By MADHURA NADARAJAH
Anyone familiar with MTV knows the network does not shy away from broadcasting raunchy, explicit, eyebrow raising videos. Growing up, many young people probably heard their parents warning them not to watch MTV for too long; parents feared that their children might be corrupted by MTV’s limitless boundaries. However, the constant fiery words from parentals did not stop people from watching MTV’s Video Music Awards, better known as the VMAs.
The VMAs is an award show that takes place in late August and honors musicians in the video medium. For many viewers, the three hour show signifies the last time everyone can take in one more breath of summer before school starts. Typically referred to by critics as an alternative (read rebellion) to the Grammys, the VMAs are filled with celebrities, performances, feuds, and jaw dropping moments. Some highlights from past VMAs include: Britney Spears’ live performance with a very alive cobra, Britney Spears’ lip lock with Madonna, Kanye West’s infamous interruption of Taylor Swift’s award speech, and Lady Gaga’s meat dress. Despite all the crazy, MTV manages to keep a slice of sanity (and if you do not mind me saying, tastefulness) in the VMAs by means of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, also known as the Lifetime Achievement Award, this year’s recipient being Rihanna.
The Vanguard award is given to musicians whose work contributed tremendously to MTV. This year, MTV found Rihanna to be the perfect choice. Rihanna’s award put her on the same pedestal as past recipients, such as Madonna, Kanye West, U2, Janet Jackson, etc. As previously mentioned, the more reserved viewers wait earnestly for the Vanguard Award because it places balance in a typically chaotic show. However, as much as I hate to admit it, this year’s VMAs was underwhelming. In fact, the only “entertaining” portion of the show was Drake’s presentation of the Vanguard Award, whose speech was extremely problematic.
Before dissecting Drake’s speech to Rihanna, it is probably best to justify why I believe the VMAs was underwhelming. In short, while Beyoncé’s performance was nothing short of perfection, Britney Spears’ “comeback” performance was nice to say the least. Spears’ performance came off more as a marketing pitch for the singer G-Eazy, who is in her new single, “Make Me”. Moreover, Kanye West’s premier of his music video for the song “Fade” was a soft porn workout routine, while Ariana Grande’s performance was as old and tiring as her new bangs. Furthermore, it seemed as this year’s VMA relied too heavily on performances, while the actual hosting part seemed to be lost in translation.
Drake’s presentation of the Vanguard Award to Rihanna was the only entertaining part of the VMAs because he single-handedly found a way to talk about himself; moreover, in the few instances in which he talked about Rihanna, Drake exalted her to a saint-like, Madonna level. In fact, he opens his speech proclaiming that the reason why Rihanna is successful is because she is the only musician to remain true to herself and not change over the years. Moreover, in his speech Drake separates Rihanna from other musicians by claiming “From day one…Rihanna was at a place most artists dream of going…For them that is often the peak, but for her…she has kept to ascending to an untouchable level ever since.” When the only thing constant in life is change, how could any mere mortal connect to an “unchanging” yet successful individual like Rihanna. Actually, is referring to Rihanna as an individual even allowed? Or should the words saint, god, and superhuman only be used in context with the recent Vanguard recipient? In a recent VMA first, Drake takes an enormous time talking about his own break in the business. During the moments in which Drake does talk about Rihanna, he reiterates that Rihanna was always an amazing musician, it was just a matter of when she would be discovered. You might be thinking, how is that problematic? Well, in his speech, Drake subtlety talks about how he worked hard to become successful. This is problematic because he is stating that Rihanna’s success was an ascribed quality, whereas, his success was something he acquired over the years. It suggests that Drake, though successful, is more relatable than Rihanna, whose success makes her non-human. “Drake describing Rihanna and her success as god-like, makes it hard for her fans to relatable to her,” said senior Writing major, Toni Jones. “I believe Drake reveres Rihanna more than he respects her; this is terrible because at the end of the speech, the audience feels more connected to Drake than Rihanna.”
Perhaps the worst part of Drake’s speech was how he decided to end it — with a love confession. Drake states “she [Rihanna] is someone I’ve been in love with since I [Drake] was 22.” As soon as those words slipped out of Drake’s mouth, they became the highlight of the award. The talk that circulated was neither about Rihanna nor her success — it was about how Drake’s confession was romantic. Drake is one of the few males in VMA history to present the Vanguard Award to a female recipient. Jay-Z presented the award to Beyoncé in 2014 and while the two may have been married, an unaware viewer would gather from Jay-Z’s speech that he respected Beyonce the musician and Sasha Knowles the person. Even when Lady Gaga presented Britney Spears with the Vanguard in 2011, in her male alter ego “Joe Calderone”, s(he) praised Spears’ for being a brilliant and influential musician.
So it begs the question, is Drake really in love with Rihanna? Or did he assume his love confession is the only way to make this successful woman “relatable”? However, the more I ponder this postmodern courting, I realize Drake is not all to blame for my anger. It is the media and the mass. We live in a world in which men and women still need to be described in separate categories. Not of course not in the bodily way, but in the means of success. For instance, in the Rio Olympics media outlets thought it was fit to describe medalling male Olympians as great athletes and medalling female Olympians as great female athletes. Why can’t a woman of success be defined by her success and not by her sex? When Drake confessed his love for Rihanna, it completely erased the fact that she was receiving an award, because all people witnessed was her receiving a proposal of love.
Moreover, we [thankfully] live in a society in which the younger generation wants to see all individuals given universal human rights. News outlets saw the wrath of millenniums on social media when they dared to publish articles about Hungarian Olympian Katinka Hosszu’s enthusiastic husband, but nothing about her. So I honestly do not understand how these same millennials find Drake’s public love confession okay and make relationship goal memes on Instagram. Do they not realize they are acting in the same manner as the very media outlets they criticize? All I can say, is think before you act. Think about setting before you decide to tell the whole world you are in love with a woman. Think before you want to publish articles about a woman’s athleticism. Think about how hypocritical your meme will be compared to your outlook on society before you act. Just think.
Madhura Nadarajah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org