While the performances of the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards were somewhat lackluster, there were still some huge moments during the evening. On Sunday, August 24, viewers watched singers such as Ariana Grande and Katy Perry take home coveted Moonman statues. Controversial performer Miley Cyrus took home the biggest award of the evening for “Video of the Year” and in the most shocking moment of all, she allowed a young homeless man to accept the honor on her behalf. Introducing himself as Jesse, he spoke to the crowd as part of the “1.6 million runaways and homeless youth in the United States who are starving, lost and scared for their lives.”
As Cyrus looked on in tears, Jesse requested that people visit Cyrus’ Facebook page in order to learn more about a homeless shelter in Hollywood called My Friend’s Place. It was a warm and moving moment for many, although it was also a lot more questionable than many may have realized.
During the pre-show for the Video Music Awards, Cyrus was interviewed and asked if she had anything “shocking” to bring to the stage, even though she would not be performing this year. She replied that she did have something huge up her sleeve. Considering what would inevitably happen, it does put MTV in an interesting position: there is a possibility she knew she had won the honor well before it happened on television.
Secondly, Cyrus was already bested by another musician who used the VMA platform to speak on another heavy issue in America. Earlier in the telecast, hip-hop performer Common was brought on stage to introduce the “Best Hip-Hop Video.” Before he shared the nominees, he spoke of the ongoing protests in Ferguson, MO, following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“Hip-hop has always been about truth,” he stated, “and [it] has been a powerful instrument for social change.” He then led the audience into a five-second long silence in Brown’s memory.
Admittedly, most reading this piece will not know who Common is. Long considered a “socially conscious rapper,” the 42-year-old has released ten albums throughout his career and has won two Grammy Awards. He is very seldom recognized outside of an urban music medium.
The MTV Video Music Awards is probably one of the biggest public forums that Common has attended in recent memory. His most recent album, Nobody’s Smiling, was released in July of this year, but no one would have known that by his appearance on the VMA stage. There was nothing selfish about his words. The moment was grander than him and his actions reflected this.
Cyrus, on the other end of the spectrum, has had access to a more public medium for some time. Just last year, she was considered the biggest takeaway of VMA performance highlights. MTV has also released two specials since then, giving her plenty of screen time.
She does have her philanthropic moments as well, but it is interesting that she called attention to one during a moment when the most eyes would be on her. It was rightly and perhaps even smartly played, but Cyrus does lose a lot of authenticity in the process. Common may get some recognition and mention for bringing up a strong social issue, just as Cyrus will. However, he seemingly did so without any hidden agenda attached to it. What he did was truly admirable. What she did feels more like a PR move.
Of course, it really should not matter either way. Miley Cyrus used a huge moment to call attention to a dark truth in this country. Because of that, more light will be shed on a crisis that needs to be attended to.
With that being said, she was not the true big winner of the Video Music Awards. One celebrity pushed the camera away completely, while the other made sure she was still in frame. For his show of humanity and doing it better than Cyrus ever could, Common was the big winner. He deserves all of the applause.
Opinion by Jonathan Brown