Stars lash out at racism in political VMAs

Fire tunes: After this pyrotechnic opening number, rapper Kendrick Lamar won six VMAs. © Getty

The 2017 Video Music Awards were not just about pop. There were angry speeches, an appearance from Heather Heyer’s mother, and a “fight against the system” prize. Was it all too political?

On Sunday night, Paris Jackson was standing on a stage in California. “We must show these Nazi white supremacist jerks in Charlottesville… we have zero tolerance for their violence, their hatred, and their discrimination!”

The crowd roared.

“We must resist,” she finished. And then, with a laugh, she introduced the nominees for 2017’s best pop music video.

The clash of politics and pop was a theme throughout this year’s MTV VMA awards. Cardi B gave her support to Colin Kaepernick, an NFL star who kneeled during the national anthem. Logic sang about suicide prevention. Pink discussed body image.

MTV introduced a “Best Fight Against the System” prize for songs with a social message, which it then awarded to all six nominees. Announcing that award was Susan Bro, the mother of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer. And there to introduce her was the Rev Robert Wright Lee IV, a descendent of the Confederate general whose statue sparked the Charlottesville protest. He called racism America’s “original sin”.

It is not surprising that the VMAs were so political this year. In February the show’s host Katy Perry launched what she called an era of “purposeful pop” in the wake of the 2016 election. But can stars make a difference?

Star power?

Of course, say some. Pop is full of songs which have defined and critiqued their era — from Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddam, to Beyoncé’s Formation. Pop music is universal, memorable, and creative. That makes it the perfect medium for politics; its stars have a duty to speak up.

Not so, say others. There are exceptions, but most “purposeful pop” is vague, vacuous and self-righteous. It is more likely to put off people who disagree than change their minds. Glitzy award ceremonies should be about escaping troubled times, not wallowing in them.

You Decide

  1. What is the best political pop song ever written?

Activities

  1. List five things that you think make a perfect pop song.

Some People Say...

“Only the audience can change the world – not performers.”

Billy Bragg

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Kendrick Lamar won the most awards at the 2017 VMAs, including Video of the Year and Best Hip Hop. Artist of the Year was won by Ed Sheeran. Pink won the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award (which is sometimes referred to as the Lifetime Achievement Award).
What do we not know?
Whether the night’s political commentary will have had any real effect on the show’s audience.

Word Watch

Charlottesville
On August 12th this year, a white supremacist rally in the town in Virginia ended with counterprotester Heather Heyer being killed when the group she was in was attacked by being rammed by a vehicle.
Colin Kaepernick
The quarterback has refused to stand during the US national anthem before football games as a protest against racism. He is not currently signed to a team, which some see as unfair punishment for his protests.
Confederate general
Robert E. Lee led the Confederate army during the US Civil War. He surrendered in 1865.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.