Kanye West, hero of the Grammys
Every year, the Grammy Awards inspire dozens of music critics to unite under a single question: What isn't terrible about the Grammys? There are way, way too many categories. There is too much overlap between the winners. There's the blinding, omnipresent whiteness of said winners. There's the stifling aura of a show that takes itself way too seriously — so seriously that its producers and attendees can't risk doing anything that would be even a little spontaneous or daring.
Thank the music gods we have Kanye West, agent of chaos, to inject some life into the proceedings:
West's near-interruption of Album of the Year winner Beck hearkened back to the last time Kanye single-handedly made a music show culturally relevant, when he grabbed the microphone from Best Female Video winner Taylor Swift at the 2009 Video Music Awards. Then, as now, Kanye proved himself to be America's biggest Beyonce fan by hijacking an entire awards ceremony to sing her praises.
Last night, Kanye came this close to grabbing the microphone before grinning and stepping away, and the whole thing was immediately written off as a self-aware gag on the Taylor Swift incident. But the only thing better than Kanye's "joke" was the revelation that Kanye actually meant to have his say. "I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us," he said in a post-show interview with E!. "We ain't gonna play with them no more. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should've given his award to Beyonce."
This is, of course, a ludicrous thing for Kanye to demand, but it's also a welcome departure from the massaged, pre-planned statements that pass for commentary in these kinds of situations. Last night's Grammy ceremony was dull, stuffy, and overlong. Even a song as peppy as "Happy" was performed with all the verve of a funeral dirge. But look at the crowd's reaction as Kanye hops up to the stage. After hours of over-rehearsed performances and self-consciously "artistic" posturing, the Grammy moment that elicited the most genuine emotion was the only one that didn't feel rehearsed.
At this point, it's probably stupid to assume that Kanye won't make some kind of fuss at an awards show. The Taylor Swift moment has long overshadowed the others, but he pulled similar stunts at 2004's American Music Awards, 2006's MTV Europe Music Awards, and 2007's Video Music Awards. Those times, he wasn't there to argue for Beyonce's talents; he was there to argue for his own. "I was definitely robbed," he said in a 2004 interview with the Associated Press. "I was the best new artist this year."
But all those moments have obscured another intriguing moment in Kanye's career: the time he won an award, and used his speech to give it to someone else. At 2007's BET Hip-Hop Awards, Kanye's "Stronger" won Video of the Year over UGK and OutKast's "International Players Anthem," and when he took the stage, he personally argued against his own win:
"I've been waiting for the opportunity to actually win an award that I felt like I shouldn't win, so I could tell y'all… that really, this is just my opinion. I'm just a fan. And if I'm passionate about how I feel like that, you know, no disrespect. I realize y'all gave me this award because I've made so many good videos, so no disrespect to the people who made this decision. But I want to give this award right here to Big Boi and Bryan Barber, because in my opinion, I feel like it's the best video."
Kanye's decade-plus of awards show outbursts stand out because he's the rarest kind of recording artist: the kind whose dedication to music is so total that he feels personally aggrieved when the most deserving nominee doesn't win. The awards circuit is a political slog in which every nominee is duty-bound to act shocked at their own victory, and praise their fellow nominees as equally deserving (if not more deserving) of their award. It's almost always pure theater — but when Kanye says something, it's hard not to believe him.
There's a reason Kanye's post-show interview is the only thing people are talking about today, and that his brief trip to the stage during Beck's speech earned more social media buzz than any of the show's actual winners. Music should be a little wild. Artists should be that passionate. And the Grammys should be thrilled that Kanye, even for a moment, managed to give their big night the personality it so desperately needed.