On the 10th anniversary of the infamous “Imma let you finish” episode, Josie Adams reflects on what this moment revealed about both Taylor Swift and Kanye West.
Cast your mind back a decade: 2009 DJ Earworm was still good, Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the US, Israeli ground forces began their invasion of Gaza, and Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed a plane on the Hudson River.
Momentous events, to be sure, but there’s one that we recall better than all of them. The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards’ Best Female Video floats atop our minds, the fluffiest scum on our brain ponds. MTV has deleted footage of the event, but bootleg noughties recordings exist:
Taylor Swift, a fresh-faced 19-year-old still working as a “country” artist, had her first-ever VMA moment ripped from her freakishly long hands. Halfway through what’s building to be a very heartfelt acceptance speech, Kanye West jumps on stage, grabs a mic, and stretches out a hand. “Imma let you finish,” are his infamous words, “but Beyoncé had the best music video of all time.” Swift doesn’t finish her speech. She stands still, alone, clutching her award for Best Female Video like it’s a comfort blanket.
During the ad break, P!nk will give West a bollocking. Swift and her mother will cry off-stage. Beyoncé will cry. West, allegedly completely tanked on Hennessy, will be asked to leave.
By the end of the show, a producer will have closed the narrative by asking Beyoncé to bring Swift on stage when she wins.
By the end of the week, President Obama will call West a “jackass”.
At the end of the decade, Swift will have won nine more VMAs, moved out of country into pop, and still be talking about the 2009 VMAs.
Competing with Swift for Best Female Video in 2009 were Lady Gaga (‘Poker Face’), Katy Perry (‘Hot n Cold’), Beyoncé (‘Single Ladies’), Kelly Clarkson (‘My Life Would Suck Without You’) and P!nk (‘So What’). Swift won for ‘You Belong With Me’.
Art is subjective, but you can see why West got a little pissed. He shouldn’t have got on stage. That was the wrong thing to do.
He should have got on stage this year, when Swift won Video of the Year for the objectively terrible song and video ‘You Need to Calm Down’. The video, outside of being artistically fucked, capitalised on LGBTQ dollars by hiring already-rich-and-famous drag queens and featured a public reconciliation with fellow pop star Katy Perry. Her live performance of it was, somehow, even worse.
Where was West in our moment of need? At a Cheesecake Factory in Ohio. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Kanye West has a pathological ego. He’s the least humble man on earth. He’s a goldmine of self-affirming quotes: “I’m my favourite rapper”; “I will go down as the voice of this generation”; “My greatest pain in life is knowing I will never be able to see myself perform live”.
He’s honest about his incredible hubris, and that’s something we should respect. Swift, on the other hand, is a master of faking humility.
Yeezy exists half to create pseudo-artistic hip-hop novelties, and half to humble every white musical artist currently living. He is a genius at both. “I like some of the Gaga songs,” he said on hearing Lady Gaga was the creative director of Polaroid, “the fuck do she know about cameras?”
On his 2016 track ‘Famous’, he comes for Swift once again: “I made that bitch famous,” he raps. Van Toffler, who was Viacom president in 2009, recently revealed to Billboard that West might have been right.
“In my conversation with Scott Borchetta [CEO of Big Machine, who Swift was signed with at the time] the next day after I called to apologise… He’s like, “Van, here’s the thing about it: Yesterday most of the country had no idea who Taylor Swift was. Today, Oprah Winfrey sent her flowers this morning and asked if she could talk to her.”
Swift wasn’t pleased that West used the term “bitch”, and said she had no idea this was coming. She was even more angry when Kim Kardashian West released a recording of Swift hearing and enjoying some of the song’s lyrics about her pre-release.
Her anger lasted for a couple of weeks, as social media users began posting snake emojis all over her posts. She used this miniature destruction to rise like a phoenix, rebranding herself as a snake and including the animal in all her videos since.
Swift’s latest album, Lover, contains an excerpt from the superstar’s diary entry of the infamous night. The 2009 VMAs is still a part of her fame narrative. West’s? Not so much. He has three kids and married into a reality empire. He’s just going to sit in Cheesecake Factories creating art for the rest of his life.
Snakey Swift, however, still lives and thrives; stronger and less deserving of VMAs than ever (some of her songs are actually fine, but the videos rarely are). We need 2009 West back. We need him to climb the VMA stage, take the microphone, and remind her: Kanye West has the best music video of all time.
Join The Spinoff Members for as little as $1 to help us hire more journalists and carry out more investigations. Or pay $8 a month and get a free Toby Morris-designed tea towel!
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.