This is the Taylor Swift’s time, what with the release of her new album, Lover, available now, a newly dropped video, as well as Monday’s MTV Video Music Awards, which she is set to open. It’s a sweet lead-up to the 2019 VMAs; who woulda thunk that what happened during the show 10 years ago would still be a thing?
ICYDK, or live under a rock, on that fateful 2009 night, Swift was a contender for Best Female Video for “You Belong With Me” — which she won. But her taking the honours over Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” did not sit well with Kanye West, who stormed the stage in protest, hijacked Swift’s acceptance speech with the words that will forever be burned in our brains, (even more than Miley twerking with Robin Thicke a few years later): “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!”
He not only embarrassed her but also himself. Later in the evening, Bey won Video of the Year and she invited Tay back onstage to finish her speech. “Maybe we can try this again,” Swift joked at the time, before thanking her fans.
But turns out, Bey bringing Tay up on stage was something manufactured by MTV. Billboard spoke to producers, reporters and MTV staffers who witnessed the iconic moment as it unfolded before their eyes like a train wreck you can’t look away from and Swift wasn’t the only one upset and angry after West’s interruption.
According to Van Toffler, the former president of Viacom Media Networks and Logo Group and executive producer on the show, he saw Beyoncé and her father, Mathew Knowles, backstage and they were clearly unsettled. “I walk behind the stage — and sure enough there is Beyoncé and her dad, and she is crying,” he recalled. “She was like, ‘I didn’t know this was going to happen, I feel so bad for her.'”
That’s when Toffler made the executive decision to inform Bey of her Video of the Year win ahead of time. “At some point, I let her know that she was probably going to be up on the podium at the end of the show for an award,” he said, before suggesting, “And wouldn’t it be nice to have Taylor come up and have her moment then?”
He further explained, “I had to indicate to her that she needed to stay, and perhaps this is a way to have this come full circle and let [Taylor] have her moment. I would normally not say anything, but I had two crying artists.” Beyonce, of course, agreed.
Whitney-Gayle Benta, former vice president of talent relations at MTV News, had a bad feeling right from the night’s red carpet, remembering Kanye “living [his] best life” with a bottle of Hennessy, and thinking to herself, “This is not going to end well.” And when that Taylor/Kanye moment happened, she couldn’t believe it. “Of everything I predicted could go wrong, who could have known it would be that?”
Executive producer Jesse Ignjatovic “kept thinking in the first moments that [Kanye] was going to get to a place where he gives her a big compliment. And it just didn’t come. Like the audience, we were just reacting to it in real time… whatever he had done in the past, it just seemed unfathomable that that would happen. You watch Beyoncé’s reaction, everyone couldn’t believe what they were seeing.” He added that everything happened so quickly, like a train wreck, and “there was no talk of cutting his mic.”
Dave Itzkoff, culture reporter at the New York Times, remembers the “disbelief and anger in the house, and shock that palpably went through the room.” James Montgomery, former MTV correspondent, added: “The crowd in Radio City just turned on [Kanye] — people were booing and hissing.” He also recalled Pink approaching Kanye and getting in his face. “I wasn’t close enough to hear the conversation, but she was pointing in his face and nodding her head back and forth, and giving him her two cents about how f*cked up this was and then stormed off.”
Here’s the thing, though. While that Taylor/Kanye moment happened, it also couldn’t be undone — and Swift still had to perform after being bullied on stage. There was the question about whether or not she could recover from that but director Hamish Hamilton said nothing would stop her. “She really dealt with it with true dignity and professionalism. Maybe after the immediate shock and sadness, she pretty quickly channeled that energy into determination.”
The following year, Swift performed her song “Innocent,” which many believed to be about West and how she forgave him for his interruption. But fast-forward to 2016 and their feud was reignited, thanks to his song, “Famous,” in which he raps, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that b*tch famous.”
Kanye claimed that Taylor approved the song’s lyrics beforehand, which Tay denied, but then things got ugly when Kim Kardashian showed receipts in the form of a Snapchat video, of Swift seemingly listening to the “Famous” lyrics. It’s been snake emojis ever since and it’s widely believed the first track of Lover, “I Forgot You Existed,” is a dig at West.
In 2009, after the incident, Swift said of West, “I don’t know him, and I don’t want to start anything.” Ha! If only.