First in a semi-regular series on memorable onstage intrusions, interruptions and other failures of decorum at award shows throughout history.
The chickens, as it were, appear to be coming home to roost for Kanye West. As Todd Martens reported yesterday on the Pop and Hiss blog, West's much-publicized tour with Lady Gaga has been canceled with no explanation and no rescheduled dates on the horizon.The news launched a flurry of speculation as to how much West's onstage tirade over Taylor Swift's win for female video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 14 affected this cancellation. Though apologies were proffered on West's blog and "The Jay Leno Show," the bad taste left in many viewers' mouths, combined with West's announcement that he planned to take some time off, may have led to this decision.
The details regarding the Swift incident -- West taking to the stage to defend Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video amid a chorus of boos from the audience and an eventual removal from Radio City Music Hall -- have been covered ad nauseam, and the press and public (even the president) have voiced collective disgust at a grown man's boorishness in the face of a teenage girl's win on a major awards show. West has, of course, apologized repeatedly on television, most notably on "The Jay Leno Show," where the Leno appeared to move West to tears with the kitchen table admonishment, "What would your mother think about this?" Of course, all this public penance was followed by a caveat: "I'm not crazy y'all," he noted on his blog. "I'm just real."
But West has made something of a second career out of interrupting award shows and badmouthing losses. Many who saw his outburst in the middle of Swift's speech assumed this was a moment of eccentricity, but in the past few years West has racked up a number of similar incidents at award shows on both sides of the Atlantic.
Turn back the clock, if you will, to 2004, when West was topping critical charts with his debut CD, "The College Dropout," and racking up music award nominations. When the best new artist was announced at the American Music Awards, however, it was Gretchen Wilson's name in the envelope, not West's, and he responded by unleashing a profanity-laced tirade to reporters backstage. An apology to Wilson, hinged on his upbringing ("I was raised better than that"), was soon issued, but a scant three months later a comment followed that he "should not be let on stage" at the Grammys. Thus, the Kanye West Award Show Crash Pattern was established: the outburst over a perceived slight, then the heartfelt apology, then the follow-up comment that essentially says, "You ain't seen nothing yet."
Skip ahead to 2006, and Kanye is again breaking into winners' speeches, this time at the MTV Europe Music Awards. When Justice and Simon's "We Are Your Friends" took home the best video award over West's colossally overblown production for "Touch the Sky" -- a lopsided tribute to Evel Knievel featuring Pamela Anderson -- the rapper again bounded to the stage to protest his loss. His umbrage appeared to center around the failure to appreciate the video's production values: "It cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it ... I was jumping across canyons," he sputtered, adding, "If I don't win, the award show loses credibility." Well, someone loses credibility. Later, West presented his usual mea culpa, citing a bit too much "sippy sippy" as the culprit. Later, he would wonder publicly in an interview for Rolling Stone (which featured him on the cover in Jesus Christ post, complete with crown of thorns) how people actually believed that he wouldn't do such a thing.
And those who did believe were pretty much shown up by his tantrum at the 2007 MTV Music Awards, when Britney Spears was chosen to open the show instead of him. Before the show, West was badmouthing Spears' track record, citing her lack of hits in recent years. Things got noticeably louder after he failed to take home an award any of the five categories in which he was nominated. "I'm trying hard," he griped backstage after the show, before vowing that he would never perform on MTV again. Later, on a radio interview, he justified the whole blowout as a part of MTV's attempt to dissuade performers from appearing on the main stage, which thwarted his "dream" of making the show a bigger event when he penned his single, "Stronger."
So where does this all leave West circa October 2009? Out of work, for one, but with the opportunity to take any number of paths to improve his situation. Whether he decides to stay "real" or take a genuine look at the effect of his actions on his career remains to be seen.
-- Paul Gaita
Photo: Kanye West and Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Credit: Associated Press