Before I begin, I want to make sure that you all know I am 100 percent against what Kanye West did at MTV’s Video Music Awards last week. Storming the stage during Taylor Swift’s victory speech to rebuke the audience for not selecting Beyonce — and, in effect, for selecting Taylor Swift — was not cool.
But, like many people who watched that painful drama unfold on the air and then on Twitter and Facebook in the minutes that followed, I felt there had to be more to the story than just an intoxicated rapper making a scene on national TV.
So, in my lifelong quest for knowledge and understanding of what makes “us” tick, I decided to chat with three people of color that I know who work in the entertainment industry and possess an insider’s understanding of how things go down behind the scenes. I wanted to get their perspective, and it was a bit different than what we heard most of last week in the mainstream media. Here’s their general dissection of the event:
1. Kanye was wrong. Without question, he was wrong to steal young Taylor Swift’s spotlight. It is rude to do what he did, and there is really no excuse for his behavior. Not one person had anything to say other than he was wrongheaded. But …
2. Kanye is an “Angry Black Man” in Hollywood, and he was expressing what many others feel — especially as it relates to MTV — but would never dare say out loud. Not to excuse him, but let’s be real: Kanye has anger issues. We’ve seen it before. This should not have shocked anyone. Even if you are just the casual I-live-in-Chicago-and-I’m-aware-he’s-from-here-too person, you know to expect this behavior from Mr. West. Friends in L.A. quickly pointed to his previous antics as proof. For instance, there was earlier VMA tantrum. MTV.com even offers this timeline of Kanye’s assorted outbursts., and his
It was pointed out that, even with all his shortcomings, Mr. West states what lots of black artists feel as it relates to MTV. Many in the industry say that MTV long ago chose to focus less on outreach to African Americans. With the exception of a choice few established artists, MTV is not seen as the career-enhancing partner it once was to African American artists and groups. Whether that is true or not is to be debated, the point is this: Many African Americans in the industry hate what Kanye did (interrupting an innocent young star, indirectly dissing her achievements, and stealing her moment in the spotlight); however, they don’t necessarily disagree with the spirit behind his protest. Similar to his “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” commentary during the Katrina fundraising event, it was the wrong setting, wrong timing, and wrong wording, but not necessarily an inaccurate message.
3. MTV exploited the situation. People who attended the ceremony wondered why the microphone was not turned off immediately. Wouldn’t the producers of the show have been able to instruct their technicians to go to a commercial the moment things went off script? Clearly, the whole thing happened fast and it was live TV, but MTV officials were able to turn off the mike after Kanye’s interruption — and inadvertently not allow Ms. Swift the chance to speak again. So how come the mike didn’t go dead sooner, especially since everyone was well aware of Kanye’s track record on live broadcasts?
The reason? According to my friends, publicity and buzz. Since last Sunday, that shocking moment has been replayed on TV shows and the Web over and over. There have been millions of visits to the MTV site (where, by the way, there’s no shortage of feature articles about every possible angle of the story). This is mass attention that MTV long ago lost from the general population.
Another friend, who was in attendance at the event, said, “They like that kind of stuff to happen.” Indeed, people were tweeting instantly when it occurred. How many more people do you think tuned in to watch the show after they heard about the Kanye incident? It’s an MTV PR executive’s dream scenario.
4. Both Taylor Swift and Kanye will likely benefit from this. I can’t tell you how many people in my Facebook network remarked that they’d never heard of Taylor Swift or her music before the Kanye outburst put her on their radar. Since then, they’ve watched her music videos to see what she’s all about.
Of course, being humiliated on national TV is never a good experience, and the 19-year-old singer certainly didn’t deserve to have her moment stolen. But the bright side of this is her exposure to a new audience who did not know her or her songs before Kanye’s outburst.
Last week on iTunes,for her song “You Belong with Me” became the most popular video download on the site. I wasn’t keeping track of its chart position in the week’s prior to that. But then again, no one else in my circles was looking for it then either.
There were also rumors abuzz on Twitter and around the blogosphere that there could be a musical collaboration on the horizon for Taylor and Kanye. Could you imagine how many curious ears and eyeballs something like that would attract?
Again, there’s no excuse for what Kanye did. He deserves a lot of the criticism he’s been receiving. His immense ego clearly needs to be checked. However, at the same time, he probably isn’t the irredeemable monster that many people are making him out to be. And, to his credit, he does seem to understand that what he did was wrong. What this young man needs most is counseling and prayer, and maybe a hug.