Nine years after Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards to tell the audience that the Moonman she held belonged to Beyoncé, the show has corrected its error by excluding Swift from any of the top-tier awards categories. When the 2018 VMA nominees were announced on Monday, Swift’s video for “Look What You Made Me Do” scored nods for Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, and Best Editing—three technical categories. Her work wasn’t nominated for any of the coveted awards that really signify a star’s status in a given year: Video Of The Year, Artist Of The Year, or Song Of The Year.
Unsurprisingly, Taylor Swift fans are table-flipping mad. In fact, Swifties are so incensed about the perceived snub that they’ve spent the last day lighting up Twitter with harsh words and rage-filled hashtags, the 2018 internet equivalent of a full-blown riot. And, to be clear, it's just the fans: Swift herself has been silent on the subject.
I, personally, am not a Taylor Swift fan. I’m also not a Taylor Swift hater. I enjoyed Red, mostly because I live for any album that spills tea on the shortcomings and romantic missteps of straight men—and I’ll probably never forgive Jake Gyllenhaal for his bullshit. I also enjoyed 1989, which was, haters be damned, a pretty good pop album. “Blank Space” has gotten me through enough cardio that I should probably give it its own award, in honor of what my doctor says is excellent heart health.
All of that aside, I can’t say that I’m unhappy that Swift’s been left out of the major VMA categories this year. “Look What You Made Me Do” was fine, I guess, but it hardly made the cultural impact of the other nominees in its category. “This Is America,” for which Childish Gambino earned a nod, made explicit statements about the impossible balance of being black in America, and the impact when it came out was huge. Drake’s “God’s Plan,” another video nominated this year, used most of its million-dollar budget to produce somewhat crude footage of Drake traveling around the country, giving all of that money away. Beyoncé and Jay Z rented the entire fucking Louvre to make the video that earned them a nomination for “APESHIT,” a visually stunning, aggressive disruption to the quiet pomp of white, European art culture. By comparison, “Look What You Made Me Do” is shrug-worthy at best, forgettable at worst, and either way not particularly worthy being called one of the best of the year.
It’s not just that, either. The mere idea that Swift is somehow being overlooked or unfairly overshadowed simply doesn’t match up to her place in this world—that is, the place of a highly visible, exceedingly privileged white woman who is not wanting for attention. Time and time again, Swift has been given the chance to win—and more often than not, she has.
In MTV VMA history, Swift has earned a total of 19 nominations (including this year’s three). From those, she’s won six VMAs. In 2009, Swift’s video for “You Belong With Me” beat Beyoncé's “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” in the Best Female Video category, a shocking outcome that upset both myself and Kanye West in equal measure. She won the award again in 2013, for “I Knew You Were Trouble.” In 2015, Swift won in the Best Pop Video and Video of the Year categories for “Blank Space,” as well as Best Collaboration for “Bad Blood.” In 2017, she won the Best Collaboration award again for “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.”
If my calculations (and Wikipedia) are correct, Taylor Swift has been nominated for 605 awards throughout her career, spanning the American Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, and the Grammys, to name a few. She's won 350 of the awards she was nominated for, which puts her at roughly a 58 percent success rate. By comparison, consider Beyoncé, objectively a more prolific artist than Swift: She has been nominated for 805 awards as a solo artist, and won 309 of them, putting her at a 38 percent success rate. That means that Beyoncé has been recognized as among the best by committees, academies, and voters significantly more often than Swift, but has seen a 20 percent lower return rate on that recognition. Swift has taken home way more statues, no matter how you slice it.
Suddenly, the “Single Ladies” loss feels kind of raw again.
All saltiness aside, my point in examining two female artists like Swift and Beyoncé is not to compare them, but to make the case to Swift fans that when you’re a white woman with a platform, being left out once in a while isn’t the end of the world. Any time someone is left out of an award category—or a job, a promotion, a spot on the team, or even a second of air in a conversation—that space is open to someone else: someone with less of a statistical probability to win, who nonetheless has earned their shot.
Take, for instance, that major flashpoint for Swift fans: the lack of a nomination for Video of the Year for “Look What You Made Me Do.” Five out of six nominees in the category are people of color, including Drake, who has a total of 469 award nominations and 99 wins under his belt (a 21 percent success rate); Childish Gambino, who has 81 total award nominations and 23 wins (a 28 percent success rate); and of course, Beyoncé and Jay Z as The Carters—collectively, the pair has been nominated for 1,018 awards and won 409 of them, putting them at a 40 percent success rate. That means two individual artists with extensive careers are still losing 18 percent more of the time than Taylor Swift, one single human with a shorter career and, I’ll say it, far less interesting music.
All of this considered, it's actually just fine that Taylor Swift won’t get the chance to win in the top VMA categories this year. She’s a talented, connected, internationally famous, ultra-rich, slim, blonde, white woman. She’s spent her entire career winning, and will likely continue to do so. Hell, she could still take home three Moonmen this August. Otherwise, it’s nice to see a blank space where her name used to be, if only because it means we get to write in someone else’s.