This past July, when the MTV Video Music Award nominees were announced, Nicki Minaj tweeted about the underlying racism in the music industry after Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video earned a video of the year nomination, but Nicki’s “Anaconda” did not.
Though Minaj claimed this tweet was a comment on the industry as a whole, neither Swift nor Miley seemed to think so, and Cyrus complained about Minaj’s comments in an interview with the New York Times. Though Swift later apologized for the misunderstanding, Cyrus only exacerbated the issue when two months later, Cyrus, donning faux blonde dreadlocks, took the stage to host the VMAs, and Minaj uttered the now-famous words: “Miley, what’s good?” What might seem like an inconsequential catfight between three superstars actually reveals a lot about white privilege and cultural appropriation in the music industry.
Since Cyrus’ re-emergence on the music scene with her 2013 album, “Bangerz,” she’s been nothing but controversial. This time, her outspoken attitude and eccentric style have gone too far. After admitting that she “didn’t follow” the exchange between Swift and Minaj on Twitter, Cyrus went on to comment, “I don’t respect [Nicki’s] statement because of the anger that came with it. What I read sounded very Nicki Minaj, which, if you know Nicki Minaj is not too kind. It’s not very polite. I think there’s a way you speak to people with openness and love.” Essentially, she reduced Nicki’s point on MTV’s racism to another case of angry black woman syndrome.
After Minaj accepted her award for Best Hip Hop music video, she called out Cyrus for her comments. Cyrus, twirling her fake dreads on her fingers, said that when she lost awards in the past she never made a big deal of it. She again reduced Minaj’s argument to anger over losing just one award, not anger over an unfair system.
The injustice was prominent in the outrage shown across social media platforms as many rose to criticize Cyrus’ dismissiveness, but the singer did not seem to see the issue with her appropriation of a black hairstyle. Since the VMA’s, she has been seen wearing a similar style on “Saturday Night Live.” It’s unfair that Cyrus, a white woman, can get away with being called eccentric when she wears dreads, but Zendaya, a black actress and singer, is criticized for looking like she “smells like patchouli oil and weed” when she wore the same style to the 2015 Academy Awards.
There’s a good portion of Cyrus’ music and persona that is based on her appropriation of black culture. Despite claiming to be a feminist, she continually ignores women of color, as exemplified by her criticism of Minaj. With a career built on appropriation and white privilege, her refusal to acknowledge issues of race and color diminishes what respectability Cyrus may have had as a musician.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday Oct. 22 print edition. Email Riley at [email protected]