Last night, mainstream culture stopped being polite and started getting real about how comfortable they are appropriating Black culture—to the point where we’re not even really needed anymore, apparently. It was interesting to hear the likes of Macklemore (who beat out Kendrick Lamar and Drake for a rap award) give thoughtful remarks on gay rights, tolerance and equality in the midst of all the whitewashing happening before our eyes. Sure, everyone involved with the VMAs referenced Brooklyn repeatedly, but somewhere along the way it seems like the thought process in planning the event was, “Hey, Brooklyn isn’t as Black as it used to be. Why should the show be?!”
That aside, the show had both its good and hysterically awful moments. All and all, I’d say the biggest winner was the BET Awards. Not only will you find Black culture in its best form on that show, but you’ll also find better samples of White people who know how to replicate it. Better luck next time, MTV. Now let’s get to the good, the bad, and the Miley.
1. Hand Clap for Lady Gaga
My main hope for Lady Gaga’s performance was that it would be good and not solely consisting of her riding a pterodactyl and singing some song that sounds like 1988 Madonna. As much as I adore Mother Monster, I find myself typically fearful of what she will do on stage. Talented as she may be, Gaga is that kid in fine arts who needs someone who will reign in for her own good.
Evidently that position remains open, because seconds into the performance, you noticed she was dressed like one of the Flying Nuns—leading you to conclude that she was about to do the absolute most (per her usual). Even so, I enjoyed her performance all the same. Everyone might not live for “Applause,” but I enjoy it, and her VMA opener only made me like it more. That new hip she had installed earlier in the year went well with her choreography. It’s as close as we’re going to get to what the legendary Ms. Britney Spears used to offer. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Britney’s handlers won’t get her doctor to write her a prescription for her rhythm (which apparently went missing after she shaved her head). Whatever… Serve the girls Stefani (even though I really, really still miss pre-head-shaved Britney).
2. Miley Cyrus’s Off-Beat Mistake
At the beginning of her performance, Miley Cyrus stepped out of a giant replica of the teddy bear Kanye West used to play with and wagged her tongue while giving us Lori Petty realness. That was pretty much the highlight of an otherwise embarrassing performance. Although Miley herself was the biggest joke of the set, you couldn’t help but notice that she was surrounded by a sea of Black women, twerking to the ground with Chewbacca fur attached to their back.
At one point, Miley was slapping the butt of some larger Black women—even going so far as to stick her face in the woman’s booty. Had she passed gas in Billy Ray’s daughter’s face, it would’ve been a fair response to the animalization and eroticizing of Black women’s bodies going on.
To be fair, Miley was making herself just as much of a spectacle, as she spent much of her time bent over, wiggling her flat, pasty butt all over the stage and eventually near Robin Thicke’s crotch. Bless her heart and her rhythm-deficient soul but that is not, nor has it ever been, twerking.
If Miley Cyrus were a nicer culture vulture in the vein of Gwen Stefani or Fergie, I’d probably feel somewhat bad over the big buffoon she’s become. Instead, she’s an obnoxious, self-important and entitled biter, so I can’t do anything but chuckle at how she’s become the class clown of pop. If there’s anyone in her life who truly cares about her, they’ll sit her down and have her watch this performance over and over with the one instruction: never again, sis.
As for Robin Thicke, who didn’t win a damn thing despite having the biggest single of the year, one wonders why he chose to align himself with Cyrus. Perhaps it was related to the realization that he may never enjoy this kind of mainstream attention again so why not make the most of it? Eh. You should’ve told them no all the same, nouveau Tom Jones.
3. Lil’ Kim Shouts Out Brooklyn the Valley Girl Way
It was nice of MTV to give somewhat of a nod to old Brooklyn by way of inviting Lil’ Kim to present an award. Unfortunately, Lil’ Kim’s voice is just as unidentifiable as the rest of her. I don’t know why she sounds like a medicated La Toya Jackson these days, but it makes me sad. Not to mention, Kimberly, of all the new breed of women rappers to appear at the awards show with, you chose Iggy Azalea? Why won’t you just make up with Nicki Minaj already?
4. Jaden and Drake
Drake was always a better crooner than his musical forefather, Ja Rule. But last night, the Canadian rapper (who often speaks like he grew up down the street from me in Houston) showed off a noticeably improved vocal performance. Frank Ocean, be encouraged. Meanwhile, I don’t remember much else about Aubrey’s act, but I sure won’t ever forget Jaden Smith having to compose himself after he finished.
5. Kanye West and His Bad Timing
“Blood on the Leaves” may be a favorite among many Yeezus listeners, but I’ll always find his sampling of the anti-lynching “Strange Fruit” to create a whiny track about how awful it is that a sidepiece he impregnated won’t get an abortion to be one of the tackiest, most despicable acts ever. The only thing worse than Kanye West taking a song with that subject matter to present another paean of self-pity is seeing him choosing to perform it during the week the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the March of Washington.
There’s creative license and then there’s just a blatant disregard for works that arguably shouldn’t be touched—at least, not tweaked in such a self-serving manner. I wouldn’t be so quick to point out that Kanye West should know better if not for the fact that in the midst of his ongoing Jekyll and Hyde act, he’s purported to know just that.
6. Justin Timberlake Saves the Day
Although it seemed rather dubious to some to hear Jimmy Fallon to refer to Justin Timberlake as the “President of Pop,” after watching him practically save the show with an extensive set that covered both his remarkable success as a solo act, in addition to his time as the most beloved member of one of the biggest boy bands ever, it’s hard not to recognize J. T. as some sort of pop deity. That said, as nice as it was to see *NSYNC reunite for about a smooth six seconds, it’s probably a good thing that it didn’t last too long. I’m not convinced Joey Fatone’s heart could’ve taken it. Oh, and FYI, Destiny’s Child’s reunion at this year’s Super Bowl remains the best reunion of the year
7. Bruno Mars
The multicultural version of Frankie Lymon offered a memorable performance without a costume, props, or a solid two-step.
8. A$AP Rocky and Jason Collins
Any man obsessed with fashion—particularly designer labels—and walking around with his hair plaited as if he’s never stopped longing for a letter from his missing sister, Nettie, should not be as uncomfortable with gay people as A$AP Rocky seemed on stage last night with the openly gay basketball player Jason Collins. To A$AP’s credit, he has spoken against homophobia in past interviews before, but he looked uncomfortable all the same. Settle down, sir. It’s not contagious.
9. Katy Perry’s TKO
Katy Perry is pretty, seems sweet as the tea that’ll ultimately lead to folks saying you have “the sugar,” and has lots of catchy songs. Unfortunately, all those blessings didn’t do much for her performance that closed out the show. She lip synced, but not for her life, and the whole thing reminded me of an episode of Glee. Not a compliment. Go watch some Janet Jackson tour DVDs… invite your famous BFF Rihanna onstage. Something.
10. Jennifer Hudson Shouts for the Blacks
It took a whopping two hours to see a Black person who could hit a note hop on stage. In fact, though Black artists did win some awards, none of it was televised. We had Kanye West, plus Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz during the Miley-Robin clown show, but no and no. To that end, give it up for Jennifer Hudson, who during Macklemore’s performance, yelled for every Black person we didn’t get to see or hear.
Michael Arceneaux is the author of the “The Weekly Read,” where tough love is served with just a touch of shade. Tweet him at @youngsinick.