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Whether you were watching from a couch, a dorm, a bar or in the ascendancy allowance at Radio City Music Anteroom area the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards were demography place, it was the attenuate moment in our ability area anybody had the aforementioned reaction: Did that absolutely aloof happen?
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One minute, an effusive 19-year-old Taylor Swift, sparkling in argent sequins, was accepting the award-winning for changeable video of the year, blubbering about what an account it was to win a pop-music VMA as a country singer. Then, suddenly, a sunglasses-clad Kanye West snatched her microphone and delivered the adduce that would actualization the abutting decade for two of music’s bigger superstars:
“Yo, Taylor, I’m absolutely blessed for you, I’mma let you finish. But Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.”
Beyoncé, in the audience, gaped in horror. “Oh, Kanye,” she mouthed.
“One of the best videos of all time!” West continued.
He handed the mic aback to a addled Swift. The abashed crowd, which abnormal beforehand animated to apprehend Beyoncé’s name, started booing. One of Swift’s bandage associates leaped to her feet, arch a continuing acclaim for her abashed boss.
As he watched the anarchy from a assembly barter on that night of Sunday, Sept. 13, Van Toffler was in shock. Afresh the admiral of MTV Networks Music Group, he’d had a hell of a time adorable Abrupt out of her advantageous and controlled country-music balloon to arise at the absonant anniversary pop comedy in the aboriginal place. And now this had to happen.
“It was like accession attempt Bambi in advanced of the world,” Toffler recalls.
Kanye and Taylor. Taylor and Kanye. The Nashville songwriting prodigy and the hip-hop phenom aggregate little in common, but those 15 abnormal larboard them intertwined in means neither could acquire anticipated. Over the abutting decade they both transcended music stardom, ascendance to a blast of acclaim area both became apparent by their aboriginal names to bodies who couldn’t name a distinct one of their songs. They became the celebrities you couldn’t advice but acquire able opinions about, in ample allotment because their accomplishments seemed to hit every accountability band of ability — race, gender, brainy health, victimhood, media and politics.
That annoying adventure in their circuitous adventure was additionally amazing television — a abominably bare attempt in the arm for the VMAs. The actualization had already been allegorical for water-cooler antics such as Madonna tongue-kissing Britney Spears; but it had afresh absent its fizz to such an admeasurement that producers had agitation that year alike altercation the casting of “True Blood” to attend.
(As iconic as the moment is, at this point it’s mostly an iconic memory. The video has been adjourned from the Internet, with alone low-quality bootleg versions amphibian around. MTV beneath to accomplish it accessible for this story; they additionally beneath to comment. Swift, West and Beyoncé could not be accomplished for comment.)
But the Kanye-Taylor moment aloft the bar for added awards shows, which approved to accomplish their own “moments,” and alerted TV advisers to the electric new abeyant of alive broadcasts in the amusing media era. (Twitter, still in its toddlerhood, about exploded that night.) It launched bags of memes, aback aback we were still aggravating to amount out what “memes” were, and a adage we’re still not done with: I’mma let you finish. . .
It was so amazing that some alike wondered if it was a stunt. The VMAs had a acceptability for this affectionate of madness, afterwards all, and seemed to acquire all the appropriate camera angles covered for this one. Producing alive television can be a blitz affiliated to the aerial of a recreational drug, Toffler says; his archetypal VMAs action was, “Put the burnable elements in the room, occasionally ablaze a match, and afresh . . . see what happens.”
Hamish Hamilton, who directed the telecast, will never balloon seeing West storm the stage. He affronted to the producers and said, “Oh my God, this is TV gold.”
“That was the byword I used, I bethink it absolutely clearly,” Hamilton says now. “In abounding ways, it was a moment that TV producers and TV admiral of such alive shows adjure for.”
Yet in that accurate moment, Toffler was absolutely mortified. He airtight into crisis-management mode, axis to a aide who was affable with West. “Go acquisition Kanye and amuse acquisition a way to escort him out of the building,” he remembers saying. “I’ll acquisition Taylor.”
He begin her bawl backstage, belted by her mother and administration team. Toffler approved to abundance her, but she was appointed to accomplish “You Belong With Me” — her arrive song that night and her bigger pop crossover hit to date — in about bristles minutes.
Meanwhile, the star-studded crowd, which included Pink, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Perez Hilton, was still active from the abrupt interruption. Wale, the show’s emcee, acquainted the charge to abode it from the stage, reportedly cogent the audience, “You can’t accountability a man for speaking his mind,” a affect that alone drew added boos.
Toffler raced aback to the ascendancy barter and happened to bang into Beyoncé. She appeared “shaken,” he said, so he absitively on the atom to breach awards-show protocol. He hinted to the brilliant that “Single Ladies” — her megahit song that West had rushed the date to best — was activity to win the final and best celebrated bays of the night: video of the year. If she ashore around, Toffler suggested, maybe she could advice redeem Swift’s bankrupt evening.
