The 2017 VMA’s happened in August and, believe it or not, more things happened than just Taylor Swift debuting her new music video. In fact, a few cool things happened, especially on the social awareness and positive message front. From Fifth Harmony ceremoniously ejecting a fifth group member during their performance to Kendrik Lamar taking the most Moonmen home, it was a night filled with big moments.
However, some of the coolest moments belonged to the women. Whether it was Pink’s amazing performance and acceptance of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, or the more subtle moment by Kesha, many women had a message to share at the 2017 VMA’s.
Hip hop artist Cardi B had a small but significant moment while introducing Demi Lovato’s performance. The Bodak Yellow artist took a moment to say, “Colin Kaepernick, as long as you kneel with us we will be standing for you.” Unfortunately, an almost-nip-slip nearly took away from the message. But, it’s the VMA’s, and weirder things have happened. Cardi B’s comment is referring to Kaepernick’s controversial decision to kneel during his NFL games last year to protest police brutality. He’s now still out of a job in the NFL as a result. This isn’t the first time this type of political issue has been brought up at this award show, either. At the 2016 VMA’s, Beyonce made a few powerful statements about the gun violence epidemic and police brutality in an amazing performance, and by walking the red carpet with the mothers of some high profile gun and police violence cases, including Trayvon Martin’s mother.
This moment was important because it’s showing support for someone who’s been deemed a villain within the sports universe. Whether or not you agree with Kaepernick’s politics, or Cardi B’s support for him, this moment shows that his kneeling was giving hope to a community, and that it wasn’t a sign of someone lacking patriotism. For some, his decision to kneel was inspirational, and that the issues he’s kneeling for matter to a large group of people.
Barefoot and proud, Paris Jackson was at the VMA’s to present the award for Best Pop Video. Before awarding the Moonman to Fifth Harmony, the daughter of the late Michael Jackson gave a fiery speech encouraging people to stand up and unite against hate and discrimination. “So, let’s leave here tonight remembering that we must show these Nazi, white supremacist jerks in Charlottesville and all over the country … We have zero tolerance for their violence, their hatred and their discrimination. We must resist.” This speech was a response to the violence in Charlottesville, and the unfavorable reaction by the president as Jackson also made a few comments using the terms “yuge” and “fake news.”
There were a few references to Charlottesville at the 2017 VMA’s, which is important because it’s an issue that was taking over right before the VMA’s. The violence and life lost was heartbreaking and standing up against that violence is important for viewers to see from those with a platform.
Kesha’s moment was also brief, but moving nonetheless. Before a tear-jerking performance of Logic’s “1-800-273-8255,” Kesha made a powerful statement about suicide prevention. “It has been said that if you knew who walked beside you, you would never experience fear and doubt again,” Kesha said, “Whatever you are going through, however dark it may seem, there is an undeniable truth and strength in the fact that you are not alone. We all have struggles and, as long as you never give up on yourself, light will break through the darkness.” This is a big moment for Kesha who just released her first album in years after her sexual assault legal battle. She’s a sexual assault advocate, has battled eating disorders, and has been vocal about her struggles with suicide. This is an issue close to home for Kesha, and everyone felt that.
The takeaway from this speech has a lot to do with suicide prevention, mental health, and sexual assault advocacy. It was an important moment because Kesha has experienced all of these struggles and has turned her darkness into light. Her new album discusses her battle with mental health and suicide as a result of the sexual assault she experienced. Someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the U.S., so her message resonates with many.
Susan Bro is a name many of us didn’t know before the VMA’s. However, as the mother of Heather Hayer, the woman killed in Charlottesville, her speech was extremely moving. It was a somber moment, but Bro, escorted to the stage by Robert E. Lee’s descendant, urged the audience to make Heather’s death count by making a change. She announced the Heather Hayer Foundation that will provide scholarships for people interested in social justice. She then presented the award for “Best Fight Against the System,” which was an amazing addition to the VMA awards, highlighting the different type of event that this was. The winners ended up being every nominee for various reasons including body image, LGBT activism, and confronting racism.
Bro’s ability to speak on this issue despite losing her daughter just 15 days before was profound. Her daughter died while counter-protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, and she encouraged everyone to learn from her daughter’s courageous actions in standing up for her beliefs.
Alessia Cara performed her song “Scars to Your Beautiful” wearing a red dress, chic hair, and sparkly accessories. Throughout her song she was stripped of her gown, hair, and makeup and into a simple black tank top, pair of black pants, and natural hair. She came out again to perform “1-800-273-8255” with Logic and Khalid in an amazing moment raising awareness about suicide prevention. She won Best Electronic Dance Video for the song “Stay,” and Best Fight Against the System for “Scars to Your Beautiful.”
It’s clear that her message is about self-love and acceptance. She’s a young performer that is relatable for a good portion of the VMA viewership. In a world where many people struggle with feeling beautiful, strong, or special, her song and her performance with logic shows that her message is about self-empowerment and loving yourself.
Arguably the biggest moment of the 2017 VMA’s was Pink winning the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. First, she performed a montage of many of her hits including “Get the Party Started” and “Raise Your Glass.” She proved why she’s a powerhouse by looking as amazing now as she has over the years. Her voice, body, and performance were stellar. When accepting her award, she told a story about her daughter feeling ugly for looking like a boy. She told her daughter about many other androgynous rock stars and preached body positivity and that there is not one standard of beauty. She told her daughter, “We don’t change. We take the gravel in the shell and we make a pearl. And we help other people to change so they can see more kinds of beauty.” She told her fellow artists to be inspired, keep shining, and keep making rad music.
This was a big moment because she took the stage to share a relatable story about her daughter and share it with the world. Pink, who’s always shared her story about feeling and looking different, obviously relates as well. Young girls are made to feel ugly because they are different. However, different is beautiful, and there are many different kinds of beautiful. It was an inspirational message for viewers everywhere.
Reverend Robert Wright Lee IV
Reverend Robert Wright Lee IV, a descendant of Robert E. Lee, also spoke about white supremacy, racism, and hate. It was an inspirational moment as he spoke out against his ancestor and called on everyone to confront these issues head on. He’s since left his church after backlash because of this moment, which shows his courage in speaking out despite the risk.
Logic’s performance of “1-800-273-8255” was an emotional wave during the VMA’s. He performed with Alessia Cara and Khalid and sang alongside a group of suicide attempt survivors. His suicide prevention message was meaningful and profound.
Another example of amazing messages throughout the 2017 VMA’s was Jared Leto’s speech about Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, who died by suicide a few months before. He said, “If there is anyone out there who is watching this tonight who feels like there is no hope, hear me now: You are not alone. There is always a way forward, reach out, share your thoughts, do not give up, and I promise you this: The absolute biggest breakthroughs in life lie just beyond the darkest days.”
Yeah, the VMA’s are about who wore what, what shade was thrown, and, inevitably, something about Taylor Swift. However, there are many years that something helpful and profound happens. This year, many artists took this event to make their platform into something that counts. For the women of the VMA’s, many of them had an important message to share that had nothing to do with their clothes or who had the best video of all time; it had to do with music and important messages. Kudos, VMA’s, for highlighting social justice, for gender-neutral awards, and for highlighting the messages of some pretty rad women.
Guest Blog: Chelsy Ranard