Apparently, P!nk walked right up to Ye and let him have it while Taylor and Beyonce were both in tears.
Who could forget the moment Kanye West hopped on stage to snag a microphone out of a 19-year-old Taylor Swift's hand to give Beyonce the praise he felt she, and not the budding pop star, deserved for Best Female Video?
Those cringe-worthy 15 seconds -- "I'mma letchu finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!" -- will go down in MTV Video Music Award history. But now, almost 10 years later, there's apparently more to the story.
After chatting with journalists, MTV writers, producers, correspondents and executives who were present for the Sept. 13 you-know-what show, Billboard was able to make the safe assumption that Kanye was pretty near wasted that night. He was photographed carrying a Hennessy bottle on the red carpet as he stood with his arm around then-girlfriend Amber Rose.
"Holding the neck of that bottle and seeing the level of it go down and down in picture after picture, as he made it into the venue and kept drinking. That struck me," Jayson Rodriguez, former staff writer for MTV, told Billboard. Several other insiders echoed similar sentiments.
"I was walking around and I talked to Pete [Wentz] and he told me, 'Man, Kanye is so drunk. Kanye came up to me inside Radio City and gave me his bottle of Hennessy, and he made me take a swig. The dude is so wasted,'" said James Montgomery, former senior correspondent/on-air talent for MTV News. "I remember seeing later photos of him with Amber Rose with the bottle in one hand, and a handful of her ass in the other."
Van Toffler, former president of Viacom Media Networks Music & Logo Group, explained that while Kanye was not scheduled to perform that night, he was given a front-row seat -- though Jim Cantiello, former correspondent/producer for MTV News, says that wasn't the original plan.
"Because we were always concerned about how everything looked on television, we didn't want these big bulky bodyguards on camera, so we didn't have security in the front of the talent section," Toffler said.
Cantiello added, "Days before I did a 'seat card' segment from Radio City, where I showed off where the celebs would be sitting on the big night. And Kanye's seat card was several rows back, like in the eighth row. I cracked a joke like, 'Jeeeez, who decided to put Kanye alllllll the way back here? Who did he piss off at MTV? He's not gonna be happy about this. Somebody's gonna get fired.' And then the morning of the VMAs, the producers realized that they didn't have enough men towards the front of the theater for cutaways. So at the eleventh hour, they moved Kanye up towards the front."
"I vividly remember the cut-away of Beyonce half-smiling in disbelief and her mouth like, 'Oh Kanye!' It's now a gif that is used in every comment ever in a Kanye story," Cantiello said. "I remember thinking, 'This is just for female artist, not video of the year -- why is he so bent out of shape about this?'"
The execs all recalled being just as stunned and numb as the audience and viewers at home were. They toggled with the idea of cutting Kanye's mic but ultimately opted not to. After all, "the whole thing was less than a minute," and like 2009 VMA director Hamish Hamilton put it, it was "TV gold."
"There was a real dilemma in my mind as to whether you cut to Taylor," he explained. "The Beyonce reaction shot was important in my mind, then I thought about, 'Do we cut to Taylor or not?' And I said no. It was difficult to register where her head was at an in that moment, so I took the safe option not to cut to her. There was just so much going on and it was so noisy, so chaotic [in the truck]. It's instinct and experience."
And just like that, Kanye became the evening's most hated man -- except for when "Wale made a remark about Kanye -- 'You can't fault a man for speaking his mind' -- and people groaned and booed."
"The crowd in Radio City just turned on [Kanye] -- people were booing and hissing," Montgomery recalled. "During the commercial break, he went back down to his seat and P!nk walked up to him and got in his face. I wasn't close enough to hear the conversation, but she was pointing in his face and nodding her head back and forth, and giving him her two cents about how f--ked up this was and then stormed off. Then he was sitting there next to Amber Rose with his arm around her, and you could feel everyone in Radio City glaring at his back."
Rodriguez recalled getting instantly flooded with emails from reporters on the scene, giving him details like, "P!nk giving Kanye the middle finger."
"[Kanye] was kind of hunched over, and you could tell he could feel the weight of everyone's stares," Montgomery said. "Within the next 5-10 minutes, he was ushered out of his seat and I followed behind him ... Kanye was very upset about this, and he was kind of shocked that he was being asked to leave. I just remember it being a very chaotic moment where everyone was [going], 'Is this really happening?' and everyone being very angry."
Meanwhile, Toffler walked backstage, "and sure enough there is Beyonce and her dad, and she is crying. She was like, 'I didn't know this was going to happen, I feel so bad for her.' And that's when it started to click in my head, and maybe hers, about potentially having the whole arc play out in that one night."
"I think perhaps for the only time in history at the VMAs -- we knew who was going to win the awards, we had a plan for it [but did not tell the artists ahead of time] -- at some point I let her know that she was probably going to be up on the podium at the end of the show for an award," he said. "And wouldn't it be nice to have Taylor come up and have her moment then? I had to indicate to her that she needed to stay, and perhaps this is a way to have this come full circle and let [Taylor] have her moment. I would normally not say anything, but I had two crying artists."
Taylor was set to perform shortly after the debacle. She was crying, her mom was crying, it was pure panic for former senior vice president of production at MTV, Jonathan Mussman, who was tasked with getting Swift prepped for stage. "Thank God she's a real pro," he said. "She did an amazing performance."
"It was not easy [to get Kanye to leave]," Toffler recalled. "But after [Swift's] performance, I had to go back to Taylor and Scott [Borchetta] and her mom and say, 'This is what could potentially happen at the end of the evening and you can have your moment to do your speech.' There was a lot of begging, but fortunately she agreed to stay, and Beyonce agreed to do a wonderfully gracious thing. So the Shakespearean arc played out over the course of the evening."
Footage of Kanye bum-rushing the stage as Swift accepted the award for "You Belong With Me" has been scrubbed from MTV's archives but is still available in bootleg versions on YouTube. For your convenience -- and to get you ready for Monday's 2019 VMAs -- we've dropped one of those versions below.
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