She Pop: VMA Disappointments For Everyone!

Ah, the VMAs! Pop spectacle at its finest! If, by "finest," you mean "most spectacularly overhyped and therefore ripe for viewer disappointment." Which is what I mean, actually, so I'm good. And today, in my quest to provide you with the least timely post on the VMAs EVER, I present you with three defining moments. Which is most disappointing? That is for you (by which I mean "me," since I am writing this blog post) to decide!



THE OFFENSE: So, Taylor Swift (who? Oh, she seems nice, I guess) won an award for Best Female Video. Beyonce was also nominated in that category! For "Single Ladies!" Say, I know who SHE is. So, Kanye West takes the mike from Taylor - sorry for the non-linking: I can't find a YouTube video of the incident that isn't somehow remixed to call him "gay" or to make jokes about how he is a scary black man - and makes the point that Beyonce made "one of the best videos of all time." And this, like a lot of the things that your drunk uncle says at Thanksgiving ("LINDA! ARE YOU STILL GETTING THE ABORTION?!") is both relatively true and very embarrassing for all involved. Beyonce has to make her "WHAT, who is this douche even TALKING ABOUT" face and give up her later acceptance speech (for Best Video) to Taylor, Taylor looks like she's going to cry a little, and Kanye gets booed out of the theater. 

MITIGATING FACTORS: The winners in this scenario are, in order: Beyonce, who now looks like the nicest lady on the face of the planet in addition to being the prettiest and richest and most famous, Taylor Swift, who benefits both from public sympathy and from the fact that I now know who she is, and Kanye, who gets to be relevant for a few days without having to TYPE SO HARD HE BREAKS HIS MAC BOOK AIR. Granted, the two ladies won by playing the ever-frustrating Who Can Be The Most Demure and Self-Sacrificing and Non-Confrontational game. (Come ON, Taylor: you didn't even THINK about yelling at the dude? Not ONCE?) But they won it. Oh, and here's another potential winner: MTV, who might have staged the whole thing? 

VERDICT: Not very disappointing. In fact, SO not disappointing that it comes around full circle and becomes disappointing again! Paradox!



THE OFFENSE: And it is... um, Phantom of the Opera, basically? 

Consider: the half-mask! The chamber music! The ornate set decoration, the theatrical blood-spurting dance numbers, the howling of the word "NOOOOOO!" The DOWNED CHANDELIER IN THE FREAKING BACKGROUND, MY GOD. And I know, I know, she was performing "Paparazzi," the song about how fame is like violence in that it will cause you to spontaneously bleed from the ribcage after doing Tori Amos impressions, but still: Lady Gaga! I expect weirder things from you! 

MITIGATING FACTORS: Okay, so she did it at the VMAs, site of 9 million reverential Michael Jackson tributes (he was a king! A king! And we ABANDONED HIM) which seemed to prove that we love our stars more after they die and we don't have to deal with that whole "recurring allegations of sexual assault" deal. Which was kind of fun. And I am continually pleased by the way Gaga toys with and subverts her own objectification, by presenting us with things that we should in theory find sexy (fishnets! Undies! And let us never forget the bare midriff) and then making it impossible for us to actually sexualize them (by, for example, spurting blood all over them). 

VERDICT: Mildly disappointing. Take note, Lady Gaga: had you performed in that terrifying Hell-demon chess-piece ensemble you used to accept your award, you could have raised this to a solid score of Not Disappointing At All. This was a missed opportunity for all of us. 



THE OFFENSE: Ah, Russell Brand! What a delightful rogue he is! What an irreverent cad! What a... oh, I give up. Here's a transcript of the joke he made about Megan Fox (via awesome lady for whom I have FULL DISCLOSURE guest-blogged, Melissa McEwan): 

She has admitted she is a little bit cuckoo
upstairs and I have trained in psychiatry. So Megan, if you do have a
little dizzy spell, love, I could probably drop you a little pill. You
can go and have a lie down in my dressing room. You might get some
crazy dreams about being visited by a scarecrow, a perfumed weirdo
leaning over you. But let me tell you, that's a common side-effect.
Megan, take your medicine.

MITIGATING FACTORS: Well, she's attractive, you see, and so Russell Brand is implying that the natural result of this is that he will... um, well, the point is that she's admitted to possibly having a medical condition that may require medication, and so Brand is implying that he might take advantage of that to... okay, so the point is that a lot of people dislike her, and Brand is implying that he could punish her by... yeah, no, there are no mitigating factors. That shit is vile. 

