On Thursday afternoon, Taylor Swift put an end to a Twitter feud with Nicki Minaj by tweeting an apology to the rapper. After learning of the Video Music Award nominations on Tuesday, Minaj tweeted her frustration with the lack of recognition for her work and with what she views as an industry that consistently favors skinny white women over curvier women of color.
Swift, whose music videos feature mostly white women, attempted to shut down Minaj’s criticisms after assuming they were pointed at her. A media storm ensued, in which Minaj was often portrayed as the “angry black woman,” before Swift apologized. “I thought I was being called out. I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke. I’m sorry, Nicki,” Swift wrote.
Swift’s Twitter apology, which was accepted by Minaj, showed that the pop singer finally understood Minaj’s point. And as we’ve seen recently, Swift has an unparalleled amount of influence and control in the music industry. In June, the singer penned an open letter to Apple, expressing her disappointment that the company’s new music streaming service would not pay artists for plays during listeners’ three-month free trial. The internet exploded, and that same day, Apple announced it would change its policy in favor of artists.
Now that Swift understands Minaj’s criticisms of the music industry’s treatment of black women, the singer could use her power to make a positive impact on the industry and help bring some of the issues Minaj mentioned to light.
While MTV, the host of the VMAs, boasts that the public decides the winners in each award category, the winners are actually chosen from a pool of artists that have been selected by a voting committee. Some “professional categories” are not open to public voting at all. The demographics of the committee are not disclosed by MTV, nor are any potential conflicts of interest between member and artist, leaving plenty of opportunities for biases to dictate award nominations.
To combat this, Swift could demand that MTV release information about its voting committee. This would, at best, reveal a need for better representation and recognition of artists of color. At worst, it would spark a conversation about the necessity of diverse groups choosing award nominees. She could also demand that a third party expert study bias among award nominations and voting committees and release its findings, along with suggestions and solutions.
She could take steps in her personal career, too. Most of the female dancers on tour with Swift are women of color (most of the group, however, are men), but that doesn’t stand true in her music videos. Most of her videos feature almost exclusively thin white women, with the occasional disembodied woman of color making an appearance.
During the Twitter battle, many felt, including Nicki Minaj herself, that Swift was overshadowing her concerns by inserting herself in the discussion. That is what Swift apologized for. But if she really wants to show that she cares and use her influence to lift up other women, all it would take is a new hire, an open letter, or even a socially conscious tweet.
Rupali Srivastava is an intern with ThinkProgress.