Last August, the hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj’s video for her song “Anaconda” broke a record for VEVO, YouTube’s site dedicated to music videos. In its first 24 hours, the clip notched 19.6 million views, but it seemed to make more news for its content than for the records it broke, from Minaj’s willingness to show off her figure to her evident lack of concern with male praise in so doing (she famously brushes off Drake in the clip’s final moments). Between its massive audience, the conversations it engendered about body confidence and gender relations, and the memes it launched, it seemed like an obvious contender for the top prize at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards. But, as announced Tuesday, “Anaconda” wasn’t nominated.
Minaj used Twitter to criticize her exclusion from the awards ceremony’s top category, one that included Taylor Swift for her much-promoted “Bad Blood” video (along with clips by Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, and Ed Sheeran). She posted a series of tweets that commented on her exclusion from the ceremony’s top category.
Swift evidently read into Minaj’s critique of the Video Music Awards’ nominees a judgment of her own work, and remarked that the rapper was behaving in an unbecoming manner:
To which Minaj responded:
Yet in doing this, Minaj has effectively won the entire Video Music Awards more than a month before they are to happen. She hasn’t merely called attention to the fact that her own video was the most successful, in terms of sheer cultural impact, of the past year—in so doing, she induced a major figure to say too much. Minaj, indeed, said not a word about Swift, and her remark about videos promoting “very slim” women could have meant anything. (Ed Sheeran’s nominated video, for instance, begins with a slender, silhouetted woman dancing.) Swift construed frank, uncensored remarks about the manner by which a remarkably accomplished black woman feels unrecognized by her industry as a personal attack. Now, Minaj may just end up on the VMA stage after all:
The top prize at the nebulously defined VMAs has historically gone to a genre-defining video, from Katy Perry’s “Firework,” Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” and Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” back to Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Music videos are not so multifarious a category as films or TV, where relatively little-watched entries like Birdman or Mad Men can credibly claim an achievement award. If a music video is successful, you know it.
And Minaj’s video, a bold statement from an artist entering a new echelon of independence and political purpose, seemed like a natural fit for the prize. Her complaining that it wasn’t nominated was part of a recent tradition that included, last year, Perry citing the view count on her “Roar” video in protest of MTV’s choices. But Minaj’s complaint about her exclusion, citing statistics, and willingly countering the biggest artist in the music game was something different: It proves the unique alchemy that happens when social media meets an unusually assured artist. It was hard to imagine, at the height of “Anaconda”-mania last summer, that the video would get yet more relevant. But it exists, now, perhaps despite itself, as a standard-bearer for the achievements of black artists. And Minaj, for her part, refuses to allow attempts to make the matter into more bad blood.
It should just be about achievement. That’s not asking too much of an awards show.