Let’s pledge to remember the 2015 VMAs

The 2015 VMAs were amazing in the best and worst of ways. Nicki came at Miley, Kanye is running for president, Taylor won all the awards…again, and Rebel Wilson made a tasteless joke. It was an evening. I love the VMAs for all of the drama they produce, and this year did not disappoint. More so than the throw downs and excitement, I was most fascinated by the complete disintegration of the ethos surrounding Cyrus, the heightened scrutiny leaving blemishes on Swift and Wilson as well.

The roller coaster of love and hate for Miley Cyrus is nothing new, but until recently, she has been receiving mostly love for her contributions to the Free the Nipple campaign, coming out as pansexual, and aiding LGBTQ youth through her Happy Hippie Foundation. Seriously, it was as if the cultural appropriation — which Sesali has covered here and ire from the 2013 VMAs evaporated, and the shower of praise was never ending. Call it feminist redemption or something. But between whitesplaining about Nicki Minaj days before the event, donning dreadlocks, and saying “mammy” like it was appropriate, everyone began to remember 2013, which we should have done in the first place.

Similarly for Taylor Swift, other than a couple of controversies involving underpaid photographers and her Twitter run-in with Nicki Minaj pre-VMAs, Swift has been praised for standing up for poorer artists, as well as uplifting women in the industry. She’s worked hard to cultivate that image, complete with an on-stage make up with Minaj during the awards show itself. And then there was the release of her new video. To say that “Wildest Dreams” has come under fire is putting it lightly. The video is being labeled as colonialist and racist, and has brought Swift a level of criticism that is pretty uncommon in her career. Even NPR is talking about it. And to top it off, even though Swift and Minaj apparently buried the hatchet, Minaj was not on stage when Swift accepted her award for Video of the Year, despite the previous promise.

Because the night was lacking in explosive moments (read: sarcasm), Rebel Wilson just had to chime in with a callous joke about police brutality. Showing up to present the award for “Best Hip-Hop Video” in a police costume, Wilson quipped that “A lot of people have problems with the police, but I really hate police strippers,” before losing the outfit to reveal a “Fuck Tha Stripper Police” t-shirt. I get it. Straight Outta Compton à Fuck Tha Police à dumb joke channeling the “dumb white girl” shtick. It was tasteless, and just a bad joke. I laugh at most things, but even I didn’t laugh at that.

I’ve spent the last few days trying to make sense of all of the shenanigans from Sunday night, because let’s be real: there was some triggering shit. Cyrus, Swift, and Wilson need to be held accountable for their hurtful decisions, and that accountability cannot merely disappear the next time they do something that makes white women cheer. When white celebrities are elevated as feminist darlings and they do things like whitesplain, make insensitive jokes, and WEAR LOCKS AS A FASHION ACCESSORY, to forget is to perpetuate the violence against women of color. Talking about it is not enough; they deserve an asterisk until they demonstrate that they get it. We cannot talk about moments in a vacuum because we don’t live lives of singular identities.

Let’s pledge to not forget all this shit happened. Ok? Ok.


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

Read more about Katie

Join the Conversation