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Updated by Kendra Brea Cooper on Jul 18, 2014
Headline for Social Action and the MTV VMAs: Nominations for Best Video with a Social Message VMA 2014 and Past Winners
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Social Action and the MTV VMAs: Nominations for Best Video with a Social Message VMA 2014 and Past Winners

From union chants to songs about the war in Vietnam, music is no stranger to social activism. In 2011, The MTV Video Music Awards added a new category for music videos with a social message. In the age of YouTube and decentralized selection, music videos have to capture the attention of a connected generation. The use of socially aware messages in videos creates a conversation beyond the music, and nets out to social media to spread around the world and create possiblilty for change

J.Cole ft. TLC "Crooked Smile"

This video starts out with the announcement that it is a short film, so we know we're in for a specific narrative. The video is intense as the Star Spangled Banner hums in the background and the story questions police officers and their history of pulling the trigger without thinking, the war on drugs, gun violence, and the innocent lives lost in this battle. J.Cole dedicated the video to 7 year old shooting victim, Aiyana Stanley-Jones

David Guetta ft. Mikky Ekko "One Voice"

This EDM video takes socially aware (but detached) hashtags and blends them with images that give them real meaning. We have to realize that there is a world out there beyond twitter activism that needs our voices and actions. What hashtags do though, is start a discourse about these issues in spaces they might otherwise be ignored.

Beyonce "Pretty Hurts"

The interesting thing about this video, is that the main character (Bey) is standing in a room full of other women, with the potential to connect with them, but instead they're all competing against each other for validation. Because of this, she sits alone with her workout gear and her beauty trophies. The small insignificant beauty pageant is a reflection of larger society and the judges are all of us. This feels true to life sometimes, too much competition and no cooperation has us sitting alone with our stuff.

Avcii "Hey Brother"

Here is EDM's answer to peace, love, and harmony. "Hey Brother" shows us how the trauma of war ripples through families and the damage is not centralized just in the conflict itself.

Angel Haze ft. SIA "Battle Cry"

The video starts out with an advisory warning, that is likely there more for a trigger warning than any anti-swearword/sex moral warning. Trigger warnings are important because they help people avoid post-trauma anxiety, and also validate the fact that these things actually happen to people and these issues are important. The video tells the story of a girl who learns to love herself while carving her own path and beliefs, in the face of the authority that has done her wrong and abused it's power.

Kelly Rowland "Dirty Laundry"

Kelly takes us on a journey through her experience as an abuse survivor. She uses the image of water to wash herself clean of the secrets she was keeping. She sings of Beyonce's rising fame and her own drop into an abusive relationship with a man, which makes it a very captivating song and video. There is bravery in singing her own story, and it will help other survivors feel less alone and possibly empowered.

2013 Winner Macklemore and Ryan Lewis "Same Love"

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won the VMA for their social message in 2013. The video uses religious images, images of history, and images of loving partners, same-sex and otherwise, to bring home the point that love is love and it sits outside the control of any belief.

2012 Winner Demi Lovato "Skyscraper"

Demi Lovato's "Skyscraper" won the award in 2012. The video has a powerful message as she takes on her own self-hatred created from the bullying that comes from the outside. As a young woman facing massive pressure over image, Demi clearly releases this anxiety through the song and video.

2011 Winner Lady Gaga "Born This Way"

Lady Gaga won the first award in the social message category for "Born this Way". The title says is all as she's calling for a tolerant world where people have no boundaries holding them back from who they are.