It was the mic grab heard 'round the world. Just five short years ago – were we not all so young then? – Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift during an acceptance speech and insisted that Beyoncé was the rightful winner of the Best Female Music Video award. It was the exact type of live moment the MTV Video Music Awards are built for.
The "Imma Let You Finish" incident of 2009 was instantly iconic. But what's truly notable is how it would affect the next five years for each of its central players.
It was the cast of a great play: A golden-haired girl with a guitar, a drunk-yet-correct fool, a queen still ascending her throne, and a werewolf known best for blank-faced shirtlessness. (Also, Shakira was there.) But who was in their prime then? Who has risen in our estimation? In our grand tradition, we've power-ranked the cast of this comedy of errors – both in 2009 and now.
"Imma Let You Finish"-Gate Power Rankings: 2009
1. Beyoncé: The future queen of everything musical was only just breaking out as a force to be reckoned with in 2009. She went through a weird mid-Aughts period, filled with B'Day and Dreamgirls and Jennifer Hudson shade. But I Am ... Sasha Fierce was a turning point for her, and the losing video in question, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" was considered a feat of the form. She was still on top in 2009, but Sasha Fierce was still a mere mortal. But her classy gesture at the end of the VMAs – giving her acceptance speech time to Taylor to make up for Kanye's outburst – may have been her first true step towards media saintdom.
2. Taylor Lautner: Surprise! 2009 was the first tsunami of Twilight fever, and we were in the heat of the publicity cycle for that fall's New Moon. The second film in the pentalogy was especially focused on Lautner, and there was a big media narrative going on about how he almost lost the role, but then beefed up and fought for it. It was a great time to be Team Jacob. (Funny enough, according to some timelines, Taylors Lautner and Swift were already dating when he presented her with this award.)
3. Kanye West: It seems strange to think Kanye had a fallow period, but 808s & Heartbreak was something of a commercial disappointment. First-week sales were half of what he did for previous album Graduation, and sold a million fewer copies overall. It was a creative departure, and one that earned a certain level of critical respect, so he was still in a good space. But his antics at the VMAs – including drinking on the red carpet with date Amber Rose – seemed like the climax of a dark arc, not a surprise.
4. P!nk: How does pop music's top aerialist factor into this situation? For one, she's featured in the video through a reaction shot. She also spoke out about the incident in a tweet:
Kanye west is the biggest piece of shit on earth. Quote me.— P!nk (@Pink) September 14, 2009
So she's definitely involved! And at this point, she was enjoying a nice snowball of success (especially "So What" and "Please Don't Leave Me"). She wasn't at her prime, no, but she was solid – and, as the tweet above shows, as outspoken as ever.
5. Taylor Swift: At this point, Taylor Swift had been coasting on popularity with the country set and was just beginning to make a splash in the pop world. After "Imma Let You Finish"-gate happened, some commentators argued the incident was the best thing that could have happened to Taylor. Judging by where she is on this list versus the 2014 version, they may have been right.
6. Shakira: Poor Shakira. She was doing the "She Wolf" thing at this point, looking good, presenting awards with that one boy from the vampire movies – Shaki read the first book but got bored, so she didn't know who he was really – and then, all of a sudden, this Kanye nonsense happens. And no one even remembers she was there! Poor, poor Shakira.
"Imma Let You Finish"-Gate Power Rankings: 2014
1. Beyoncé: Since 2009, Beyoncé has traded Sasha for Yoncé, the "Single Ladies" dance for the "I woke up like this" dance, and become empress of all things pop. Even if she had just released the critically acclaimed 4, performed a sensational set at the Super Bowl halftime show, collaborated with everyone from André 3000 to Nicki Minaj, and had one of the most adored celebrity babies on earth, she would be number one with a bullet. But then she released her surprise visual album, and it was all over. She isn't just the top of this list. She's nigh untouchable.
2. Taylor Swift: Well, we got new Taylor yesterday, and it's pretty representative of the Taylor Swift we all have now: poppy, faux-sincere, and an awkward dancer. Still, New York magazine called her the Reigning Queen of Pop
(liars) for a reason: she sells better than almost any current artist (only Bey and Adele can give her a run for her money) and has an enormous personal brand. She's big, but we do kind of miss the girl with teardrops on her guitar.
3. Kanye West: There was a time not long ago when Kanye would have been an easy chart-topper. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010 was an absolute rebel yell of a comeback, both a critical and commercial phenomenon. He kept things going with the epic Jay Z collaboration Watch the Throne and the commercially successful – but somewhat critically divisive – Yeezus. Unfortunately, he's been indulging in the Kimye brand a lot recently. Kanye is arguably at his worst when he's focusing on his celebrity instead of his music, and his marriage to Kim seems to have brought this to its natural extreme. The man is still a force, no doubt, but he never needed Kim Kardashian to keep him relevant before. Get back to the work, Kanye, and snatch that number two spot away from Taylor.
4. P!nk: In the years since the event, P!nk has been remarkably stable. She's continued to score a solid string of big singles ("Raise Your Glass," "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)," "Just Give Me a Reason"), becoming a dependable pop hitmaker. And to cement her status as an undervalued national treasure, she knocked "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" out of the park at the Oscars this year. Love you, P!nk.
5. Shakira: Ay, Shaki. You were overshadowed on your own hit single earlier this year by Rihanna, and you're consistently the worst-performing of any of the six coaches on The Voice. (You do worse than CeeLo, girl. CeeLo.) We're rooting for you, but we need more than a catchy World Cup theme from you every five years.
6. Taylor Lautner: Hey, buddy, what are you up to, buddy? Oh, you were in an Adam Sandler movie! Oh, it was Grown Ups 2. And it was uncredited. Dear me. Well, has Taylor called recently? No? Well, she'll call soon, we're sure of it. She doesn't know what she gave up! But hey, at least you're working a little bit. You're doing a movie called Tracers, which kind of sounds like a Premium Rush ripoff, but you do you, pal. We're rooting for
your abs you.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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