video for good
The "Video for Good" celebrates artists, like John Legend, who use their platform to promote positive changes in our world. (Image via Instagram)

‘Video for Good’ Is the Most Important VMA Category, and Here’s Why

This oft-forgotten category should be on more people’s minds.

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video for good

This oft-forgotten category should be on more people’s minds.

It’s almost time for every pop music junkie’s favorite night of the year, MTV’s Video Music Awards. A widely-popular television event since 1984, the VMAs bring the biggest names in music together under one roof as a celebration of the art of the music video. Music doesn’t just have to power to change our lives by bringing happiness and solace; a lot of the time, music and the videos that go along with them promote powerful ideas that we can all learn from, relate to and be touched by. MTV and the VMAs recognize that, and have, in recent years, developed a category dedicated entirely to these songs. First introduced in 2011 as an initiative to highlight music videos that showcase impactful messages and social change, this VMA category has gone through many evolutions and name changes. Called “Best Video With a Message” at its inception, to “Best Video With a Social Message,” to “Best Fight Against the System” in 2017, the award, this year, goes to the best “Video for Good.

Last year, the effort to push for social awareness went to Childish Gambino for “This is America,” which went on to sweep the award season, taking song of the year at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards.

In other years, the category saw winners such as Lady Gaga, Macklemore and Beyoncé. In 2017, rather than choosing a single winner, the VMA was given to all the nominees, whose videos included powerful themes of representation, self-love, immigration and even a video of protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Since this category was introduced, the video nominees have not only depicted timeless messages about fundamental human rights and human nature as a whole, but socially important events and ideas that are especially relevant for the time. From women’s rights under assault by Southern state abortion bans, to queer liberation, to the climate crisis and immigrant rights, the videos this year showcase issues that are especially important to young people and dominate the news on a daily basis.

This year’s VMA Video for Good nominees include:

1. Halsey, “Nightmare”

“‘C’mon, little lady, give us a smile,” the pre-chorus to this feminist rock anthem states, mirroring a remark many women know all too well. However, Halsey’s pushback perfectly encompasses a sentiment victims of catcalling and harassment can relate to: “No, I ain’t got nothing to smile about.”

Halsey’s “Nightmare” is a rallying call for women around the globe who are angry about the way they are treated, and the lyrics are only made stronger by the video. With cameos from notable feminist celebrities like Cara Delevigne, Suki Waterhouse and Debbie Harry, Halsey’s video depicts women coming together in a showcase of solidarity, confronting common stereotypes and rallying in the streets for equal rights.

2. Jamie N. Commons and Skyler Grey ft. Gallant, “Runaway Train”

A remake of the 1993 ballad of the same name, “Runaway Train” is a call to recognize and take action to support the hundreds of thousands of missing children and teens in the United States today.

Between scenes of young people running away from home or experiencing homelessness and exploitation are images of some of the very real missing children from around the country.  Posted with each image is the date and location these individuals were last seen.

Every year in the United States, 400,000 minors go missing. “Runaway Train” seeks to spark awareness and a serious discussion about this extremely important issue. The underlying theme of the video is that society must do far more to protect children, while dramatically improving programs to find and support those who are out there facing dangerous and unacceptable conditions.

The video concludes with a link to runawaytrain25.com, the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited children.

3. John Legend, “Preach”

John Legend is one of the leading celebrities in the fight for social change in America, so it was no surprise when he released this powerful music video and song at the beginning of the new year.

With lyrics that any person who might feel helpless while watching the world around them unfold can relate to, the video showcases some of the important issues in our country today, such as police brutality, gun violence and immigration.

Not only is the video meant to reflect the current state of our nation and serve as a call to action to make change, it is also part of a fundraiser called “Practice What You Preach.” The money raised from the video goes to FREEAMERICA, an organization that “exists to amplify the voices of individuals impacted by the criminal justice system and those who are working to change it.” The fundraiser is currently halfway to its $50,000 goal. 

4. The Killers, “Land of the Free”

Directed by Spike Lee, the video for the soulful anthem “Land of the Free” focuses on immigration and the crisis migrant families are facing at the southern border of the United States.

The video features footage of immigrant families escaping violence and trying to enter the United States in search of safety, refuge and a chance at the American dream. But rather than receiving welcome and support from a nation of immigrants, the refugees face discrimination and hostility at the hands of ICE and border patrol officers. On top of the cinematic masterpiece of the video itself are the heartbreaking lyrics by The Killers’ own Brandon Flowers about the backwards state America finds itself in today.

The video does exactly what one would think it was intended to do: leave you with images and words that will stay in your mind and heart long after the song is over.

5. Lil Dicky, “Earth” 

Lil Dicky successfully broke the internet with the release of “Earth,” a comedic bop to raise awareness and money for climate change.

Arguably one of the most cameo-heavy music videos of all time, “Earth” features various celebrities as animated flora and fauna, including Justin Bieber as a baboon, Ariana Grande as a zebra, Hailee Steinfeld as a common fungus, Brendon Urie as a pig and Snoop Dogg as a marijuana plant. 

Although both the lyrics and video are completely hilarious, the video actually promotes a profound message about why our planet is so important and the steps we need to take to save it.

Released just in time for Earth Day 2019, a portion of the profits from the song went toward saving the planet through the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation — the actor and climate change activist even made a cameo himself.

At welovetheearth.org, listeners can help the cause by sharing the song, donating to the LDF, signing petitions, registering to vote or simply educating themselves on climate change.

6. Taylor Swift, “You Need to Calm Down”

And last but not least is “You Need to Calm Down,” the star-studded Taylor Swift tune that nobody can get out of their head. The ally anthem, which was released at the tail end of Pride Month, features dozens of LGBTQ+ icons such as Todrick Hall, Ellen DeGeneres, Laverne Cox and the Fab Five.

As a whole, the song encourages the vital themes of being yourself, embracing love, providing support and engaging in acceptance. At the close of the fun-filled video is a link to a Change.org petition, urging the Senate to vote on the Equality Act. Swift’s video is part of a broader effort on her part to use her platform to advocate for equality and support political action.

The nominees from all the categories at this year’s VMAs deserve their time in the spotlight, but the Video for Good award is especially important.

All of the songs and artists on this list make music for a wide variety of individuals, but most of them have a single target audience: the youth. When household names like John Legend and Taylor Swift use their platforms to promote ideas for good, they are reaching the minds of young people who will see these important messages and be emboldened to enact change.

For eight years now, the VMAs have given artists the opportunity to get recognition for stepping out of the norm and promoting messages that truly matter. No matter who actually wins the prestigious Video for Good award, all of the video nominees are making a significant difference in one way or another.

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