Inclusivity in action: Representation at the 2023 VMAs

In the shimmering world of pop culture, where music meets spectacle and celebrity, the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) have long been a bastion of boundary-pushing creativity. But in recent years, the VMAs have not only celebrated music and artistry but have also become a powerful platform for queer expression and activism. As we delve into the heart of this glittering event, we explore how the VMAs have evolved into a vibrant celebration of LGBTQ+ culture, challenging norms, and promoting inclusivity.

Madonna and Britney Spears shared an iconic kiss at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. CHRISTOPHER POLK/GETTY

The VMAs have a storied history, dating back to their inception in the 1980s. Initially conceived as a way to celebrate the rising medium of music videos, they quickly evolved into something much more. From Madonna’s unforgettable ‘Like a Virgin’ performance to Britney Spears’ iconic ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ snake-charming routine, the VMAs have always been a stage for artists to shock, provoke, and innovate.

However, it wasn’t until the late 20th century and early 21st century that the VMAs began to embrace and amplify queer voices and narratives. In the era of artists like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, music videos and performances became canvases for exploring themes of sexuality and gender identity. Gaga’s meat dress and ‘Born This Way’ anthem, with its unapologetically queer lyrics, challenged the mainstream, and the VMAs recognized and celebrated her daring contributions.


Beyond the performances, the VMAs have become a platform for artists to use their acceptance speeches as a vehicle for advocacy. In 2018, for instance, openly gay singer-songwriter Hayley Kiyoko used her win for Best New Artist to send a powerful message about the importance of LGBT+ representation in the music industry.

The VMAs have not only reflected the evolving landscape of queer acceptance but have actively contributed to shaping it. They have provided a platform for artists and activists to challenge stereotypes, raise awareness, and advocate for change. Through their performances, speeches, and the diversity of their nominated artists, the VMAs have helped shift the conversation around gender, sexuality, and identity in the music industry.

The stage is set, the nominees are in, and the countdown to the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) has begun. This year’s nominee list is not only packed with a record number of first-time contenders but also serves as a powerful testament to the influence of LGBT+ artists in the music industry. As we prepare for the ceremony, let’s dive into some of the remarkable LGBT+ talents vying for recognition on September 13th, 8 p.m., live from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Sam Smith and Kim Petras: Shining Stars of the Nominee List

The dynamic duo behind ‘Unholy’ Sam Smith and Kim Petras, have emerged as frontrunners with five potential accolades each. Their nominations include Video of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Direction, Best Visual Effects, and Best Choreography. Notably, Kim Petras marks her debut in the VMA nominations, following her ground-breaking performance as the first openly trans VMAs performer in 2021.

boygenius: Breaking New Ground

The supergroup boygenius, featuring Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus, has earned a nomination for Best Art Direction and Best Alternative for “the film.” This visual masterpiece, directed by Kristen Stewart, features tracks like ‘$20’, ‘Emily I’m Sorry’, and ‘True Blue’, and it marks the first VMA nominations for boygenius.

Ice Spice: A Newcomer on the Rise (Win)

Bisexual rapper Ice Spice is making her mark with nominations for Best New Artist (win) and Push Performance of the Year. Her captivating live performance of ‘Princess Diana’ in May showcased her unique Barbiecore style, earning her first VMA nods.

Steve Lacy: The Sonic Distillation of Queer Yearning

Bisexual singer-songwriter Steve Lacy is nominated for Song of the Year with ‘Bad Habit’, a song that beautifully captures the essence of queer yearning.

Saucy Santana: A Debut Nomination

Saucy Santana earns his first VMA nomination for Push Performance of the Year, featuring memorable renditions of ‘Booty’ and ‘Material Girl’.

Miley Cyrus: A Queer Powerhouse

Miley Cyrus, an iconic figure in the LGBT+ community, is nominated for Video of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing for her work on ‘Flowers’.

Demi Lovato: Advocacy Through Art

Demi Lovato’s nominations include Best Pop and Video for Good for ‘Seine’, a powerful music video that addresses abortion bans while celebrating queer identity.

FLETCHER: Redefining Pop

FLETCHER’s first VMA nomination comes in the form of Push Performance of the Year for ‘Becky’s So Hot’, a track that cleverly plays with themes of female jealousy, adding a queer twist.

Lil Uzi Vert: Making Their Mark

Rapper Lil Uzi Vert, who uses they/them pronouns, earns a nomination for Best Hip-Hop with ‘Just Wanna Rock’.

Måneskin: Challenging Stereotypes (Win)

Italian rock band Måneskin, despite facing “queerbaiting” accusations, receives a nomination for Best Rock (win) with ‘The Loneliest’.

Anitta: International Recognition (Win)

Bisexual Brazilian singer Anitta is nominated for Best Latin (win) with ‘Funk Rave’.

Dove Cameron: Breaking Gender Norms (Win)

Dove Cameron, known for her Best New Artist win last year, is now nominated for Video for Good (win) with ‘Breakfast’, a video that satirizes mid-century gender roles.

Janelle Monáe: A Cinematic Visionary

Janelle Monáe is nominated for Best Cinematography with ‘Lipstick Lover’, showcasing her artistic brilliance.

Panic! at the Disco: Brendon Urie’s Impact

The emo band Panic! at the Disco, led by the openly pansexual Brendon Urie, receives a nomination for Best Choreography with ‘Middle of a Breakup’.


The list will update with the winners after the ceremony. 

You can also read our queer angle on the Oscars by Ciprian Ciobanu.


Article by Ciprian Ciobanu

Ciprian Ciobanu is a writer for GAY45. He has ended his MA at the University of Timisoara, majoring in painting and working in mixed media. Ciobanu is researching the mechanism of the relationship between art and the trends of a given time from music, fashion and popular stories. Ciprian Ciobanu is a nominee for Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Media 2024. 

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