This year is different. Because *N Sync reunited, right? Nope. It seems the VMAs were not viewed as a night of harmless pop music self congratulation. Nor was it the plunging necklines, cosmetic surgeries (did they or didn't they? We must know!) or nip slips. It was Miley Cyrus's twerk-ridden performance and cultural appropriation that has got many people going.
In Media Diversity UK Shane Thomas has written about the culture of appropriation in pop with regard to Iggy Azalea: "...the problematic collisions with race continue in the video for her latest single, Bounce. The video is shot in India, and features Azalea dressed in the traditional dress of the country, complete with sari, and a bindi on her forehead...eventually trying to explain it away as 'a fantasy'...Azalea may think of the Bounce video as a fantasy, and so may many of the people who watch it. However, it seems to be lost on her that India isn't a fantasy land. It is a nation with a long and rich history, much of which included generations of oppression."
This is posted alongside some tweets reacting to Miley Cyrus's VMA performance which involved Miley dancing with black back up dancers and smacking one woman's behind. Today you will probably see a lot of GIFs of Miley's VMA celebrity audience, the Smith family's horrified faces, Drake's awkward floor staring and Rihanna's disapproving look.
But there is a point where inspiration crosses over into fetishisation and reduction.
As quickly as blogs and tweets noting the oddness and appropriation of the performance have gone up so has a defence of Miley, however in it the writer points out what is so problematic about the affair: "Yes, Miley Cyrus a fucking white girl who is incomprehensibly privileged, to the point that she can experiment with and buy her way into behaviors that she'll never have to suffer for, even if people of color doing the same thing do."
Is there something wrong with bring inspired by another culture? No. I don't think so. However there is a difference between working with aspects of a culture to create new art and, say, parading around a festival in a Native American feather headdress. It is dismissing the accompanying culture and difficult history as a novelty fashion item 'cos you so quirky - too quirky to have to deal with ramifications I suppose. The issues should be acknowledged without risk of being labelled too sensitive or PC.
Personally, for me, that VMA performance irks me mostly because I'm a little sick of MTV's idea of controversial being stripping down to what looks like discreet incontinence underwear and grinding up to a man dressed as Beetlejuice who is old enough to be your father. I almost (almost) wish it had been another year of women pop stars all trying to out-weird each other again.
I think it would be weird if I had the last word on this, so do check @renireni on Twitter's comments, there are some really interesting and important points about the performance.