Hypocrisy behind gender neutrality at the VMAs | The Express Tribune


The show announced all-women nominees for one of its most popular awards – five years after terming it gender-neutral.

As the world of music celebrates the all – and only – women short-listed nominations for one of the VMAs most popular categories; Artist of the Year, in undoubtedly a historical moment for the award show’s run, this precedent comes five years too late for an award show seemingly making the move towards gender-based equality since 2017.

Excitement surged around the all-female line-up for MTV’s Video Music Awards that were announced just last week, revealing one of the award show’s most popular categories to have an all-female nomination for the first time since the VMA’s declared their categories gender-neutral in 2017. Beyonce, Doja Cat, Karol G, Nicki Minaj, Shakira and Taylor Swift go head-to-head to compete for the moon-person prize in a year that has been undoubtedly full of fem-energy. With Beyoncé’s timeless Renaissance Tour estimated to gross between $275 million and $2.4 billion by September end, and pop icon Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour predicated to optimistically garner $1.9 billion, it is not much of a debate that female energy currently dominates the music scene.

Additionally, the nominations for Video of the Year follow closely behind with a majority of women musicians with the exception of Sam Smith, who identifies as non-binary. Besides Smith, nominees include Doja Cat, Miley Cyrus, Nicki, Minaj, Olivia Rodrigo, Kim Petras and SZA.

So, while it is not much of an argument that women were destined to overtake the award shows arguably most popular category this year, it does bring into question why it took so long. Excitement for this female-line up has been majorly misconstrued on social media given the fact that 2022 – just last year – witnessed a male-heavy spread of nominations with Jack Harlow, Kendrick Lamar and Lil Nas X leading the pack of nominees, as announced by MTV itself. Hence, do we honestly believe that T-Swift and Bey – as commercially groundbreaking as they may have been in their individual genres – have simply overturned the entire tide of sexism in a year?

Or even more specifically, why has a non-binary artist only just begun to be recognized in the award show’s history after having last been nominated in 2014 – regardless of releasing hits like Too Good at Goodbyes in 2017, Fire on Fire in 2019 and Dancing with a Stranger in 2020?

MTV’s decision to move towards a seemingly progressive concept of ridding themselves of gender specific categories may have felt like an ambitious undertaking back in 2017. In fact, fans and celebrities alike hailed the decision. One such familiar name was Emma Watson herself, a familiarly known vocal activist for women’s rights. After winning the award for Best Actor in a Movie at MTV’s Movie Awards, the she applauded, “To me, it indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories.”

But, although theorizing that this move towards gender-neutrality would optimistically allow minorities like women and queer folk to dominate amongst male artists was a surface-level win, years through 2017 all the way to 2023 have just proven otherwise.

While it is a question for the ages as to why minority identities were not displayed as top nominees most years, it seems that the progressive concept did not even fully take flight in 2017 itself. Out of the fifteen categories at the time, women were only observed to outnumber men in the Best New Artist category, with majority of those being dominated by – you guessed it – men. In fact, only the categories of Best Pop and Best Collaboration were evenly spilt. And lo-and-behold, the Best Rock and Best Hip-Hop categories did not include any women at all.

One may praise MTV for attempting to move towards a balanced avenue towards judging artists for their craft; an attempt to rise above matters of gender to allow artists to take center stage for their wins. However, in an attempt to rid the culture of discrimination and pave the path for gender neutral judgement, MTV’s decision serves as an apt example of how differences of gender cannot be ignored.

While attempting to eradicate differences amongst the arts, the drive towards establishing gender neutrality seems to further push minority groups towards the ground, not allowing any identities, whether that be women or non-binary folk, to have their moment in the limelight in a world where many avenues will inevitably be male dominated.





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