While Twitter and Facebook are buzzing with debates over Miley Cyrus’ overtly sexualized performance at the VMAs last weekend, I’d like to take a minute to remind everyone of one of the most contentious performances in entertainment history, which coincidentally was also a VMA performance. Miley Cyrus’ twerking tush and gyrating tongue show marked the tenth anniversary of Madonna and Britney’s deeply divisive kiss in 2003.
Yes, it is a sight to be seen—virgin turned vixen Britney Spears gallivants across the light studded stage in a white wedding dress and veil, singing “Like a Virgin” in her infantile pop-squeal voice, while fans scream wildly. Then, from the side appears a profoundly fake-tanned Christina Aguilera, also sporting a wedding gown, who busts out the next verse with a robust set of pipes. The two seem to be battling over the title of “Pop Queen” and the conflicted crowd—still frantically screeching like overly stimulated lemmings—isn’t sure what to do.
Then, as if things aren’t crazy enough, Madonna, the original Queen herself, pops out of an enormous wedding cake and seductively and dominantly trots down the stairs in a black groomsman getup toward the two “like a virgin” brides. The whole scene is delightfully salacious, as the three entertainers dance provocatively in tandem.
And then, once the crowd is going totally nuts and can barely keep from passing out from the incessant hopping and screaming, Madonna pulls Britney in for a quick yet sensual kiss.
The incident immediately blew up in the media. While there was no Twitter or Facebook back in 2003—God, I feel old—that didn’t stop people from discussing it on television, in newspapers, in online forums, at the water cooler, and alike. Seriously, the world was going absolutely bonkers over this smooch.
Now here we are, ten years later, and a young woman has taken it a bit further. Cyrus, bending conventional gender roles by capitalizing her sexuality and essentially being ridiculed for acting like a man, has been the center of much debate and countless articles for an entire three days. Of course, there’s also the fact that Cyrus objectified women, or more specifically black women, in her performance. But that’s another issue entirely.
The point is, while people make an extraordinarily valid point that, as a country, we should probably be more concerned with the controversies with Syria rather than the shocking gyrations of a pop star’s rump, pop culture and sex will always have defining moments in our history. And while these moments may seem idiotically trivial at the time, they greatly impact the way people think, the arguments of feminism, racial controversies, the laws we lobby for, the rights we fight for, and the direction we take for our future. That said, the more poignant political problems with Syria and alike will clearly also have a grand effect on our future. Yet the idea that the debates over Cyrus’ sexuality, or Madonna and Britney’s homoerotic kiss, are a waste of time is not altogether valid.