It’s now two years since the word ‘woke’ was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. The slang term, now often used pejoratively, came originally from Black Activists Black Lives Matter. Meaning to be conscious of discrimination, oppression and injustice, it’s sometimes used to mock the ‘snowflake generation’ or just people on the left, the same way ‘political correctness gone mad’ gets thrown around.
Yet more and more, it seems society is moving on – that we are becoming more aware of diversity,how people are discriminated against (unconsciously or not) and people are speaking out about it.
That’s why it was so jarring to hear VMA host, Netflix comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, joke about safe spaces, mental health and trigger warnings for millennials in his opening set. Especially after Taylor Swift’s inclusive and prideful performance of ‘You Need To Calm Down’ and ‘Lover’. She sang and danced under a literal rainbow surrounded by people of all ethnicities and gender expressions. She was later rewarded with ‘Video of the Year’ (You Need To Calm Down) and ‘Best Visual Effects’ (for “Me!”).
MTV missteps with a new category
Yet the host’s terrible quips about millennials… to millennials (shouldn’t you be reading your audience?) were eclipsed by a far bigger controversy – many were more concerned about the introduction of a new category.
Best K-Pop was added this year and won by BTS (nominees: Blackpink, Monsta C, NVT 127, TXT). Passionate and articulate, the K-Pop fans are known for their views and they certainly have something to say about the new category. The backlash has been intense, with critics saying it’s segregating Korean artists, who appear nowhere else in the usual category nominations. Indeed, literally none of those nominated for the K-Pop category attended the ceremony.
Speculation about the reason for the addition of the category abounds; some feel that the drop in viewers over the last two years prompted the change (2017 – 5.36 million viewers; 2018 – 4.87 million). When MTV announced the new category, last month, the hashtag #VMAsRacist was a Twitter trending topic.
Many were surprised that none of the K-Pop artists were nominated for Best Video – Taylor Swift’s winning video for “You Need To Calm Down” has just 122 million views to Blackpink’s “Kill This Love” video, which has an incredible 556 million views.
K-Pop VMA winners BTS have a raft of accomplishments to their name, as their “Boy with Luv” video hit 74.6 million views within 24 hours on YouTube. They have also created three No.1 albums in a single year (an accolade previously only held by The Beatles) and their debut album reached the US Billboard 200 Chart top spot in no time – something no other South Korean band has ever achieved.
Why Lizzo is everything
Who hasn’t felt self-conscious? Sadly, few of us can say that we wholly and completely love our body. Lizzo might be one woman who leads us all into body confidence though, with her stage presence and awesome sass – or should that be ass?
Performing against the backdrop of a giant, inflatable backside (no, not the Trump baby blimp, that was something else), Lizzo performed “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell” with a cast of dancers of all shapes and sizes.
Backed by a troupe of beautiful, body suited dancers of colour, Lizzo commanded the stage and sent out a message to the world, in between songs – “It’s so hard trying to love yourself in a world that doesn’t love you back … you deserve to feel good as hell. We deserve to feel good as hell!”.
After witnessing that show of stunning womanhood, who couldn’t feel inspired and empowered to feel good about your body? I know it made me feel better to see bodily diversity. I felt like giving the performance a standing ovation in my own living room. My dog was most surprised.
“At last”, Missy Elliot gets the VMA award she deserved
Another beautiful big woman who dominated the VMAs was, of course, Missy Elliot. Winner of the Video Vanguard Award, the highest available award, bestowed to recognise outstanding achievements in music and film, Missy Elliot’s body of work was celebrated. Coveted by all artists, many felt that the award was long overdue.
With a performance described as ‘Kinetic’ and ‘Futuristic’ by Rolling Stone, Missy Elliot owned the VMAs with a medley of songs that spanned her entire career. But even more touching and moving was her acceptance speech, where she paid tribute to the ‘savants’ who inspired her: the likes of Janet Jackson and Busta Rhymes, but, most of all, her late friend, Aaliyah, who passed away 18 years ago, back in 2001. Saying she missed her, she also told Aaliyah she loved her.
Finally dedicating the award to her peers in the dance community, she left the stage with her award, saying, finally “When y’all get onstage with these artists, ‘y’all are not just props, y’all are the icing on the cake. Y’all are the beat to the heart.”
With the VMAs over for another year, it’s clear that the industry still needs to make some more steps towards inclusivity and diversity. It’s not just the artists who are responsible for ensuring adequate representation in their videos and performances – the major players in the media, like MTV and other media organisations need to take a good look in the mirror. As Lizzo says, everyone deserves to feel good as hell. Let’s hope the 2020 MTV VMAs get far closer to that aim than they did this year.