When British comedian Russell Brand announced the winner of best female video at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, I was surprised to hear country singer Taylor Swift named as recipient of the award. I had expected Beyonce Knowles’ “Single Ladies” video – the one whose flamboyant dance moves have been imitated by single ladies and gay men the world over – to scoop that prize.
More shocking however was seeing Kanye West appear on the stage during Swift’s acceptance speech, snatch the microphone from the unsuspecting teenager and declare – before a shocked and visibly upset Swift and an open-mouthed audience – that Beyonce’s video was, in his view, the best. Never mind what the judges or the public thought. In West’s world, the only thing that counts is his perspective and the world just has to know it.
There’s no doubt that many people shared the sentiment that Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” video was THE video of 2009. However, many were also left wondering what exactly made West decide that it would be a good idea to do something so unprofessional and disrespecting of a fellow, and young, artist.
Judging from the boos that ensued whenever West’s name was subsequently mentioned and the reports claiming that he was escorted from the event soon after the incident, very few people believed he did the right thing. It was left to the gracious Beyonce – whose honor West was apparently trying to defend – to grant Swift her moment.
It is easy to laugh at these things. After all, it’s showbiz. However, it must be remembered that these are also the lives and careers of real human beings. Taylor Swift is a 19 year old who is simply enjoying living out the stuff that most teenagers’ dreams are made of. There was nothing funny about the crestfallen look on her face.
Unfortunately this isn’t new behavior from West who seems to go into ego overdrive when it comes to award shows. You may recall his outburst at the 2006 MTV European awards when he stormed the stage during another band’s acceptance speech after losing out to them. Or you may remember when he flipped out at the 2007 MTV awards in Las Vegas after the performance of his song ‘Stronger’ was moved from the main stage to a smaller area and he lost in five award categories to the Black Eyed Peas, resulting in a tantrum which was caught on camera. In the past few years, the Grammys, the MTV Awards and the American Music Awards have all been subject to West’s ego outpourings.
Of course, the question of race has also now entered the equation. Perhaps West felt like Robin Hood, defending a sista – albeit one who has won hundreds of awards – from what he considered an unjust win by a blonde haired country music star. Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin certainly thinks so, writing on her blog that perhaps West now considers himself a modern day Rosa Parks, a crass analogy but one that perhaps reveals how some viewed his behavior. Commenters online asked what would have happened if a white artist had stormed the stage of a black entertainer.
Truth be told, a white entertainer has done a similar thing to a black artist. Years ago, British singer Jarvis Cocker jumped on the stage during a Michael Jackson performance at a high profile British award show and shook his derriere at the nation’s TV cameras. He too, like Kanye, saw it as a form of protest. He too, stuck in ego-land, didn’t realize until the backlash started that such behavior is unacceptable.
Whether racially motivated or not, West clearly felt that Beyonce was robbed. Judging by some of the comments online – where words like “ghetto” and “black trash” have started to be thrown around, in description of West – conservative country music fans are now pitting this as a battle between them and out of control hip hoppers.
There’s no doubt that West has a great deal of musical talent. But so what? This does not put him beyond decency and respect for other people. He clearly has not learned from the time when he announced during a televised Hurricane Katrina benefit that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” that even if what you have to say is true, there is a time and a place everything.
Of course, in a world in which all publicity is good publicity, West’s actions will only increase his own profile as well as that of Swift’s. However, West is at risk of becoming a caricature of an impulsive, petulant and immature artist and losing fans in the process. The only stage activity that West needs right now is the staging of an intervention.