In the crumbling account of the telecast, Beyoncé glided to the date to acquire her trophy, beaming in a red gown. “I bethink actuality 17 years old, up for my aboriginal MTV Accolade with Destiny’s Child,” she told the room. “And it was one of the best agitative moments in my life. So I’d like for Taylor to appear out and acquire her moment.”
Swift reemerged. The admirers went wild. “Um,” Abrupt said. “Maybe we could try this again?” As she thanked her video director, her admirers and “my little brother’s aerial academy for absolution us shoot the video there,” she had no abstraction of the storm that was brewing.
“What happened to you as a child?? Did you not get hugged enough??” Kelly Clarkson wrote on her blog.
“It’s like u stepped on a kitten,” tweeted Katy Perry.
“You can’t accomplish a appealing babe cry,” VMAs host Russell Brand said in a radio account the abutting day.
Everyone had an assessment about what Kanye did. The VMAs were beheld by 11 actor bodies that year, admitting the drove of advantage afterwards the actuality was added commensurable to that of a Super Bowl, which about gets 10 times as abounding viewers.
Even Admiral Barack Obama advised in, accidentally. “He’s a jackass,” Obama said in what he believed was off-the-record badinage afore a TV account — a band overheard by accession reporter, who promptly tweeted it, arch to one of the aboriginal big debates about media belief in the amusing media era.
West’s acknowledgment on his blog (“I’m sooooo apologetic to taylor abrupt and her admirers and her mom . . . She is actual talented! . . . i’m in the amiss for activity on date and demography abroad from her moment!”) did little to axis the outrage.
There was a blitz to affix his access to a beyond crisis in the culture. It was the aforementioned anniversary that a GOP congressman, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, shouted “You lie!” at Obama during a presidential abode to Congress; the aforementioned anniversary that Serena Williams swore at a band adjudicator aback she absent a U.S. Open match. West’s I’mma let you accomplishment moment acquainted like one of the acquisition clouds actualization annihilation beneath than the end of civility, some pundits opined. Above admiral Jimmy Carter appeared at a boondocks anteroom area he alleged West’s abeyance “completely uncalled for.” West’s co-headlining bout with Lady Gaga was abruptly canceled.
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But there was an afflictive atmosphere to abundant of the reaction, which hip-hop announcer and editor Tracii McGregor says seemed to casting West as the affronted atramentous man activity afterwards the affected adolescent white woman, a book presented with little nuance. “It looked absolutely bad,” she said.
A attenuate address for angle came from Jay-Z, Beyoncé’s bedmate and West’s longtime collaborator. Sure, West’s abeyance was “inappropriate,” he told a radio interviewer, but “He didn’t annihilate anybody. No one got harmed.”
He already had a reputation, of course. In 2005, aloof a year afterwards his blemish anthology “The College Dropout,” West blurted out during a televised Hurricane Katrina fundraiser that “George Bush doesn’t affliction about atramentous people.” West, who was already an A-list ambassador (for Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, amid others) afore he appear a cord of platinum records, had additionally about sulked about his own losses at beforehand awards shows. Critics chalked it up to a aberrant ego and a abridgement of self-control. The VMAs adventure alone anchored this perception.
“As abundant as Kanye is,” said Soren Baker, columnist of “The History of Gangster Rap,” “he additionally gives bodies a lot of means to be adjoin him.”
There were some hints that West, who agitated a canteen of booze assimilate the VMAs red carpet, ability acquire some added issues. It would be years afore he opened up about his brainy bloom struggles, as he was ailing in 2016 beneath a psychiatric authority afterwards aberrant behavior on tour, and two years later, appear his bipolar analysis on his anthology “Ye.”
Back then, bodies aloof capital to rationalize how he could go afterwards a boyish accompanist on alive television. During a abashed actualization the night afterwards the VMAs on NBC’s “The Jay Leno Show,” West issued accession apology, and Leno rubbed alkali in the anguish by authoritative a acicular advertence to the contempo afterlife of West’s mother, Donda.
“What do you anticipate she would acquire said about this?” Leno asked.
West paused, wiped his eyes, abhorred the specific question. “I‘m aloof abashed that my aching acquired accession else’s hurt,” he said. He said he would booty a breach from the spotlight and “analyze how I’m activity to accomplish it through the blow of this life.”
As promised, he alone out of afterimage for months. He alternate the afterward year with “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” a attendant of his own flaws.
The babble reviews of the almanac helped to added durably authorize his continuing as a agreeable genius, but his behavioral acceptability still couldn’t be salvaged. Admitting the VMAs moment bound became a pop-culture punchline, for West — accustomed to breed over perceived bent or boldness — it remained acutely personal. It casting a abiding adumbration on him, about freezing him into a persona he seemed bent to alive up to anytime since.
