Kanye West is no stranger to controversy or to making controversial and provocative statements—entertaining, unconventional, often extemporaneous and brutally candid. The artist’s acceptance speech at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards on August 30 was in keeping with his personality and public presence, complete with an announcement of a 2020 presidential run.
West, the evening’s recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, was introduced by fellow artist Taylor Swift. At the 2009 VMAs, West caused a stir when he interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech for winning Best Female Video for “You Belong To Me,” saying Beyoncé deserved the award instead.
“Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!” West said referring to her music video for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” West was met with boos from the audience.
Six years later, in his 11-minute speech, which was part acceptance, part sermon and part theater, West spoke about a number of things, from fatherhood to defending other artists, and in the process managed to speak some truths about how the media operates, particularly the seemingly arbitrary process of selecting winners at awards shows.
“The contradiction is I do fight for artists,” West said. “But in that fight, I somehow was disrespectful to artists. I didn’t know how to say the right thing, the perfect thing. I just—I sat at the Grammys and saw Justin Timberlake and Cee-Lo lose. Gnarls Barkley, and—the ‘Sexy Back’ album, and bro, Justin, I ain’t trying to put you on blast, but I saw that man in tears, bro. You know. And I was thinking, like, he deserves to win Album of the Year,” he added.
West made reference to his “beef” with Swift and how the media plays up such disputes for profits:
And this small box that we are as the entertainers of the evening, how could you explain that? Sometimes I feel like, you know, all this going on about beef and all that, sometimes I feel like I died for the artist’s opinion, for the artist to be able to have an opinion after they were successful. I’m not no politician, bro! And look at that. You know how many times MTV ran that footage again, because it got them more ratings? Do you know how many times they announced Taylor was going to give me the award because it got them more ratings?
This is for the kids, bro! I still don’t understand awards shows. I don’t understand how they get five people who work their entire life, one that sold records, sold concert tickets, to come, stand on a carpet, and for the first time in their life be judged on a chopping block and have the opportunity to be considered a loser. I don’t understand it, bro!
West provided some advice to other artists in the music industry. “All I can say to my artists, my fellow artists, just worry how you feel at the time, man.”
“I’m confident. I believe in myself,” he continued. “We the millennials, bro. This is a new mentality. We not going to control our kids with brands. We not going to teach low self-esteem and hate to our kids. We going to teach our kids that they can be something. We going to teach our kids that they can stand up for they self. We’re going to teach our kids to believe in themselves. If my grandfather was here right now, he would not let me back down.”
West ended his remarks by saying, “I don’t know what I’m finna lose after this. It don’t matter, though; it’s not about me. It’s about ideas. New ideas. People with ideas. People who believe in truth. And yes, as you probably could’ve guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president.”
kanye’s speech is so worth watching and is possibly the best speech i’ve heard http://t.co/qtogtMKh0t
— eva (@whiteshirtcth) August 31, 2015
— ShadowLines (@ShadowLinesDoc) August 31, 2015
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) August 31, 2015
Ultimately, what made West’s acceptance speech, like the man himself, stand out was his willingness to buck the system and challenge the status quo, at a time when the media promote cookie-cutter artists and pre-programmed messaging that are acceptable to a white-dominated, corporate-driven system. Ironically, for all of West’s criticism of the way artists win awards—specifically Swift—Swift went on to win four of 10 nominations she had received, including Best Pop Video for “Blank Space” and Video of the Year for “Bad Blood” with Kendrick Lamar.
West’s remarks came nearly 10 years to the day that he said, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” during a televised concert to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina on September 2, 2005.
“I hate the way they portray us in the media,” West said. “If you see a Black family, it says they’re looting. If you see a white family, it says they’re searching for food.”