Non-Latinas Score Best Latin Award at VMAs

MTV Video Music Awards Continue to Spark Controversy over Racial and Cultural Bias

Megan Swedberg, Contributing Writer

Each year, MTV’s Video Music Awards – commonly referred to as the VMAs – bring together some of the hottest current artists of all different musical genres (pop, rock, hip-hop, etc.) to celebrate the best music videos of the year.

On September 12, musical celebrities such as Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas X, and Justin Bieber gathered for the live entertainment event at the Barclay Center in New York. As with many MTV VMA ceremonies in the past, this year’s ceremony didn’t just feature electrifying live performances and memorable acceptance speeches, but also ignited some fiery controversy.

As with any competitive event, whether it be between athletes or musicians, there are always bound to be disputes over who is “the best”. Such controversy is at the core of a rivalry where someone comes out on top and someone on the bottom. However, when controversy surrounds matters of bias and inequality, the nature of competing is spoiled, for it is no longer a question of who is the most worthy or deserving, but of who has been given the greater advantage.  

The issue regarding advantage and worthiness can be explored in the case of Billie Eilish and Rosalía, two Non-Latina white women, taking home the award for Best Latin Video over prominent Latin artists like Bad Bunny, Shakira, and Maluma during Sunday’s VMAs. 

While their award-winning song “Lo Vas A Olvidar” is sung almost entirely in Spanish and has therefore been categorized as Latin music, neither Eilish nor Rosalía are members of the Latin American community. Rather, according to the news source HITC, Eilish is American with Irish and Scottish roots, while Rosalía is Spanish. 

Ever since they took home the trophy, social media has been teeming with backlash targeted towards the two singers and the VMAs as a whole, with many calling out the racial bias and cultural appropriation involved with two white women receiving and accepting recognition for a culture that is not their own.

For instance, via the social media platform Twitter, one person wrote “billie eilish and rosalia winning ‘best Latin’ music video at the VMAs is such a disrespect towards us latin women. none of them are latin. none of them represent our culture. @vmas you should be embarrassed.” 

Another Twitter user quoted an A.V. Club newspaper article, writing that “Rosalía is not a Latin artist. She’s Spanish. That means she’s Hispanic because she comes from a Castilian-speaking country…the message is clear: the VMAs is still up to its [nonsense] of not properly recognizing people of color.”

As previously implied, this is not the first time that such issues and accusations have arisen at the VMAs.

In regards to cultural appropriation, as presented in an article for Berklee College’s Online Magazine, Miley Cyrus was previously accused of appropriating Black culture in her twerking performance at the 2013 VMAs and her criticism of Kendrick Lamar’s explicit rapping. Audiences have further pointed out the fact she had made several appearances displaying cornrows, dreadlocks, and grills, which are traditionally stylistic features of African societies. 

Additionally, according to an article from The Guardian, Nicki Minaj posted a series of tweets suggesting that her music video for Anaconda was overlooked by the VMAs in 2015 due to her not being the ideal race: “If I was a different ‘kind’ of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well.”

“When the ‘other’ girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination.”

“I’m not always confident. Just tired. Black women influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it.”

Instances of racial and cultural bias have been confronted with other major music award events  in the past.. At the 2014 Grammys, Macklemore won Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar, despite his  album being  publicly regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time. As stated in an article from The Independent, Macklemore himself claimed that his win was partly due to his skin color being white, and apologized to Lamar via text message: “You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you.”

Collectively, the moments described above highlight the advantage white artists have in music award shows such as the VMAs and the Grammys. There is a long history of rewarding and recognizing white artists for their “cultural versatility” and subsequent history of particularly black artists being underrepresented despite their vast influence in the music industry.