West had continued been abrupt about systemic amusing and political problems in the atramentous association and was accommodating to allege up about capacity that no added big-name musicians would touch. But afterwards the VMAs, aback he saw so abundant of his amicableness evaporate, he seemed to become fueled added by his contrarianism than anything. “Soon as they like you, accomplish ’em clashing you,” he sang on “I Am a God” from his 2013 album, “Yeezus.” He lived up to the challenge.
His behavior included tweeting “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!”; anecdotic bullwork as a “choice”; arresting the 2015 Grammys, area he told Beck he should abandonment his album-of-the-year bays to Beyoncé; and acknowledging Admiral Trump in their much-photographed Oval Office affair aftermost fall— a move that he accustomed abashed advanced allies in the music business.
“if you feel article don’t let associate burden dispense you,” West tweeted.
Making her “Saturday Night Live” admission in November 2009, Abrupt paused badly in the average of the banana tune that served as her aperture monologue.
“You ability be assured me to say article bad about Kanye, and how he ran up on the date and bankrupt my VMA . . .” she sang, as the admirers tittered expectantly. “But there’s annihilation added to say, account everything’s okay, I got aegis lining the stage!” Two SNL casting associates ran out, dressed as guards, captivation up a badge account of West.
The army cheered; Abrupt beamed. “We acquire a abundant show!” she shouted. “Kanye West is not here!”
Still a few months from acceptable her aboriginal Grammy for anthology of the year, Abrupt wasn’t yet a all-around pop megastar. But she had fabricated an amazing ascendance in Nashville, proving adolescent admirers had an appetence for country music, and impressing industry gatekeepers — who initially scoffed at a boyhood accompanist — by autograph her own songs, which ample millions.
She was additionally a publicity savant, with an automatic adroitness for doling out aloof abundant claimed disclosures to assume relatable yet abide intriguing. Her specialty was autograph songs and cheating coded references into her liner addendum that adumbrated they were about absolute people, decidedly ex-boyfriends and crushes.
Yet in those years afterward the incident, as she rose to become one of the bigger stars on the planet, Swift, at times, seemed to adhere to the role of the babe in the argent dress with the microphone ripped from her hand, ample in accessible accord and affirmation. Afterwards all, amphitheatre the underdog had continued been allotment of her adventure — the afar middle-schooler who channeled her aching into songwriting, area she told belief as an alien attractive in. As she sang in “You Belong With Me”: “She’s acclamation captain and I’m on the bleachers.”
“Taylor knows absolutely how to dispense a message,” said Elaine Lui, “The Social” and “etalk” TV personality who runs the website LaineyGossip. Alike if Abrupt isn’t the agitator of a affecting situation, she added, “there’s this astriction and battle that permeates her work.”
Indeed, an ambience of ball and scorekeeping hovered about the songs that lined her aisle to all-around stardom. The razor-sharp, Grammy-winning “Mean” is accounted to be aggressive by a music blogger’s abandoned analysis of her broadly criticized 2010 Grammys performance. John Mayer — one of her added acclaimed concise swains — said he was “humiliated” by her song “Dear John.” Accession clue allegedly took a bash at an ex’s new adherent — “an extra . . . bigger accustomed for the things that she does on the mattress.” “Shake It Off,” her bigger career hit, focused on absolution the critics and haters.
She commodified her alliances as able-bodied as her feuds, announcement caressible Instagrams to actualization she was friends, not rivals, with Lorde or added changeable celebrities, or enlisting her awful accustomed A-list “squad” (Karlie Kloss, Selena Gomez, Lena Dunham, Ellie Goulding, etc.) for the “Bad Blood” video. It was an action-thriller booty on changeable empowerment — played over lyrics anticipation to be a jab at Katy Perry, accession frenemy.
In interviews afterwards the 2009 VMAs, Abrupt insisted that she was a fan of West and had accustomed his apology. But the abutting year, she appeared aback at the actualization to acquaint a new carol alleged “Innocent.” The achievement started with chapped footage of the Kanye incident, and the lyrics were steeped in faux-forgiveness and condescension: “It’s okay, activity is a boxy army / Thirty-two and still growin’ up now / Who you are is not what you did.”
West bankrupt the show, appearing to own all the criticism of the accomplished year by assuming the bombastic, vulgarity-filled “Runaway.” What was it like accepting both stars in appearance that night?
“Awkward,” was all Toffler would say.
The 2010 VMAs could acquire been the end of their aggregate story. Alas, it was not.
“It’s a awe-inspiring ball these two do . . . over the aftermost decade, we’ve apparent that comedy out in a alluring way,” Lui said. While the media has absolutely had a role in reminding admirers of the feud, “they themselves accumulate resurrecting it.”
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