The MTV VMAs often provides a pedestrian affair, as the world’s most popular pop stars battle it out in a quest for the coveted water cooler moment. Naturally, the VMAs took on a more serious tone in the face of growing political unrest and heightened racial tensions following the events in Charlottesville. With these issues firmly in the forefront of the collective consciousness, the needless elongation of several pop star feuds clashed horrendously with the often successful displays of poignancy.
Girl group Fifth Harmony continued to drag former member Camila Cabello through the mud with an explicit stunt during their performance and host Katy Perry closed the show with her track ‘Swish Swish’, a diss track aimed at Taylor Swift. Perhaps the most outright display of animosity was Swift’s accompanying music video for her new single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. The video has since been dissected and analysed within an inch of its life, digging up long buried quarrels as well as ongoing feuds, such as her long-standing one with Katy Perry.
‘In fact, publications like NME make their retorts sound like a battle for the best gag at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.’
So as the VMAs attempt to make a show of earnestness and humility, pop feuds strung out far beyond their 15 minutes look all the more ill-advised and certainly fail to expand on any lingering notions of artistic integrity and imagination. To undermine your adversaries with petty dramas and stuff your craft full of vaguely bitchy one liners in attempt to stir drama does not show progression or growth; it’s at very best a panicked snatch at pop culture significance.
But even in showing your merciless side, as Swift has maintained in her time away from the microphone, Swift has also proven that newsworthiness doesn’t always translate into continued popularity. With her victim-turned-betrayer role in the now infamous leaked video involving herself, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Swift’s once-deemed gutsy ruthlessness was curdled by deception overnight. The mutually beneficial aspect is also problematic here. For instance, Perry and Swift are both represented by Universal Music Group so the feud is a double banker in terms of driving sales and streams- especially after Swift made her entire catalogue available again on Spotify on the same day Perry released her most recent album Witness.
On top of this painful futility, the pop star feud also highlights a huge contrast in the way female musicians are received in comparison to their male counterparts. Kanye West emerged relatively unscathed following the controversial assertions on his track ‘Famous’, in which he claims to have made Swift famous. The ongoing, explicit war of words between the Gallagher brothers is not taken seriously at all. In fact, publications like NME make their retorts sound like a battle for the best gag at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
‘Women are painted as beings incapable of reconciliation or cooperation and male quarrelling merely gets passed off as a stubborn assertion of masculinity or banter.’
The only supposed feud in recent memory where the female counterpart comes out on top would be Beyonce with her record Lemonade. Beyonce tackled her husband’s infidelity gracefully but Jay-Z’s response with his latest album 4:44 still allowed him to sidestep much of the criticism thrown his way and continue to push his streaming platform Tidal. As Swift and Perry continue to exhaustedly draw out their dispute and the momentum swings towards Kanye in the West/Swift saga, unflattering gender stereotypes are solidified. Women are painted as beings incapable of reconciliation or cooperation and male quarrelling merely gets passed off as a stubborn assertion of masculinity or banter. And in terms of artistic integrity, sinking deep into a long-running grudge only plays like a once-loved TV show that should’ve been cancelled a long time ago; any adoration is slowly poisoned by an increasing lack of imagination. The legitimacy of the feud fades into a facade so when the inevitable moment for reconciliation comes, renewed mutual respect puts a huge dent in the authenticity of these warring stars or it’s rejected and the feud is renewed for yet another pointless and predictable season. Either way, nobody wins. Not either of these respective pop stars, and certainly not you, the pop fan too far gone and too heavily invested to opt out of the drama now.