Nicki Minaj called out MTV's Video Music Award nominations earlier this week. Her music video for "Anaconda," released last summer, wasn't chosen as one of the 5 nominees for the night's biggest award: Video of the Year. On Tuesday, I wrote that Minaj was right; her video should have been nominated. Shortly afterward, though, Taylor Swift — sensing that Minaj's commentary could be a hit on her — responded to Minaj; attention was diverted. Suddenly the conversation was about white feminism and bad blood.
Minaj's original point was lost: Women of color in music are often overlooked and under-rewarded for the work that they do. She was right about that, too.
Here's the data:
We looked at the nominees and winners of the biggest awards handed out to individual artists (not bands) at the four biggest music award shows: the VMAs, the Grammys, the American Music Awards, and the Billboard Music Awards.
Let's start by looking at the numbers for the award show Minaj called out: MTV's Video Music Awards. At the VMAs, the biggest prize of the night is the Video of the Year award.
Immediately Minaj's point begins to shine through. Only 10.5 percent of nominees for the Video of the Year award have been women of color. But, when they are nominated, they are more likely to win: 18.5 percent of the winners of the Video of the Year award have been women of color.
This could be due to the fact that the VMA nominations are chosen by a committee, but the winner of the VOTY award is chosen by popular vote.
To compare, let's look at the biggest awards in music: The Grammys. At that ceremony, the Record of the Year award, which honors the best single performance of the year, is the big prize, like the VMA's Video of the Year Award.
Because the Grammys have been awarding Record of the Year since 1959 — before the Civil Rights Act — their numbers are skewed a little more toward white men than they probably should be. Though in total, women of color only make up 14.3 percent of nominations in Grammy history, they have made up 25 percent of nominees since 2000. However: only one woman of color has won Record of the Year since Whitney Houston in the past twenty years.
Unlike the VMAs, the Grammys are voted on by a panel of experts, making them prone to not only a biased nominations committee, but a biased awarding committee as well.
Next, we'll look at the American Music Awards' biggest award of the night — Artist of the Year.
Nominations for the American Music Awards are based on sales, airplay, activity on social networks, and video viewing — essentially, popularity. The winner is decided via a poll conducted by the award show, of both people within the music industry (buyers, label heads, etc) and the general public. There's very little transparency regarding the way this poll is conducted.
In terms of nominations, the American Music Awards are okay. Women make up 50 percent of nominees and people of color make up 30 percent. But somewhere in that poll taking, white performers gain a huge advantage. No women of color have won the Artist of the Year Award and only one non-white man (Chris Brown) has ever won the award.
Looking at the data, the Billboard Music Awards' Top Artist award has the best stats in terms of gender and racial diversity.
The BMAs do not announce nominees for their awards, so it's impossible to see how they stack up in that regard, but people of color have won 47.3 percent of the Top Artist awards since the award's creation in 1989.
It's pretty easy to see that there are some massive disparities between who is being nominated for awards and who is creating influential music — as well as a disparity between who is nominated and who ultimately takes home the prize.
Here's how the award shows stack up against each other:
It's certainly worth noting that the Billboard Music Awards do not have nominees and winners are based almost entirely on chart performance. Their Top Artist pick, then, is fairly indicative of popularity in the United States for each year. It's also very obvious that their winners are more diverse than any other award show's.
Without the human voting element, then, people of color and women are more likely to actually win the award they are nominated for.
Women and people of color are less likely to win an award for the work that they create, and women of color are often the least awarded group of all.
Whether or not Nicki Minaj meant to fight Taylor Swift on twitter is certainly open for debate, but her initial point was spot on: Women of color are both underrepresented and under-rewarded in American popular music.
Correction: One woman has won the Record of the Year award since Whitney Houston. Norah Jones, who is biracial, won it in 2003.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.