THE VERDICT: Yep! This is by far the most disappointing thing that happened at the VMAs. Also, the thing that is getting the least press coverage! Because seriously, who wants to talk about how jokes about raping (widely disliked and slut-shamed) women are still acceptable in our culture when you can talk about how that loud black man Kanye West was just so mean to that poor innocent blond virginal Taylor Swift? Because God knows that's not the narrative that can still get the most play and the easiest reaction or anything. It was atrocious! Awful! Unforgivable! Etc. 

by Sady Doyle
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Sady Doyle is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is the founder of the blog Tiger Beatdown and the author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock and Fear, and Why. Her writing has appeared in The GuardianThe Atlantic, The Awl, Buzzfeed, and all across the internet.  ​

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8 Comments Have Been Posted

What's the big deal about

What's the big deal about Kanye West's comment? Sure, it was rude, but Taylor Swift is a joke! Have you seen that woman's Twitter? "Oooh, ice cream, I am a cute innocent blonde, I write songs that 12-year-old girls will swoon over, that are all about a man saving me from my pitiful teenage existence!" At least Beyoncé has a personality!

That was mean. And totally

That was mean. And totally uncalled for.

Behind the Bluff

If She Pop felt afraid, repulsed, or just plain baffled by Lady Gaga’s performance of “Paparazzi” at the 2009 Video Music Awards, then I guess I’m not alone. Her ‘bloody show,’ as some internet sites have so cleverly called it, is a great big bundle of political mucus lined in stanky body fluids and coagulations of womanly discharge – and on September 13th we got it all spewed up in our faces.

OK – so maybe I have a slender bone to pick with Lady Gaga, or maybe a fat, clunky bone, but the body politic behind her performance is far beyond the now rhinoplastic-tastic starlight. And for that reason, it’s worth unraveling this pop culture riddle in ways that we can all stomach.

So just what can be made of this sanguine event? The Victorian-inspired fairytale backdrop, the macabre-themed surgical wardrobe, the blood that was so disturbing lapped up by the Lady herself, the mock-hanging at the finale, all danced to a song about some desperate fan planning to take his stalker fantasies to the next level – what could it possibly mean?

Here’s some fresh perspective: Lady Gaga’s performance does one heck of a job at perpetuating the deeply ingrained, though seldom recognized ideology that women’s bodies are symbolic of defilement. It domesticates aggressive male behavior and is a nearly sickening explosion of sexuality puppeteered by patriarchal mentality. As a woman and feminist, that’s a huge no-no.

Here's a highlight the obvious: Gaga’s performance is gushing with visible contrasts. Diverse colors and lighting, the mix of genders, the mingling of traditional and modern scenery - it all reflects a dualistic pattern of thought that conceives sex as desirous yet dangerous. The performance begins as all sexual experience does – with awakening. The most outragoeous ever, to be precise (its flipping suggestive of death!). A mere glance at the performers’ outfits and this idea that our bodies – our own sexuality – are threatening becomes quite apparent. The pure white costumes spattered with pinkish-brown blood is not unlike Snow White and her gift of a handkerchief moistened by three drops of blood, as early versions of the tale relate. This gift, a burden in disguise, taints with imminent doom the maiden’s future travels. According to Bruno Bettelheim, a premier scholar on the psychoanalysis of fairytales, the red-on-white color scheme symbolizes a disruption of virginity by the menarche, which, with its inception, causes misfortune to young girls. Using identical images, Lady Gaga presents sexual awakening as crude, alarming, and most hauntingly, as a death dealer.

But Gaga’s blood boiling, vessel popping escapade goes even deeper than this, for not only does it trivialize womanhood on a personal level, but its erotic charge further arouses us to conceptualize sexual intercourse as dangerous. It is one thing to think of the dangers of sex in the abstract, though it is made concretely obvious by Gaga’s use of crutches, wheelchairs, and medics. Its another thing to think about sex as a very REAL mess of political mayhem. Gaga is clearly making a statement about how women’s powerlessness over their bodies makes them susceptible to sexual violence. The first thing that came to mind after watching the performance’s bloody climax (pun intended), in which the pop star collapsed and was then rushed by a volley of muscle men, was rape. Even her song “Paparazzi” eludes to sexual drama by defining Lady Gaga as particularly rape-prone to fanatical stalkers (frequent rape offenders), thanks to her super-star status. Her performance, crystallizing female weakness through mock sexual assault, is particularly traumatic because it’s lasting impression it one of fear, depression, guilt, and anxiety.

