The MTV Video Music Awards is the home of some of the most notable moments in pop culture. Such iconic moments occur when you least expect it, or when things don’t go as planned. For the past three decades, stars have been born on the VMAs stage, while for others, it changes their entire career trajectory.
On September 13, 2009, MTV held its annual Video Music Awards. Janet Jackson took to the stage to pay tribute to her brother, Michael Jackson, who passed away earlier that summer. Eminem presented Best New Artist to Lady Gaga, who later went on to bleed on stage. Green Day called out MTV for not airing music videos. Lil Mama stormed the stage during Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ performance of “Empire State of Mind”. While, Beyoncé performed a medley of “Sweet Dreams” and “Single Ladies” and found herself in the center of arguably the most unforgettable moment in modern history.
Taylor Lautner and Shakira took to the stage to present Best Female Video to Taylor Swift for “You Belong With Me”. As the singer accepted her very first moonman, Kanye West ambushed America, as he grabbed the microphone and declared that Beyoncé had the better music video with “Single Ladies”. “Yo, Taylor, I'm really happy for you, 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, then 32, as the entire middle-America watched in shock, confusion, and anger.
Last year, Billboard spoke to various MTV writers, producers, executives, and more industry insiders who were backstage when the incident happened, and here’s a summary.
Kanye West shows up with a bottle of Hennessy:
Whitney-Gayle Benta, former vice president of talent relations, asked Kanye if he was okay, he responded “I’m here living my best life”. Benta says at the moment, she knew something was going to go down. He then went on to pass down the Hennessy to other celebrities including Pete Wentz, and almost a then 15-16-year-old Justin Bieber.
Kanye was originally seated all the way in the back:
Former MTV News producer, Jim Cantiello, remembers recalling if Kanye had pissed somebody off, he was then moved towards the front, hours before the show.
The moment happens:
Various MTV News producers recall watching on a monitor in the back in shock. “Oh my God, get him off” – A number of people backstage, while one former staff member said, “this is TV gold”. While another member says that was what they were praying for, a moment that would live on forever, and it did.
The crowd turns on Kanye:
People in attendance were booing and hissing. During commercial break, P!NK walked up to Kanye, who returned back to his seat, and got up in his face, and shook her head in disappointment. Kanye was then escorted out the building.
Celebrities respond during the show:
Billie Armstrong of Green Day said, “Let the girl have her moment”. Tyson Ritter, All-American Rejects singer said, “Kanye’s a jackass”. Meanwhile, Wale stood by Kanye as he said, “You can’t fault a man for speaking his mind”.
Transformative moment in pop culture:
It made everyone realize how powerful Twitter was, as at that moment, if you weren’t watching live, you logged on to the social media platform, and your timeline was flooded. Also, for the fact that over 10 years later, it’s still being talked about.