certain pieces of media with similar statements, but different contexts, are handled. Minaj makes an obvious reference to her celebration of thicker bodies, but “Anaconda” is also a piece that’s heavily dominated by themes of race. The video is not just about the celebration of the thicker female body; it’s about the reclaiming of the often fetishized black female body by reversing the power dynamic, while still maintaining black female sexuality.

Swift’s response to Minaj was unwarranted, and did exactly what white feminists are so often accused of doing. Swift’s tweet ignored the blatant accusations of the music industry’s ignoring and silencing of traditionally disrespected bodies. Instead, Swift shifted the focus to herself, while playing victim and insisting that Minaj was in the wrong for allegedly attacking her and her video for the nomination. Swift did not question the white paradigm that forces black women to work exceptionally harder to achieve the same results as a white woman, nor did she take seriously Minaj’s accusation of racism within the industry. Swift merely took immediate offense to Minaj’s tweet and made efforts to protect herself, ultimately othering herself from Minaj.

Shortly after Swift’s response, Minaj made it clear to Swift that she was not specifically calling her out, and reiterated her reverence for the “Bad Blood” artist.

“Huh? U must not be reading my tweets. Didn’t say a word about u. I love u just as much. But u should speak on this,” tweeted Minaj to Swift.

After some minor debate across Twitter, Minaj and Swift electronically kissed and made up, resulting in an apology from Swift:

“I thought I was being called out. I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke. I’m sorry, Nicki.”

The topic remained relatively dormant for a few weeks. The wounds were reopened by Cyrus, however, during an interview for the New York Times. Upon being announced as the host for the 2015 Video Music Awards, Cyrus was interviewed by the Times, where she threw in her two-cents on the brief but infamous Minaj and Swift Twitter spat.

“If you want to make it about race, there’s a way you could do that. But don’t make it just about yourself… What I read sounded very Nicki Minaj, which, if you know Nicki Minaj is not too kind. It’s not very polite,” said Cyrus during her interview.

Once the VMAs finally rolled around, Minaj and Swift cemented their renewed friendship with a collaborative opening performance of Swift’s “Bad Blood.” But, that was by no means the highlight of the evening. Social media absolutely exploded when Minaj accepted her award for best hip hop video for “Anaconda” ending her speech with serious animosity towards Cyrus.

“And now, back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?” said Minaj on stage.

Seemingly stunned by this shade, Cyrus quickly retorted back to Minaj to attempt to mitigate the live attack.

“We’re all in this industry, we all do interviews,” said Cyrus. “And we all know how they manipulate. Nicki, congratulations.”

In an attempt to segue into a piece encouraging watchers to place their votes for which artist is the future of music, Cyrus pokes fun at herself, reminding the audience that while she didn’t win the award in 2008, she still was the talk of the town following her Robin Thicke twerking escapade. It was at this point of the VMAs that Cyrus does some not-so subtle insulting of Minaj.

“Whatever. Because it’s no big deal. It’s just an award. And I persevered,” said Cyrus. Throughout this entire speech, it slowly becomes clear that this is hardly about Cyrus’s success after her loss, but rather an attack on Minaj that attempts to trivialize her reaction to the lack of Video of the Year nomination for “Anaconda.” Her tone is indicative of condescension, complete with hand gesturing in Minaj’s direction.

Naturally, many different publications wrote about the live VMA spat, but there was an intense skew in headlines, which mostly sided with Cyrus, characterizing Minaj as the degrading and systematically silenced angry black woman.

Minaj is accused of blasting Cyrus, of calling Cyrus out, and of throwing epic shade. But, all of these headlines seem to merely be going for the purely visceral reaction of Minaj’s use of “bitch” on live television. None of the articles seem to be interested in delving into Cyrus’s previous statements to New York Times, that obviously warranted some public outcry from Minaj. The  articles are also ignoring Cyrus’s immediate rebuttal, continuing to paint her as the victim in this ordeal.

Minaj’s initial and vastly important comment about the music industry’s erasure of bigger, black female bodies within the musical canon is being buried and misconstrued into merely petty attacks in which Minaj is always the perpetrator.

The most evident problem is that, despite Minaj’s efforts to bring attention to a age-old problem of disrespecting and replacing the black woman in the pop music canon, Minaj’s point was ultimately shrouded in misrepresentation of her public comments. In a kind of bastardized irony, Minaj’s prophecy was made into reality when she was reduced to merely an antagonistic force to two prominent white artists, with all of her valid critiques of the music industry glossed over for quick and digestible shock value.

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