Was Kanye's VMA Outburst a Ploy for Pre-Tour Publicity?

By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 14, 2009 2:46 PM

Not even the most hideous of Lady Gaga outfits could have outshined Kanye West's petulant outburst at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards. The incident is quickly becoming the stuff of Twitterverse lore: 19-year-old country pixie Taylor Swift was accepting her award for best female video when West marched onstage, snatched the microphone from Swift's hand and declared that the honor should have gone to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)." Gasp!

"Taylor, I'm really happy for you, and I'm gonna let you finish," West said. "But Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!" The live audience at Radio City Music Hall immediately unleashed a torrent of boos while bloggers flared up with a fury.

Perez Hilton: "Shame on you, Kanye!"

Gawker: "Kanye West, You're a [expletive]."

Idolator: "It just all feels so . . . calculated."

But was it all staged? Swift's face registered genuine shock. "It was absolutely not staged," MTV spokeswoman Jeannie Kedas said in an e-mail. Regardless, West's antics certainly seemed premeditated. Over the years, the rapper has fine-tuned his outbursts, spinning them into strategically placed PR bonanzas. On the eve of launching a huge U.S. tour, West knows that a good televised freak-out jump-starts the blog chatter faster than a stunning award victory or transcendent live performance ever could.

West's indiscretion is merely the latest in a sequence of his newsmaking shockers. "I'm never coming [back] to MTV!" he shouted backstage after leaving the 2007 VMAs ceremony without a trophy in his hands. At the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards in Denmark, West rushed the stage when his "Touch The Sky" video was bested by Justice vs. Simian's "We Are Your Friends." But West's most famous script-tweak came in 2005 during a Hurricane Katrina benefit telecast on NBC, when the rapper declared, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

West apologized to Swift on his blog, saying, "I'M SOOOOO SORRY TO TAYLOR SWIFT AND HER FANS AND HER MOM." But he shortly followed it up with, "WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD!!!! EVERYBODY WANNA BOOOOO ME BUT I'M A FAN OF REAL POP CULTURE!!!"

West's post has since been since removed without explanation from the rapper.

One of the few to defend West: Washington's own Wale. Rolling Stone reports that off camera, the rapper who performed throughout the night with house band UCB said to the crowd, "You can't fault a man for speaking his mind." He was greeted with a fresh wave of boos.

MTV doesn't seem to be doing much booing at all. West was ejected from the ceremony shortly after his outburst, but a picture of the rapper snatching Swift's microphone still adorns the splash page of its Web site.

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