The MTV Video Music Awards are often dismissed for being all about shock value and vapid celebrity worship. But in a teachable, touching, and real moment on Sunday’s uncharacteristically political VMAs telecast, this year’s Video Vanguard recipient, Pink, used her time onstage to make a strong feminist statement about self-acceptance, self-expression, and gender equality. There’s little no doubt that her speech will resonate with viewers — particularly young, impressionable female viewers — long after we’ve all forgotten who won or wore what.
As Pink — who had proudly walked the VMAs red carpet with her 6-year-old daughter, Willow, with the two wearing matching menswear suits — accepted her Moon Person trophy from friend and admirer Ellen DeGeneres, she addressed Willow directly, at first telling a sad story about how Willow was teased at school for being “ugly.”
Ugly? Spectators gasped as the cameras cut to the adorable girl in golden pigtails, watching her mother intently in the audience with father Carey Hart. How could anyone be so cruel to this child? And how could someone as young and innocent as Willow already feel so insecure?
“She said to me, out of the blue, ‘Mama, I am the ugliest girl I know,’” Pink revealed angrily. “And I said, ‘Huh?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, I look like a boy with long hair.’ And my brain went to, ‘Oh my God, you are 6. Why? Where is this coming from? Who said this?’ … But I didn’t say anything. Instead I went home, and I made a Powerpoint presentation for her.”
Proving that Pink would have been the coolest schoolteacher ever had she not become one of the fiercest pop stars of the past 17 years, the 37-year-old mother of two explained that her presentation for Willow showcased “androgynous rock stars” like Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Annie Lennox, Prince, George Michael, and Elton John — “artists that live their truth, are probably made fun of every day of their lives, and carry on, wave their flag, and inspire the rest of us.”
But when Willow still complained about “looking like a boy,” Pink, whose signature tomboy style has always included ripped muscles and close-cropped hair, explained that her looks have been criticized for years. “When people make fun of me, that’s what they use: They say that I look like a boy, or I am too masculine, too many opinions, my body is too strong. And I said to her, ‘Do you see me growing my hair? Do you see me changing my body? Do you see me changing the way I present myself to the world? And do you see me selling out arenas all over the world? So, baby girl, we don’t change. We take the gravel and the shell and we make a pearl.’”
Everyone in the Forum audience was clearly moved, but no one seemed more “shook” than VMAs host Katy Perry herself, who exclaimed immediately afterwards: “I am dead, I am living, I am crying. She is iconic!”
Pink’s proclamation wasn’t the only emotional speech of the night. During his performance of “1-800-273-8255” with Alessia Cara, Khalid and a cast of brave suicide attempt survivors and loss survivors wearing shirts stating “You Are Not Alone,” positive rapper Logic thanked MTV for giving him “a platform to talk about something that mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about: mental health, anxiety, suicide, depression, and so much more we talk about on the album. Racism. Discrimination. Sexual assault. Domestic assault. I don’t give a damn. If you are black, white, any color, Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, I am here to fight, because I believe that we are all born equal, but we are not treated equally. That is why we must fight. We must fight, for every man, woman, child. And every color, creed, sexual orientation. Hear now if you believe in this message, our message of peace, love, positivity, and equality for all. I demand that you rise to your feet and applaud not only for yourselves, but for the foundation we all raised for our children.”
The 2017 MTV Video Music Awards took place at the Forum in Los Angeles on Sunday evening.
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