As celebs speak out about racism in Hollywood - it's time we examined the situation facing the music industry, too...
When the VMA 2015 nominations were announced on Tuesday 21 July, we figured we already knew the results. Sure, Taylor Swift would need to accessorise her designer dress with one of those shopping bags on wheels to cart about all of her awards, and of course Ed Sheeran would rack up two or three (or four, or five, or six) nominations for himself, too. And obviously Nicki Minaj – whose video for Anaconda broke the VEVO record for the most views in 24 hours when 19.6 million people watched it in the space of a day – was a dead cert too.
But despite the video’s undeniable impact, Anaconda was only nominated for two awards – Best Female Video and Best Hip Hop Video – missing out on the Best Music Video of the Year category. And Nicki’s collaboration with Beyonce, Feeling Myself, didn’t make the cut at all.
Of course, this is the 21st century, so Nicki took to Twitter to question MTV’s judging process. ‘Hey guys @MTV thank you for my nominations. Did Feeling Myself miss the deadline or…?,’ she tweeted, before adding: ‘If I was a different “kind” of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well…If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year.’
And the depressing thing is, she’s not wrong. She’s not being a sore loser, and she’s not making a fuss about nothing. Because whatever you think of Nicki, or of her music videos, there’s no denying the fact that racism is still rife within the music industry (and the rest of society).
To put it simply: When Britney Spears got naked and covered herself in sequins for Toxic, she was nominated for Best Music Video. When Emily Ratajkowski got naked next to Robin Thicke in Blurred Lines, he was nominated for Best Music Video. When Miley Cyrus stripped off and broke a million health and safety rules by riding a piece of construction equipment, she wasn’t just nominated for Best Music Video of the Year – she won it. All of the above videos have been controversial, but they were acknowledged by the industry for their impact nevertheless.
But as soon as Nicki Minaj – whose black body deviates from Caucasian beauty standards – dares to own her own culture and dance in a similarly provocative fashion, it’s glossed over and relegated to sideline categories of ‘female’ and ‘hip hop’. Meanwhile, white artists who adopt black culture as their own continue to reap professional awards. And it’s time to stop pretending that that’s OK.
After all, at the 2015 Grammy Awards, every singer nominated for Best New Artist or Record Of The Year was white. Similarly, music companies such as Pandora, Live Nation, Apple, Spotify, AEG, Warner Music Group, SXSW, Clear Channel Communications, and Universal Music Group are all lead by teams of predominantly white executives. And for an art form that’s supposed to be breaking down barriers rather than building them up, that doesn’t seem good enough, does it?