Kanye West’s most memorable VMA appearance to date is probably that whole Taylor Swift nonsense that went down at the 2009 show. But one thing for which the Louis Vuitton Don can always be counted on is a stunning live television moment — whether he’s been invited to the stage or not.
His most triumphant appearance arguably took place at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, when the Chicago MC mounted an innovative rendition of his spankin’ new single “Love Lockdown.” Kanye ditched the hard-hitting rhymes for heartfelt vocals and closed the show with 20 Taiko drummers pounding out the song’s thunderous rhythms. It was a new direction for the star, who bravely risked wiping out his street cred and weathering worldwide fan backlash for his inventive, genre-melding sound.
Like Madonna writhing onstage in a wedding dress, Lady Gaga hanging from the ceiling smeared in fake blood or Eminem leading an army of blond doppelgangers into Radio City Music Hall, Kanye West’s 2008 set had all the makings of a signature VMA moment: a tricked-out performance from a major superstar laced with the slightest hint of WTF.
However, executing West’s appearance was a mad dash to the VMA finish line, with the show’s organizers and the artist careening toward super-firm deadlines in the race to pull off the performance. In the special “The VMAs: Revealed – Presented by New 5 React Gum,” premiering on MTV at 11 a.m. Saturday, the whirlwind creation of 2008’s “Love Lockdown” set is broken down by the people who made it happen.
The idea for West to wrap up the VMAs with his 808s & Heartbreak single popped up at an unexpected venue: The 2008 Democratic National Convention. As Barack Obama accepted his party’s nomination to run for president, VMA executive producer Dave Sirulnick and West met up in Denver to discuss the MC’s latest work and MTV’s upcoming awards show.
“It was phenomenal because it was this whole new thing that Kanye was doing,” Sirulnick says of hearing demos of Yeezy’s new music. “You could see how this could play perfectly as a close to the show.”
However, once both parties agreed to have ‘Ye close out the VMAs, the real madness began. To find out how West went from a meeting in Colorado to belting out “Lockdown” at the 2008 VMAs, catch “The VMAs: Revealed – Presented by New 5 React Gum” on Saturday at 11 a.m.
The 27th annual MTV Video Music Awards will be broadcast live from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on September 12. The party starts with MTV News’ VMA Pre-Show at 8 p.m., followed by the main event at 9 p.m. ET.