Sex isn’t as cool as it used to be. At least that’s one message one might glean from Sunday night’s surprisingly restrained MTV Video Music Awards. Miley Cyrus wasn’t twerking all over a teddy bear and Britney Spears wasn’t there to slither around half-naked with a snake or make out with Madonna as in previous years.
Sure, there were still barely dressed starlets along with “empowered” girl bands humping the stage, but the evening ended without anything sexually outrageous enough to make headlines and memorialize pop music’s biggest night of the year.
That a notoriously lewd event somehow managed to remain mostly family-friendly, even with Katy Perry for a host, is remarkable—almost as remarkable as seeing Miley Cyrus end her performance wearing more clothing than when she started.
What’s happening? If sex is no longer the name of the game, what is?
One word: Politics.
Today, being political has eclipsed being sexy as the mark of being cool, at least at the VMAs. And that’s why this year, twerking was replaced by political browbeating, and all things sexual were exchanged for social justice rallying cries.
Welcome to the new Video Music Awards, which Katy Perry kicked off with an ironic platitude about how music brings us together and unites us. That, immediately before insinuating we are in the midst of an apocalypse because of how terrible 2016 was (presumably thanks to President Trump). And that, immediately before Paris Jackson took the stage to speak of all the “love and light and diversity” she saw in the room and to talk about the need for “tolerance” before mocking Trump twice and yelling, “We must resist!”
And that was just during the first few minutes.
MTV also thought it was a good idea to invite a descendant of Robert E. Lee to preach about racism as “America’s original sin;” he then introduced the mother of the young woman killed in Charlottesville, who then introduced her new foundation before introducing MTV’s new “Fight Against the System” category. All of the nominees won in this category because MTV couldn’t decide whether to praise videos about immigration or race or gender or environmental politics.
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Russians were all name-dropped, and Colin Kaepernick got a big shout-out when some rapper went off script and yelled, “As long as you kneel with us, we’ll stand with you baby!” One guy wore a “Dead Presidents” shirt that surely wasn’t politically motivated, and Pink wore a classy sash that read “Wake the Fu*# Up!” and another that said “FUMP TRUCK!”
Oh, and MTV played the song “F**k Donald Trump” during a commercial break. Because music unites us, or something.
Perhaps this all wouldn’t be so oppressively obnoxious and annoying if the mission and message of MTV and their celebrity puppets wasn’t so blatantly biased. We all know these people hate Trump, but must we always be reminded of that fact?
All these stars yapping about inclusivity and tolerance and diversity never seem interested in including or tolerating those with diverse opinions. Does Pink not know that somewhere around half her fans probably voted for Trump?
In fact, it shouldn’t even matter, because this political posturing doesn’t belong at this event. Politics has its place, but so does music, and art, and culture (if indeed there is any of that to be found at the VMAs). Now, maybe more than ever, people turn to art and music to escape the endlessly divisive rhetoric of political news.
Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but it’s worth noting when publicly shouting about it is neither appropriate nor welcome. Nobody turned on MTV for politics or sermons about race. People watched the VMAs to see Taylor Swift’s new video, watch Ed Sheeran perform, and hear Kendrick Lamar thank his fans. Why aren’t the arts entitled to a safe space of their own, away from politics, for one evening?
It’s refreshing to see celebrities and starlets not using sex and stripteases to appear cool and relevant, but it’s disturbing to see them turning instead to yelling about politics and social justice on a night that everyone else just wanted to be about music. Maybe next year, pop culture’s stars can keep their clothes on and turn the politics off. And maybe that might be enough to make the VMAs actually cool and worth watching at all.