Paying attention to the jerk behind the curtain

The morning after the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, people could be talking about the amazing tribute to Michael Jackson that kicked off the show: Madonna‘s speech and Janet Jackson‘s performance combined for a truly moving experience. People could also be dishing Lady GaGa‘s…well…Lady GaGa-ness or how Russell Brand needs to not ever host an awards show again in his life. And, well, somewhere, I’m sure somebody is discussing all of these things. But what has grabbed everyone’s attention? What’s the sound byte making the rounds on the news? Kanye West rudely cutting off Taylor Swift‘s acceptance speech for Best Female Video to tout that Beyoncé should have gotten the accolade.

Regardless of whether you’re a Swift fan or a Beyoncé fan, that display colored the entire evening and will be what everyone remembers from this broadcast. It was completely uncalled for, did no service to Mrs. Jay-Z whatsoever, and certainly didn’t raise West’s stock. Thankfully, the crowd responded with consistent boos every time West’s name was mentioned throughout the evening, and artists like Pink and Katy Perry tweeted their disgust with West’s behavior. And Beyoncé, in a show of class and solidarity, invited Taylor Swift back to the stage when she picked up her statue for Video of the Year.

But the lesson remains: All it takes is one bad apple to spoil the barrel, one guy showing his ass to make an entire industry look bad. I can’t venture to speak for the music industry, but I work in a niche entertainment industry myself, and I know how tightly knit the group is, even if it seems like everything from physical miles to basic philosophy separate people. It’s like being in a really big dysfunctional family. And I would imagine that on some level, the music biz is the same way. Everybody collaborates with each other; everybody’s “people” know one another, etc. So what do you gain from publicly humiliating someone in the family like that? Especially someone as young as Taylor Swift, who has done nothing to deserve it. She’s had amazing success in such a short time, and she’s worked hard for it. This is a woman who has gotten nothing but kudos and rave reviews and has never said a harsh word to anyone. It would have been rude regardless of who West pulled the stunt on, but Pink probably would have punched him. With Swift, we had to watch her stand there stunned, as seconds ticked by and her perfect moment was shattered in front of millions of people. It was awful.

That, to me, is an ugliness that an audience doesn’t need to see. It pulls away the curtain, takes some of the magic away from why we watch TV or listen to a great album. And I don’t understand why anyone would want to do that. Why? What do you gain? Fifteen more minutes of fame? I don’t think it’s worth it. Maybe that makes me hopelessly naive?

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