Seizing on the forum where he’s made some of his most provocative pronouncements, Kanye West on Sunday took the stage of the MTV Video Music Awards to introduce a new video and declare that, no matter how it may appear, “I like all y’all.”
The Chicago-born rapper, who famously jumped onstage and stole Taylor Swift’s microphone at the 2009 show, almost topped himself last year when he gave an 11-minute speech onstage — after being introduced by Swift — and announced he was going to run for president in 2020.
This year West kept his remarks to six minutes, touching on his notorious “Famous” video, murder in Chicago and his place among history’s thought leaders, straying at times for shoutouts to audience members including his wife, Kim Kardashian West; his ex, Amber Rose, and local rising star Chance the Rapper.
“Of you think about it, last week it was 22 people murdered in Chicago,” he said, then abruptly changing topics. “People come up to me like, ‘Man, that’s right! Take down Taylor!’ But I like all y’all! That’s why I called her!”
The bad blood between West and Swift boiled anew last month when Kardashian West posted old footage of her husband receiving a call from Swift giving her blessing to a racy mention of her in “Famous,” a lyric Swift later condemned.
As for “Famous,” the music video released in June that features West lounging in a huge bed with naked representations of Kardashian, Swift, Rihanna, Caitlyn Jenner and George W. Bush, among others, the rapper called it “an expression of our now, our fame right now, us on the inside of the TV.”
“The audacity to put Anna Wintour right next to Donald Trump. I mean, like, I put Ray J in there, bro!” he continued, mentioning the rapper whose sex tape with Kardashian West made her famous. “This is fame, bro! … We came over in the same boat and now we all in the same bed. Well, maybe different boats …”
In another allusion to the 2009 incident in which he interrupted Swift to say Beyonce deserved her award, West predicted (correctly) that “Famous” would lose to Beyonce’s “Formation” later in the night for video of the year. “I can’t be mad” if that happens, he added. “I’m always wishing for Beyonce to win.”
The speech took a serious turn when West mentioned meeting a kid during his speech last year at the Art Institute of Chicago who said he’d lost three friends and feared he’d be next.
“You have to think, like, you know when you’re a senior and it’s the last month and you just don’t feel like doing any more work?” he said. “If you feel like you’re seeing people dying right next to you, you might feel like, what’s the point? Life could start to feel worthless in a way.”
He quoted a friend as saying one way to keep people in poverty is to take away their role models, then proceeded to list his own: Truman (presumably Harry, unless he was honoring Jim Carrey’s movie character), Henry Ford, Ice Cube, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs — and himself.
“Tonight, we’re here to have fun,” he said. “I’m standing here in front of my idol, Puff Daddy. I’m standing in front of my wife, Kim Kardashian West. I’m standing in front of the future: Chance the Rapper, 2Chainz, Jaden Smith. Bro, we are undeniably the influence, the thought leaders.”
And with that, he segued into the video for “Fade,” featuring singer Teyana Taylor dancing erotically in a gym in her underwear and then getting naked and intimate with a man in the shower. A flock of sheep and a cat-faced woman made cameos.
Beyonce owned the awards — like she did in 2014 — with a 16-minute performance featuring her recent hits from her album “Lemonade,” working various stages with strong, layered vocals, skilled dance moves and even an outfit change — all as the audience watched in awe and cheered her on.
Queen B kicked of her strong set with “Pray You Catch Me” as blue lights beamed onstage. She was wearing white, but later stripped down to a black leotard with full sleeves as she sang “Hold Up” and “Sorry.” She grew angry and twerked while performing “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and ended with the anthemic “Formation.”
“If y’all came to slay, sing along with me,” she said.
The top-notch performance starkly contrasted with that of Britney Spears, who returned to the VMA stage after 10 years. Not only did she lip sync, in typical fashion, but she did so badly. Spears performed her hit “Make Me…” and danced slickly, but she didn’t actually sing a word of the song live. She was joined by rapper G-Eazy — and she lip synced the hook to his hit song, “Me, Myself and I.”