Kimoji collage via Kim Kardashian on Instagram
The feelings that we as observers of pop culture have when we read the words “VMAs,” “Kanye West,” and “Four Minutes to do Whatever he Wants on Stage” in a headline are likely quite complex.
It starts with intrigue. Kanye West—an artist who, despite releasing seven genre-defining, challenging LPs and having a life more public than most anyone in history—still has the incident at the 2009 VMAs looming over his image. That was the time he jumped onstage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech and declared that Beyonce, not Taylor, was the most deserving of the award. It’s still probably the biggest thing in the Kanyesphere right now. What’s he going to do this time?
Then there’s a little fear. Kanye was probably right about Beyonce’s video being better than Swift’s. And there are plenty of people who’d say quite articulately that he was right during a similar incident at the Grammys in 2015; that time he came within a small set of stairs to doing the same thing again with Beck. But even if Kanye is justified in all this, there’s the nagging fear that he’ll just hurt someone’s feelings onstage at an event like that. And, shit, it’s often so cuticle-scrapingly awkward that we want to switch off. Like a horror film, we don’t. We watch.
But then, there’s the realization that the decision to give Kanye West four minutes to do as he pleases onstage at the VMAs—as reported by TMZ this afternoon and later confirmed by Pitchfork—is brilliant. The feeling there is excitement and it’s what the VMAs feeds on.
“He can rap, sing, dance or even just stay silent,” TMZ reports. Consider Kanye West onstage, with the whole world watching Twitter for news, just standing silently, staring at the camera. Better, imagine him dancing without music for four minutes. What if he just tried holding his breath for four minutes? I mean, what if he tried but failed just like your friend James did in second grade when he said he’d totally held his breath for four minutes before, it’s super easy, but you noticed really quickly that he was just breathing through his nose. And then as soon as you said you could see, he tried it properly and then went red and inhaled sharply just before he passed out. Imagine that, but instead of that kid James, it’s now Kanye West, onstage at the VMAs, with Beyonce looking on in horror.
Kanye could do something that moves the needle on Sunday night: artistic, political, musical. Or he could just try to hold his breath for four minutes. Either way, we’ll watch.
If Alex Robert Ross was given four minutes onstage at the VMAs, he'd just laugh awkwardly, stare at the camera, and beg for Kanye to tell him he wasn't worthy of the attention. Follow him on Twitter.