And it’s not the moment where Nikki Minaj called Miley Cyrus a “bitch.”
The MTV Video Music Awards has always courted controversy—whether spontaneous or staged. Years ago, the night would be dominated by cheap shocks, like a Madonna-Britney-Christina lip-lock, and an atmosphere of forced “anarchy.” The stakes seem decidedly higher these days. In 2015, it feels like too much is happening in American culture, and art—even art as empty as the VMAs—is reflective of the tenuous times in which we live. So maybe that’s why Nicki Minaj going straight Queens on Miley Cyrus on national television felt like exactly the sort of cool, odd, WTF moment the most vacuous of youth-oriented awards shows needed.
After winning the award for Best Hip-Hop Video and graciously thanking her “beautiful fans” and her pastor, Nicki unloaded. “Back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press—Miley, what’s good?!”
The stunned look on Miley’s face gave an indication that it wasn’t a scripted moment—though who really knows? I’ve criticized Miley for her statements regarding Nicki and the VMAs. Cyrus was dismissive and condescending regarding Minaj’s earlier tweets about what she perceived to be racial bias in the show’s nominating process, which is an undeniable fact. And it’s obvious now that Nicki wasn’t too appreciative of Cyrus’s commentary, with the spawn of Billy Ray chalking up Nicki’s frustration to “jealousy” and being “not very polite” before lecturing her on race in America during a chat with The New York Times. Nicki’s challenge became the night’s most buzzed-about moment for obvious reasons, but it also makes me wonder if I’m getting a bit “aged” regarding what passes for outrageous. Because the Nicki moment was preceded by an unbelievably unfunny bit with Best Hip-Hop Video presenter Rebel Wilson.
The Australian comedienne spoofed the Black Lives Matter movement with a bit about police strippers. “I know a lot of people have problems with the police, but I really hate police strippers,” she said, before removing her outfit to reveal an outfit that read: ‘Fuck tha Police Strippers.’
“They come to your house. You think you’re getting arrested, and you just get a lap dance that is usually uninspired,” joked Wilson. “I hired a police stripper for my grandma’s 80th and he wouldn’t even feel her up.”A generation of white pop stars have gone from observing black culture to absorbing black culture to feeling entitled to that culture—and who are you to tell them they can’t have this shiny new plaything?
Wilson’s bit went over awkwardly on the air and was received much worse on social media, with several viewers criticizing the tacky routine. Did MTV, Wilson, and the show’s producers assume that making fun of a political and social movement that’s come to define the past year would go over well with an audience because so much of that audience is tone-deaf to what young, Black people face? The Wilson bit was the most offensive moment of the evening in a show that included Cyrus in dreadlocks and a reference to Snoop Dogg as her “real mammy.”