What Kanye's 2015 VMA Speech Really Meant For Music And The Masses

by Juliet K Barney

Last night at the VMAs, things got weird really fast. There were skits about Mary Jane in all its forms; there as a Janet Jackson-style nip slip from host, Miley Cyrus. Justin Bieber cried, reminding us he’s still a real boy, and Taylor Swift danced the night away like it was 1999.

Miley tried to beat Ellen’s Oscar selfie, shouting, “On the count of three say, ‘Marijuana!’” Demi Lovato was hoisted in an inflatable pool, and Tori Kelly stole the show.

But then, Kanye West happened. He was presented with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, an award won in the past couple years by Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake. West had an N*SYNC reunion and a Queen Bey performance to compete with.

How does one do that? With 12 minutes of unfinished sentences and an announcement for a presidential bid, bro.

Though much of what West was saying was a bunch of nonsense, it had a lot of merit (if you were able to complete his sentences with logical thought). He apologized to Taylor Swift, and he gave us all the feels when he expressed his sadness after being booed by 60,000 people at a baseball game.

He seemed like he was on his way to apologizing for everything. But then, he got sidetracked. He called out MTV for exploiting his feud with Taylor Swift, saying:

"You know how many times MTV ran that footage again? Because it got them more ratings? Do you know how many times they announced Taylor was gonna give me this award? Because it got them more ratings?"

And that led to an explanation, or at least a defense, for his 2009 outburst:

"I still don’t understand award shows. I don’t understand how they get five people who work their entire life one sell records, sell concert tickets to come stand on a carpet and for the first time in they life be judged on a chopping block and have the opportunity to be considered a loser. "I don’t understand it, bro. I do not understand when the biggest album or the biggest video... I don’t understand. I’ve been conflicted, bro. I just wanted people to like me more. But f*ck that, bro."

Kanye West cares about the art -- that much is clear. But in his crusade to fight for the artist, he’s lost amongst the rivalry of award shows. He wants to win, and he wants his favorite artists to win. But what he can’t decide is what makes one artist better than another.

During the show, there was a commercial for Clean & Clear that read, “The best acceptance speeches are the ones we give ourselves,” a statement that mirrors West’s message.

We don’t need acceptance from our peers or from MTV. We don’t need a Moon Man to prove we are great. We need to accept ourselves and fight for ourselves.

"I don’t know what’s gonna happen tonight, I don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow, bro, but all I can say to my artists is just worry about how you feel at the time. I’m confident. I believe in myself. "We the Millennials, bro. This is a new mentality. We’re not gonna control our kids with brands. We’re not gonna teach low self-esteem and hate to our kids. We’re gonna teach our kids that they can be something. That they can stand up for themselves."

This is the key to his speech: We shouldn’t be knocking down others when they lose; we should support each other, while believing in ourselves. This is the opposite of what happened at the VMAs.

The theme of last night’s event? Artist rivalry.

At the very beginning of the show, Taylor Swift joined Nicki Minaj onstage for a short performance of "Bad Blood," to show they had officially squashed their Twitter feud.

Everyone clapped, happy to see the two women getting along. They took the high road.

Well, Minaj did until she accepted the award for Best Hip-Hop Video. She called out Miley Cyrus for saying negative things about her in the press. After crushing one feud, Minaj was ready to continue another feud on national television.

The VMAs aren’t about awards, at least not anymore. They used to be about music and recognizing artists who were excelling in the industry, but now, MTV is about performance. And by performance, I don’t mean the musical numbers, which, for the most part, were also lackluster.

The VMAs are about the performances by artists on the red carpet and onstage. In a week, we won’t remember who won what award. Instead, we’ll remember the fights and the awkwardness we felt when Nicki Minaj called Miley Cyrus a bitch after thanking her pastor.

What are award shows, anyway? As Kanye West suggests, they're just a way to pit artists against one another. It was the perfect, though ineloquent, way to blame his 2009 actions on MTV.

He didn’t mean to victimize Taylor Swift. MTV and the VMAs made him do it.