Kanye West Kept The MTV Video Music Awards Producers Guessing Until Minutes Before His Speech
Kanye West is probably an absolute terror to work with, simply due to the fact that he’s so driven by in-the-moment creativity and improvisation that there’s just no way for producers or colleagues to really plan ahead. The contingency plans need contingency plans. The producers of the MTV Video Music Awards this year learned that firsthand, because it turns out his 12-minute Video Vanguard acceptance speech/presidential campaign announcement was originally supposed to include a medley but he switched up the game plan several times mid-show.
Billboard spoke to Van Toffler, longtime executive producer of the VMAs, and he revealed that the segment for West changed numerous times before and during the broadcast.
“We originally thought Kanye was going to do a medley. Then we thought he was going to not do music and talk. Then, about two acts into the show, we thought he would do a couple-song medley,” he told Billboard. “This is after the show started. Then, about an act before, we found out that he might not do music and just speak — but we had to be prepared for both, so we had a track cued up. We were in the truck and we heard this 10 minutes before he was to accept the award.”
Having a backing track cued up even after hearing he’d only speak was doubly smart, because anyone who saw the Yeezus tour remembers that West often gave long-winded speeches overtop songs like “Runaway,” so he would occasionally break out into song as he gave the off-the-cuff ramblings.
This being the VMAs, unpredictability (or the manufactured sense of it) has been part of the appeal for decades now, but this sounds like it was a particularly hairy scenario for the execs, as Toffler revealed it’s “never happened that way before,” pointing out that “probably no other producers in TV would go into a show not knowing what their biggest award winner was going to do.”
Even the content of the speech itself was a mystery — not only to the producers, but also to those in West’s camp.
The track was ready, the speech was ready, and he just went on?
I’m not sure the speech was ready! He didn’t rehearse. I saw him on the red carpet beforehand, but he didn’t tell me what direction he was going to go in. We’ve learned to expect the unexpected. Someone from his camp was with us in the truck and he was surprised too. Nobody knew what he was going to do — or announce that he was going to run for president. We were all surprised.