Adam Polaski

MTV's New 'Video with a Message' VMA Category

Filed By Adam Polaski | August 05, 2011 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: Born This Way, fireworks, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Make It Stop, MTV, Rise Against, Taylor Swift, Video Music Awards

Firework.jpgFor this year's Video Music Awards, MTV is introducing a new category: Best 'Video with a Message,' celebrating all of the videos this year that have spoken out about important social movements - namely, that is, the anti-bullying cause. It's only fitting that the year of It Gets Better has encouraged the new category. According to MTV's VMA press release:

This special category celebrates the powerful intersection of music and social activism, and highlights artists who created music videos with positive messages of self-empowerment or raised awareness of key social issues facing today's youth. With an outpouring of support from across the pop culture spectrum the last year, artists mobilized to support bullied youth, reject LGBT discrimination and emphasize self worth -- issues MTV has been addressing through A Thin Line, its anti-cyberbullying and digital abuse campaign, launched in December of 2009 - and now via this special 2011 MTV Video Music Award Category.

But a look at the nominees begs some questions about which of these "Videos with a Message" were most effective.

The nominees are:

  • Katy Perry: "Firework" (Video)
  • Taylor Swift: "Mean" (Video)
  • Rise Against: "Make It Stop (September's Children)" (Video)
  • Pink: "Fuckin' Perfect" (Video)
  • Eminem & Rihanna: "Love the Way You Lie" (Video)
  • Lady Gaga: "Born This Way" (Video)

Five out of the six videos have anti-bullying themes. And I don't what the hell kind of message "Love the Way You Lie" - the video where Rihanna's abused by Eminem and there's fire and people just standing there and watching her burn - is trying to send.

"Mean" sends a general anti-bullying message, portraying pop-country star Swift in a number of different victim roles. "Fuckin' Perfect" is a strongly anti-suicide video from Pink, the pop artist who has previously spoken out for marriage equality.

Three of the videos deal specifically with LGBT people, but all three handled the pro-LGBT message and follow-up in a different way. Katy Perry made "Firework," threw in a few seconds of two boys sharing a kiss, and then dedicated the song, post-release, to the "It Gets Better" project. Her dedication didn't come with a donation to the IGB campaign or The Trevor Project. The rock band Rise Against worked directly with the It Gets Better campaign, and their song tackles homophobia head-on, listing the names of five teenagers who committed suicide last September. Rise Against, to the best of my knowledge, didn't donate any of the proceeds from the song to an anti-bullying organization.

Only Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" resulted in any sort of monetary donation to an anti-bullying group. She remixed the song with a country twang and donated some of the proceeds from that remix to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Her song is also the only one that lyrically references the LGBT community - but only sometimes, of course, as she's been known to cut out the LGBT references during some live performances.

Raising awareness about the anti-bullying message is great, but taking the extra step and directly supporting the organizations that work to heighten that awareness and education further and more expertly is even better. Although none of the six commercial nominees take this extra step adequately, I'm pulling for either "Make It Stop" or "Born This Way," who at least decided to explicitly support the education efforts of the LGBT community while trying to capitalize off of it.

You can vote for the category here.

The 2011 Video Music Awards will be held on August 28.

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Of the ones I've heard (all except Swift's), I'd say Make It Stop is the best, with Pink a close second.

I don't understand what message Love the Way You Lie has, as you brought up already. Firework is a very generic anti-bullying message with a more topical video. Born This Way is more direct with its LGBT references, but is more generic in its lyrical content. It's a bit of pro-LGBT fluff, and the video is basically just a spectacle for Lady Gaga's concept of "art" and "edginess".

It's a tough call between Rise Against and Pink, but I still feel Pink's was a bit more cliche, whereas Rise Against took the idea, made it as true to themselves as possible without rehashing too many tropes, and was also blatant about where they stand.

Gaga will probably win because "the gays" love their glam, female, flashy pop stars, but...here's hoping...

How funny that Rihanna and Eminem, both bullies themselves, would find their way into this category.

Rise Against deserves the nod, since they speak to a more male and aggressive audience, they were taking more of a risk by putting this out there.

Hard not to suspect this is all a half-hearted PR move to preempt criticism of MTV when they're simultaneously honoring the over-the-top lyrics of homophobic idiot Tyler The Creator.