Nicki Minaj didn’t, in the end, say much to Miley Cyrus at all. If you only read the comments that lit up the Internet at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, you might think she was kidding, or got cut off, when she “called out” the former Disney star who was hosting: “And now, back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?”
But to really understand the moment, you need to watch the tape.
To summarize: When Minaj’s “Anaconda” won the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, she took to the stage in a slow shuffle, shook her booty with presenter Rebel Wilson, and then gave an acceptance speech in which she switched vocal personas as amusingly as she does in her best raps—street-preacher-like when telling women “don’t you be out here depending on these little snotty-nosed boys”; sweetness and light when thanking her fans and pastor. Then a wave of nausea seemed to come over her, and she turned her gaze toward Cyrus. To me, the look on her face, not the words that she said, was the news of the night:
It’s fitting that the moment was more about delivery more than content. After all, the entire battle had turned into one about manners. In July, Minaj had sent out tweets implying that her work hadn’t been nominated for Video of the Year because, unlike favorites such as Taylor Swift, she wasn’t white and skinny. For an article published days before the VMAs, The New York Times’ Joe Coscarelli asked Cyrus for a reaction. “If you do things with an open heart and you come at things with love, you would be heard and I would respect your statement,” Cyrus said about Minaj’s tweets. “But I don’t respect your statement because of the anger that came with it … What I read sounded very Nicki Minaj, which, if you know Nicki Minaj is not too kind. It’s not very polite.”