At around 9:32 p.m. CST Sunday night, I started opining about what Kanye West with a microphone in his hand could possibly mean.
I started thinking, shit; Kanye is going to make me defend him for speaking his mind about something. That thought evolved into, shit, everybody is going to talk about Kanye speaking his mind about something. Then that eventually splintered into a bunch of tiny thoughts about how an award show only felt legit interesting at two moments in its two-and-a-half-hour broadcast. One involved the continuation of a feud between Nicki Minaj and VMAs host/sacrificial twerker/make-weed-feel-corny puppet Miley Cyrus. The other involved Kanye West.
The biggest Kanye West moment on this stage? The 2010 performance of “Runaway” when he pounded on an MPC machine, dressed in all red like a villain, while ballerinas twirled around him. If he was the monster, he was the beast surrounded by beauty that night. The lowest? Well, we know the lowest, but it bears mentioning. Why? Because it tied directly into why MTV wanted his acceptance of an award to be a bigger deal beyond the headline “KANYE WEST WINS MAJOR AWARD”.
West was awarded the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award by Taylor Swift. She, of course, made a joke about their 2009 VMA encounter that led to Kanye being banished, turned into an Internet joke and forced to be shamed for speaking his mind. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift the country star died that night and Taylor Swift, pop supernova and face of the pop damsel in distress, was born. Yes, Swift made a joke about that 2009 incident. Yes, it came off more as a groan-inducing force of being funny than genuine humor. Still, Taylor Swift is undefeated at these things, and we just have to deal.
Then Kanye got the award.
Then Kanye got the microphone.
Then Kanye spoke. For 13 uninterrupted minutes.
It started with “BRO” and ended with a Presidential announcement...for five years from now. It was everything you would expect from Kanye West in 2015. There were blossoming ideas befitting a TED Talk but zero structure. He talked about grocery shopping with his daughter, North. He sat for a moment on how people reacted to him in the store, how they still saw him as the mean guy who drank half a bottle of Hennessy to speak his mind. He admitted how he never understood the nature of award shows. He said that as a millennial, brands weren’t going to control the kids while wearing a pair of sneakers that are $350 and hard as hell to buy if you’re a kid and devout Kanye fan. He admitted to being high before he came to the awards, and probably still was afterwards. It didn't matter. It was genuine, if not awkward. Yet that’s Kanye.
You know how many times MTV ran that footage again? Because it got more ratings? Do you know how many times they announced Taylor was gonna give me this award? Because it got more ratings?
The entire year had been sort of a build-up for a moment befitting a public Kanye rant. Not one restricted to E! News post-Grammys or even TMZ. MTV’s idea of the VMAs is the widespread acknowledgment that Internet culture rules everything right now. That means giving us a bunch of colors, an outrageous host who will say and do whatever to get your attention and stir almost every offensive thing into a pot for a product that's not only perfect for Tumblr but will be talked about for years on end. It rarely matters who actually wins a VMA; as long as there is a moment of water-cooler domination and a ratings spike from the previous year, the network's job is done. Simple logic stated Kanye needed to win something big and that he needed an arena to say something true to him. Simple logic said expect all these things and watch, "because it gets people going."
I still don’t understand award shows. I don’t understand how they get five people who work their entire life one sell records, sell concert tickets to come stand on a carpet and for the first time in they life be judged on a chopping block and have the opportunity to be considered a loser. I don’t understand it bro. I do not understand when the biggest album or the biggest video I don’t understand. I’ve been conflicted bro. I just wanted people to like me more. But fuck that, bro. 2015. I will die for the art for what I believe in and the art ain’t always gonna be polite. Y’all might be thinking right now, “I wonder did he smoke something before he came out here?” And the answer is yes, I rolled up a little something, I knocked the edge off. I don’t know what’s gonna happen tonight what’s gonna happen tomorrow bro but all I can say to my artists is just worry about how you feel at the time. I’m confident I believe in myself. We the millenials bro. This is a new mentality. We’re not gonna control our kids with brands. We’re not gonna tech low self esteem and hate to our kids. We’re gonna teach our kids that they can be something. that they can stand up for themselves. To believe in themselves and if my grandfather was here right now, he would not let me back down.
West’s “speech,” if you will, made the moment feel bigger. People literally clamor for him to say something, to embrace his powers of needling people and walk away declaring himself a “fucking hero.” Ironically enough, Sunday's declaration comes a decade after his infamous sound bite that the then-sitting president cared nothing for black people during the aftermath of a national disaster. People disliked Kanye then, but he at least put a human spin on a telethon that from a distance felt like a celebrity Band-Aid without actually mending a wound. Nobody knows what Kanye West’s cabinet would even look like should he win the 2020 nomination, but we can always guess.
- Jay Z is going to be Vice President. Some may argue the office should go to Beyoncé instead, but either way everyone wins.
- I would assume a lot of fashion directors would love to redecorate the White House's interiors.
- Pusha T would have to be director of Homeland Security, because nobody understands border politics in rap better than him.
- Travis Scott will have a role somewhere in the cabinet. John Legend will be the Secretary of Education, because John Legend is the greatest thing G.O.O.D Music has ever presented.
- Big Sean will deal with human interests, because “One Man Can Change the World” brings tears to people’s eyes and fulfills his grandmother’s prophecy about him.
- Kim Kardashian would be the First Lady. A woman who literally sprinted to get into a selfie at an awards show, a woman who we originally met as Paris Hilton’s friend, would have a portrait hanging in the White House.
- Yasiin Bey may be a United Nations member but never Secretary of State. He has some explaining to Texas to do first.
When you hear Kanye West speak, you see his brain concentrating on every word of every sentence. It comes out as a jumbled mess, but that’s probably why he has a team surrounding him when he’s in album mode to reel his ideas in. There’s no thesis statement, no format. It’s pure stream of consciousness that may seem like a shakier, even more absurdly confident version of Bernie Mac’s “I Ain’t Scared of You Motherfuckers” Def Comedy Jam routine. Mac’s bit was prepared; you can tell by how he interacted with DJ Kid Capri. Kanye isn’t like that. He pauses, fumbles, fights with his words and frees himself — while also pissing off almost every segment of any given population.
Even when he openly admits to rolling up before letting his mind go, you can tell Kanye shows zero fear. That’s a gift. He’s long become the perfect heel for society to accept and his speech, all 13 minutes of it, was an exercise in why people love, hate and feel something about him.
And when he finally left, to thunderous applause and Jaden Smith hoisting a black power fist in the air — because, Jaden Smith — he dropped the microphone. He kissed his wife, gregariously hugged Swift and left an award meant for him and his visual legacy up on the stage. He’s obnoxious, yet isn’t afraid. It’s why Kanye declaring a run for President, and being dead serious about it, is now a real thing.
Prepare the White House in January 2021; Mr. West wants in that building. And may we all hope that the teleprompter is never on whenever he speaks.
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