Leave it to Kanye West to produce one of the most infamous moments in VMAs history before the 2009 show was even an hour old. It happened after Taylor Swift’s victory in the Best Female Video category for “You Belong With Me,” which beat out Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” Just moments after Swift accepted the Moonman and began her acceptance speech, West stormed the stage, taking the microphone from Swift to announce Beyoncé deserved the award.
“Thank you so much!” Swift began. “I always dreamed about what it would be like to maybe win one of these some day, but I never actually thought it would have happened. I sing country music so thank you so much for giving me a chance to win a VMA award.”
Before she could continue, West broke in. “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ll let you finish, but Beyoncé has one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!” Kanye shouted to a mortified Swift and the speechless audience. And as quickly as he ran onstage — MTV cut away to show Pink applauding Taylor, and when they flashed back to Swift, West already had the mic in his hand — he was off, leaving a shocked Swift in his wake.
Everyone at the Radio City Music Hall looked stunned, as the cameras captured an astonished and horrified Beyoncé still in her seat. Soon after, the audience gave a standing ovation in support of Swift. To add insult to injury, after Kanye handed the microphone back to Swift, her time was up, and MTV cut to a video featuring Tracy Morgan and Eminem. Minutes after the incident went down, MTV Chairman and CEO Judy McGrath was feverishly typing into her phone when Diddy came up for a chat. Topic of conversation? What else but West. “Like Diddy just said, ‘It’s rock & roll,’ ” McGrath commented to RS. “And the applause for [Taylor] will be louder.”
According to sources at the VMAs, Swift was seen hysterically crying backstage after Kanye’s outburst, making it convenient that the first part of her performance of “You Belong to Me,” which immediately followed the acceptance speech, was prerecorded. (Swift emerged from the subway exit and performed atop a cab outside the venue live.) Wale, who is serving as MC for the house band, told the crowd, “You can’t fault a man for speaking his mind,” which was promptly met by boos from the Radio City Music Hall crowd. According to our sources inside Radio City, Kanye was promptly tossed from the VMAs after interrupting Swift’s speech and headed to West Village haunt the Spotted Pig. “I’m assuming based on the amount of Hennessey I saw [West] drink that he was not all there,” Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump told Rolling Stone backstage at the show.
Near the end of the show, Beyoncé invited Swift onstage to have the acceptance speech she deserved while picking up her own Moonman for Video of the Year. Later, West posted an apology on his blog:
“I’m sooooo sorry to taylor swift and her fans and her mom. I spoke to her mother right after and she said the same thing my mother would’ve said. She is very talented! I like the lyrics about being a cheerleader and she’s in the bleachers! i’m in the wrong for going on stage and taking away from her moment!. beyonce’s video was the best of this decade! I’m sorry to my fans if I let you guys down! I’m sorry to my friends at mtv. I will apologize to taylor 2mrw. welcome to the real world! everybody wanna booooo me but i’m a fan of real pop culture! No disrespect but we watchin’ the show at the crib right now cause … well you know! i’m still happy for taylor! Boooyaaawwww! you are very very talented! I gave my awards to outkast when they deserved it over me… that’s what it is!! i’m not crazy yall, i’m just real. Sorry for that! I really feel bad for taylor and i’m sincerely sorry! Much respect!!”