Additionally, the frequent “bloody show” pun used to characterize her performance skews conceptions of pregnancy as the grotesque ‘other,’ typecasting it as a foreign force that must be isolated and restricted, if not removed altogether. Furthermore, the show ends with a ghoulish ‘hanging,’ Lady Gaga’s stone faced, dead corpse perfectly embodying women as passive victims of self-inflicted death.

Ok - so my analysis may be spent for now, but I’m curious to know how other viewers are responding to this poker-faced cultural conundrum. Could it be that Lady Gaga is liberating women by exclaiming their darkest sexual ‘secrets’ (i.e. menstruation, intercourse, child birth) in perhaps the most confident, secure, and free way possible? (Sure, as a feminist, all this is a big no-no, so why did I find her performance so darn captivating?) No doubt, Gaga understands how the female body is linked up to complex cultural ideologies. It’s through her manipulation of that body that she is able to cause such a stir. But is she working towards an acceptance of female bodies, or is her performance just a downright bloody mess?

Taylor Swift rules!

First of all, I can't believe you haven't heard of Taylor Swift! She's this great singer who's only 19 and has really risen up in the country scene and has gone into that pop-country genre. She's also an incredibly sweet and humble person. You really ought to check out her stuff.

And of course she's not going to yell at Kayne West to STFU, she's above that. She's mature, unlike him. And no, MTV didn't stage it because Beyonce was horrified, and he was drunk (he was drinking Hennessey on the red carpet and when he got into the show, classy, I know), and when Jay Leno questioned him about how his mother felt about it, he fell silent, and then vowed to take a break from the music scene and actually grieve for his mom. He has a history of doing this. And MTV would have already came out and said that it was a prank, but they seriously wouldn't have done that to Taylor Swift. Eminem, yes (because he's a douche). Taylor Swift, no. In fact, I could imagine them pranking Kayne West.

I disagree about Gaga's performance being a mild disappointment, I personally loved it. She really brought forth her inner craziness about performance and art and performance art. She's totally crazy and that's what I love about her.

And I really do think that Russell Brand is NOT funny. I want him to go back to England! And take Rob Pattinson with him!

Everyone meet Whitney, our

Everyone meet Whitney, our in-house celebrity defense attorney.

Seriously, you are so quick to blindly defend any celebrity who's being critiqued, and can back it up with shocking hard evidence like "He was drinking Hennessey on the red carpet and when he got into the show." Oh and, "MTV would have already came out and said that it was a prank, but they seriously wouldn't have done that to Taylor Swift." OHHHH. I see now. MTV SERIOUSLY wouldn't have done it. Which brings me to my next point, which is that if you think this blog entry is really about whether or not it was a prank, you've missed the point and should probably go start a career at US Weekly or something, since you seem to have all the latest gossip down pat.

In less talked about VMA

In less talked about VMA moments news, Pink performed "Sober" on a trapeze! Did anyone else notice that? I'm consistently impressed with the songs on her new album. The album seems very personal, original, and impressively cohesive. Pink rivals Lady Gaga in terms of pathological need for attention, but is far more interesting and introspective about it. Like Taylor Swift, her songs are also essentially about boys, but again, far more interesting, introspective and mature. Believe me, I can go toe to toe with the best of them on a disappointment-a-thon, but let's face it, these moments have gotten plenty of blogosphere love. Can we talk about how Alicia Keys held her ground with the most important person in NYC aka Jay Z? And how Janet figuratively brought MJ back to life during that side by side "Scream" dance sequence? I wish I had a sister like Janet.

Pink + Beyonce's responses

Pink and Beyonce's solidarity with Taylor made me smile. I appreciate any display, no matter how small, that helps erode society's widely-held misconception that women have some ingrained perpetual acrimony towards one another. We are not always in competition. Even during actual competitions!

Speaking of, I wonder if Kayne would have been able to keep his egomania in check if Pink had won, or would he have tried pulling the same stunt with her? I imagine he would know better, which solidifies my belief that the "boy who was bullied" is now himself being a bully. Shoving aside those he knows he can intimidate.

Taylor Swift will, I hope, take a lesson from this: Do not stand down when people with penises decide, "I'm going to steal your mic and your moment if I have to jump on heads to do it." Ms. Swift is going to encounter a lot of..."that". All women do in some form or another. And if we witness it, we will stick up for ourselves and I hope for one another, and not let it happen ALL. DAY. LONG.

On that front, Pink and Beyonce definitely did not disappoint me. :-) If we lived in a different world, I might not be so impressed. But we live in this one, so I am.

"Do not stand down when

"Do not stand down when people with penises decide, "I'm going to steal your mic..."" Penis or no penis, no one should back down when they are walked on. If anything she played the part of the "silent protest" which in my experience does not work very well.

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