From Michael Jackson to Bad Bunny or from puritanism to the ‘woke’ generation through the three most iconic kisses of the MTV VMAs

The audience at the MTV VMAs gave it their all while, on stage, the Puerto Rican artist Bad Bunny sang and danced to the song Tití asked me, one of the many hits from his album A summer without you.

The singer had just won the award for best artist of the year, becoming the first foreign-speaking singer to win said award, but Bad Bunny was about to make more history that night: towards the end of the performance, surrounded by a choir of dancers, Bad Bunny first kissed a dancer and, immediately afterwards, also a dancer while singing: “I would like to fall in love, but I can’t, but I can’t”.

The public went crazy instantly, the networks and the media did it minutes later.

Bunny, whose real name is Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, is well known for challenging gender roles through the use of both male and female clothing, for denouncing the problems of toxic masculinity and defending feminist causes and for being a faithful ally of the LGTBQ+ community, despite assuring in an interview for the LA Times that “at the moment” he considers himself a heterosexual man.

Bad Bunny’s kiss on stage at the MTV VMAs has been defined as “stereotype breaker” and widely celebrated and applauded. But before Bad Bunny kissed a dancer, the MTV cameras witnessed two other kisses just as iconic, although received differently.

For the first of them, we must go back to the gala held in 1994 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, when Michael Jackson and his then recent wife, Lisa Marie Presley, were in charge of kicking off the most prestigious awards. music celebrities.

They appeared on stage holding hands, somewhat nervous. Only he spoke, since she wasn’t even wearing a microphone. They had been married a few months and this was his first public appearance. The king of pop took the floor: “Hello. Welcome to the MTV Video Music Awards. I am very happy to be here, although many thought that this was not going to last”.

The marriage lasted 20 months. Immediately afterwards, Michael Jackson walked up to his wife and kissed her: it was a stiff kiss, more akin to the hermetic kisses in old Hollywood movies following the infamous Hays Code than the kiss you’d expect to see at a modern gala. music awards in the nineties.

The gesture was celebrated and, according to the comments on the YouTube video of the moment, it continues to be celebrated as a sign of romanticism.

And it continues to be celebrated despite the fact that, in the eyes of today, her discomfort is more than ever evident, pronounced through a body language of lowered head, uncomfortable smile and constant lip biting. Lisa Marie Presley seems to want to hide behind Michael Jackson at all times, as if she wanted to disappear.

Later, as she told Playboy, her words confirmed her gestures: “I didn’t want him to touch me.” Idea that she would insist on in Rolling Stone later: “I looked at him as if to say: ‘Don’t even think about approaching me’.”

“Those were other times”, paraphrasing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, sentenced in March 2020 to 23 years in prison by the New York Supreme Court for a first-degree sexual offense and rape. Some pre-MeToo times where the so-called stolen kisses were celebrated and great romantic gestures were applauded in public, when women lacked a voice, since they did not even give them the microphone.

The scene, which today has been cataloged as one of the most uncomfortable moments in the history of the MTV VMAs, is nothing like the fantasy of freedom that Bad Bunny put on stage, but it was celebrated with the same passion by the public. there present.

The other kiss took place in 2003 and hardly needs an introduction: on stage, Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Baptized as queen and princesses of pop, respectively. On a giant wedding cake and dressed as a bride with a veil covering her face, the first to appear on the scene is Britney Spears, while she sings Like A Virgin.

As wedding bells begin to ring, a then brunette Christina Aguilera appears to continue the song. And then she arrives: dressed in a black tuxedo suit and a top hat, as if she were the bridegroom of the afternoon, Madonna sings the first verses of her theme from her Hollywood.

At the end of the performance, and before introducing Missy Elliott, Madonna kisses Britney Spears and then Christina Aguilera. The MTV cameras, in a deeply macho detail, decide to focus at that moment on Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears’s ex-boyfriend, who is visibly angry, something that Christina Aguilera did not sit well with because he stole the limelight during his performance.

The reactions? Although today it is pop history, that kiss was widely debated: no one dared, until recent analyses, to speak of the importance of visibility on a large television network; nor was there any talk of disruption, nor of breaking stereotypes.

What was talked about was mainly vulgarity, it was debated whether those young pop stars, coming out of the Disney factory, were still good influences for boys and girls; there was talk of coarseness and shame. In the staging art was not seen, but morbidity.

And the male gaze, represented by the eyes of Justin Timberlake, was above all disapproving. “Those ladies won’t give a fuck about my opinion, but I think it’s irresponsible in a way… It’s kind of vulgar to ignore that, you know, 10- or 11-year-olds are watching this show,” Bette Midler commented, in addition, to refer to Britney Spears as a “wild slut.” Beyoncé said she was “shocked” and that she “couldn’t have done what Britney and Christina did.”

In an interview with CNN a few days after the show, Britney Spears had to reply: “I think I lead a very respectable life. I mean, I don’t come home and have orgies or anything like that.”

The first of the kisses, that of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley, represented what a puritanical society expected to see on television: a chaste kiss between a superstar and the woman with whom he had just walked down the aisle, quiet, submissive, and I walk behind the husband.

It was called romantic. The second of the kisses aroused the fury of the most puritanical sectors, the machismo of many men and the internalized misogyny of many women. It was called obscene: after all, there were three women. The third of the kisses has been applauded and celebrated. Perhaps society is moving forward.

Maybe it’s just a mirage. Maybe it depends on who kisses who and how they kiss. Perhaps, in the end, everything is part of a show and not everyone likes the same show equally.

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