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Inside the Kanye-Helmed PornHub Awards

Nothing seemed to go according to plan at the porn giant’s small, unorganized awards ceremony — but at least Kanye West showed up?

Kanye west onstage at the Pornhub awards.

Photograph by Jennifer Swann

It wasn’t the usual start to an awards show, even if the award show was for the adult industry. Without any kind of announcement, a parade of porn stars, all wearing sheer monochromatic garments designed by Kanye West’s Yeezy brand, took the stage. The erotic photographer Richard Kern snapped their photos, ignoring the audience altogether. It wasn’t until minutes later that West himself strolled on stage, adding to the confusion rather than clarifying it. The rapper and fashion designer alternated between shouting directions at Kern (“Yo, Richard!”) and silently posing for photos, as if this was his own private photo shoot we’d all stumbled into by accident.

Of course, it wasn’t. This was the first-ever PornHub Awards, hosted by the behemoth Internet porn site on Thursday night at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Unlike long-running industry events like the Adult Video News Awards — or AVNs — which honor top talent over the course of a week in a Las Vegas hotel and casino, this one was held in an intimate historic theater and used fans’ streaming data to decide the winners. It also claimed to be the first award show to broadcast live over the Internet in virtual reality, using a website called Oasis.game.

The chaos began early on in the evening, even before West transformed the award show — which began more than an hour after its scheduled start time — into a fashion shoot supposedly set in the year 6918, although you wouldn’t know that from the event itself. The stage was lined with bright video screens on the ceiling and all three walls, making it look more like an art installation than an awards show.

Pornhub awards, kanye west

Courtesy of Pornhub.

West served as creative director for the show and used it as a platform not only to show off his new Yeezy designs, but also to perform with label mate Teyana Taylor and debut his new music video for “I Love It,” a collaboration with Lil Pump. The latter rapper was absent — he’s in jail for violating his probation, according to his manager, Dooney Battle. “Pump is like the most,” he told me before the show. “He’s like [one of] the hottest kids. All the porn stars want him. You know that, right?”

But the much-hyped event, assumed by some attendees to be nothing more than a publicity stunt for Pornhub, was riddled with organizational and tech problems inside the tiny room itself: At one point, host Asa Akira introduced the rapper Young MA, only to tell the crowd what felt like several minutes of silence later that she was just kidding. At another, Young MA’s name flashed repeatedly in error on the screen during what should have been the presentation of the visionary artist award. During the ceremony, barely-dressed audience members floated out of the theater and into the bar. By the last half of the show, the room was so empty that presenters had to nearly beg the winners to come accept their neon dildo-shaped awards. “Anyone with a penis please accept this award,” porn-star presenter Cherie Deville said after Johnny Sins, voted most popular male porn star by women, turned out to be a no-show.

Not even the presenters outfitted in Yeezy garments seemed to know what was going on that night or whether or not West would actually make an appearance. “It was very last minute,” says Lindsey Love, an amateur adult performer who wore a sea foam green turtleneck dress featuring a large cutout exposing her matching G-string. “It was like, ‘Surprise, we’re going to be doing this!’ It was very exciting.”

Corey Price, Pornhub’s vice president of marketing, first met West just 10 days before the event and committed to the collaboration a mere five days after that. It’s unclear when exactly the Yeezy garments were made, but the last-minute nature of the collaboration might explain all of the missing fabric. One model was fully nude, wearing nothing but cobalt-grey Yeezy ankle boots and her own tattoos, suggesting West either gave up on designing her clothes or figured the only way to be provocative at a porn award show was not to wear any at all.

Rolling Stone, Pornhub awards, kanye west

Courtesy of Pornhub.

For an artist with a reputation for making boisterous proclamations at awards shows, West was strangely silent throughout the ceremony he himself directed. Aside from speaking to his stylists, who rushed around arranging the models on stage, and to Kern, the photographer, West made no public statements and seemed to disappear entirely after his own cameo. West was probably better off having missed the remaining two hours of award presentations, which were peppered with video glitches and poor audio.

Still, his appearance brought plenty of excitement to younger amateur performers like Nova Storm, a cam girl who moved to Los Angeles late last year and hopes to upload videos to Pornhub once she gains a big enough online following. After “fan-girling” over Lil Dicky, among several rappers in the audience, Storm rushed to the stage to talk to West. “I was like. ‘Hey, Kanye you’re the creative director. It’s cool that you’re doing this. He’s like ‘I’m kind of busy right now but thank you,’” she says. “I had a conversation with Kanye. That’s pretty cool in my book.”

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