“OMG Kanye!” Emmanuel Ocbazghi made his Facebook status the night of September 13, 2009. “Wtf?! Lmao!”
A junior in high school at the time, and now a producer at Business Insider, Ocbazghi was one of thousands buzzing on social media about what just went down at the MTV Video Music Awards between Kanye West and Taylor Swift. Jehan Madhani also remembers immediately heading to the website to post a YouTube clip of the notorious incident that celebrates its 10-year anniversary this week.
The interaction, when West interrupted then-19-year-old Swift as she accepted the award for Best Female Video to proclaim Beyoncé had the “best video of all time,” is so pivotal that people still remember the exact moment they witnessed it go down. It’s a time capsule, of sorts, taking place at an event hosted by Russell Brand (?) that celebrated Michael Jackson (!). It just got the oral history treatment courtesy of Billboard, proving our appetite for the public face-off has far from subsided. But even those who recollect it most strongly agree that at this point, we’ve had our fill.
But it’s difficult to turn away when West and Swift themselves have never really recovered from the snafu. It has been repeatedly relitigated, including in Swift’s 2016 statement about the drama between her, Kanye, and Kim Kardashian West, and most recently at the 2019 VMAs when she remarked during a red carpet interview, “You never know what can happen on this show, as I’ve learned.” It’s still so prevalent in the pop culture landscape that many still harbor the moment as their own personal “I Think About This A Lot” — I still remember tuning into The View for the first time in my life just so I could watch their interview with Swift following the show. (Take a moment to please picture Taylor Swift on The View today.) It was that wild.
“At first, I thought it must be scripted... until they really showed Taylor’s mortified face,” Sam Bruhl, who was watching at home in Delaware with his mother, remembered.
While West wasn’t quite at “slavery was a choice” levels of divisiveness ten years ago, this was the same person who, Ocbazghi pointed out, had recently said George Bush didn’t care about Black people on live television.
“We knew him to be a sporadic, well-intentioned, but callous person,” he explained. “Would you do something mean-spirited to someone if it reinforced your love/admiration of someone else?”
But it wasn’t that simple. While West may have believed he was acting out of loyalty to Beyoncé, the oral history claims the moment left both women in tears. In fact, the only reason the “Single Ladies” singer didn’t leave then and there was reportedly so she could welcome Swift back on stage to finish her in speech in lieu of her own “Video Of The Year” acceptance.
“That was the OG women-supporting-women before it was a talking point and a hashtag,” Maia Efrem, former Refinery29 editor who now works at Scary Mommy, said.
This gesture managed to bring the evening back on track, but aside from the requisite post-event interviews, many believe the story should have ended there.
“If they were both adults and not celebrities who need attention it could have been resolved with a ‘hey Taylor that was v unchill of me, sorry I did that,’” Lisa from Denver, CO said. “Or just a thing where it’s never resolved and there’s some bitterness but it’s not addressed anymore.”
Instead, you’re reading this. The moment’s endurance in pop culture can be attributed to a number of factors (“Let's just say if Kanye interrupted someone at the BET Awards in 2009, we would not be talking about it in 2019,” Ocbazghi said), but each year it becomes more compelling in huge part because it’s so rooted in the past.
It was a time that was the heyday of Lady Gaga’s performance art, that the cast of Twilight presented an award, that we turned to Facebook, of all places, to discuss what just happened in the world. It feels innocent and nostalgic but, most importantly, over. After all, the very theme of Swift’s latest album, Lover, is about releasing herself from the past.
Finally, ten years later, it’s about time to let the 2009 VMAs finish for good.