During tonight’s VMAs, Kanye West was presented with the Michael Jackson’s Video Vanguard Award, MTV’s lifetime achievement award which has previously been given to David Bowie, Madonna, Beyonce, and Beastie Boys.
Taylor Swift presented the trophy to Kanye, noting that The College Dropout was the first album she ever purchased on iTunes. She went on to say that Kanye “defines what it means to be a creative force in music, fashion, and life.” Referencing the infamous moment when Kanye interrupted her own acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs, Swift also said “I’m happy for the other winners here and I’ma let you finish…but… Kanye has had one of the greatest careers of all time.”
Kanye then gave an extraordinary and inspiring 13-minute speech in which he explained why he interrupted Taylor (and why he went about it the wrong way), how seeing Justin Timberlake “in tears” after losing at the 20009 Grammys led him to jump on stage and defend Beyoncé, and why he continues to fight for art and artists like him. He also announced he’d be running for president in 2020, so there’s that.
Read a transcription of the speech below.
First of all, thank you, Taylor, for being so gracious and giving me this award this evening.
And I often think back to the first day I met you also. You know I think about when I’m in the grocery store with my daughter and I have a really great conversation about fresh juice… and at the end they say, ’Oh, you’re not that bad after all!’ And like I think about it sometimes. … It crosses my mind a little bit like when I go to a baseball game and 60,000 people boo me. Crosses my mind a little bit.
And I think if I had to do it all over again what would I have done? Would I have worn a leather shirt? Would I have drank half a bottle of Hennessy and gave the rest of it to the audience? Ya’ll know ya’ll drank that bottle too! If I had a daughter at that time would I have went on stage and grabbed the mic from someone else’s? You know, this arena tomorrow it’s gonna be a completely different setup. Some concert, something like that. The stage will be gone. After that night, the stage was gone, but the effect that it had on people remained.
The … The problem was the contradiction. The contradiction is I do fight for artists, but in that fight I somehow was disrespectful to artists. I didn’t know how to say the right thing, the perfect thing. I just … I sat at the Grammys and saw Justin Timberlake and Cee-Lo lose. Gnarls Barkley and the FutureLove … SexyBack album … and Justin, I ain’t trying to put you on blast, but I saw that man in tears, bro. You know, and I was thinking, like, ’He deserved to win Album of the Year!’
And this small box that we are as the entertainers of the evening … How could you explain that? Sometimes I feel like all this s–t they run about beef and all that? Sometimes I feel like I died for the artist’s opinion. For artists to be able to have an opinion after they were successful. I’m not no politician, bro!
Look at that. You know how many times MTV ran that footage again? ’Cause it got them more ratings? You know how many times they announced Taylor was going to give me the award ’cause it got them more ratings? Listen to the kids, bro! I still don’t understand awards shows. I don’t understand how they get five people who worked their entire life … sold records, sold concert tickets to come stand on the carpet and for the first time in they life be judged on the chopping block and have the opportunity to be considered a loser! I don’t understand it, bruh!
I don’t understand when the biggest album, or the biggest video … I’ve been conflicted, bro. I just wanted people to like me more. ‘But f–k that, bro! 2015! I will die for the art! For what I believe in. And the art ain’t always gonna be polite! Ya’ll might be thinking right now, ’Did he smoke something before he came out here?’ The answer is yes, I rolled up a little something. I knocked the edge off!
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, to my fellow artists: Just worry how you feel at the time, man. Just worry about how you feel and don’t NEVER … you know what I’m saying? 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 not gonna teach low self-esteem and hate to our kids. We gonna teach our kids that they can be something. We gonna teach our kids that they can stand up for theyself! We gonna teach our kids to believe in themselves!
If my grandfather was here right now he would not let me back down! I don’t know I’m fittin’ to lose after this. It don’t matter though, cuz it ain’t about me. It’s about ideas, bro. New ideas. People with ideas. People who believe in truth. And yes, as you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president.