The MTV Video Music Awards showdown on Sunday (Sept. 12) between America’s country music sweetheart Taylor Swift and America’s now omnipresent ‘asshole’ Kanye West personified what riveting, dramatic, and just plain ol’ entertaining television is all about. The highlights followed last year’s jaw-dropping moment when Kanye interrupted Swift’s VMA acceptance speech claiming that the moon man belonged to Beyonce. The incident elevated Swift to pop culture sainthood while ‘Ye became a media outcast.
Indeed, the two most talked about moments from the telecast could not have been set in more extreme opposite settings. In one corner was a stripped-down, venerable, barefoot Swift—sitting in an antique leather chair in front of an equally antiquated microphone and television set, with steel guitar in hand—debuting “Innocent,” a track aimed at absolving Kanye from all his VMA sins. In the other corner stood an at-peace and bombastic Mr. West, dressed in a licorice red suit and gold chains amid a futuristic white set and backed up by of all visions three ballerinas and a sneering Pusha T from the Clipse.
For Kanye, his performance of “Runaway” was his chance to move on from the whole ordeal while slyly connecting his brazen behavior towards a significant other in his song to his past notorious actions over a high-art-pop-meets-boom-bap track. When it was all over, the musical culture clash not only proved to be more riveting than the most celebrated hip-hop battle of all time—Nas vs. Jay-Z—it made an emphatic statement that opposites make for great bedfellows. Let’s go to the tape.—Keith Murphy
1. Kanye & Taylor Are A Match Blessed By The Music Gods
Throughout music history, classic, high profile rivalries have produced some pretty intriguing and powerful artistic statements. From John Lennon vs. Paul McCartney (In response to a dig made by the latter cute Beatle, the smart Beatle blasted his former bandmate on his 1971 cut “How Do You Sleep?” with the biting line, “The only thing you done was yesterday…” The lyric was in reference to Paul’s most beloved and biggest-selling Beatles single “Yesterday.”) to the aforementioned legendary Nas vs. Jay-Z battle (“Ether,” Nas’ brilliantly brutal answer to Jigga’s “ hard-line 2001 diss “Takeover” caused a usually in-control Jay to lose control of his emotions on his follow-up retort. Most critics rightly gave the battle to the respected Queensbridge MC) such throwdowns have been epic.
Truthfully, Kanye vs. Taylor lacks the competitive venom of the above verbal rumbles. In fact, you could hardly categorize their respective VMA performances as a “battle” since both showings were aimed at seeking peaceful closure. Still, what propels the unlikely duo to a seminal pop culture moment beyond rock and rap beefs is the fact that the two acts come from distinctly different musical genres. Ye’, the larger than hip-hop showman who wears his enormous ego on his sleeve more loudly than any of his I’m-the-shit rhyme peers. Taylor Swift, the doe-eyed country teen dream that is so saccharine that you get a toothache just from listening to her music. You can’t create a more intriguing dichotomy.