‘What if Beyoncé never happened?’: an alt-reality post Kanye v Taylor

Ye’s interruption at the VMAs 10 years ago sent the stars on different paths. But could things have been different?

Ten years ago, Kanye West stormed the stage during the then 19-year-old Taylor Swift’s MTV VMAs acceptance speech and dropped the now-iconic “Imma let you finish” interruption: this you already know. But in the decade since, the two stars’ paths have drastically diverged: Swift into anthem-heavy pop megastardom, Kanye into footwear and God. If we treat that moment as a sort of ground zero for both their ensuing careers, could we not imagine a series of different outcomes and consequences stemming from this moment, and write them out in fun and snappy and word count-adherent hypotheticals? Well, strangely, yes. Here’s what might’ve happened.

Kanye and Taylor become ‘Kanyor Swist’

The year 2009 was towards the end of The Neg-era – that Game-inspired putdown-cum-flirting tactic – and if you think about it, the most neg Neg possible is getting on stage exactly when someone’s being awarded for being good at something and telling them that actually they’re rubbish and deserve nothing. This is how we get an alt-timeline where: Kanye and Taylor become an amalgamated couple post-VMAs, Kimye never happens and Swift’s Red album never exists, because all the Vogue shoots and pre-2012 heartbreak never happened because she’s been holed up in an LA mansion for nigh-on 10 years with her lover, West. Kanye still does his blog. Taylor’s shaved her head. Shutter sunglasses are still in vogue. It’s a terrible place to live.

Beyoncé never happens

Beyoncé in 2009.
Beyoncé at the 2009 VMAs. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Hardest one to justify, this: something about Beyoncé, her sheer Beyoncéness, suggests that, on every alt-timeline, she is still Beyoncé; Beyoncé cannot escape her destiné, Beyoncé is Beyoncé in every simulation run of the planet, the only constant, more enduring than the sun. That said: say the Kanye Interruption worked as intended, and the best video award was handed out to Beyoncé on the night … how would that spin her particular ensuing career axis? Maybe she would have stuck to the Sasha Fierce alter ego, running it into the ground in an effort to further cement that MTV endorsement, zigging away from the artistic groundwork of 4 that led to the darker, stormier Drunk in Love era, and instead she just kept turning up to red-carpet parties with that Single Ladies robot glove on, glimmering in the background of paparazzi shots as other MTV VMA 2009 era celebrities – like 3OH!3, maybe, remember them? – become Beyoncé-famous instead. Imagine 3OH!3’s Lemonade. Thank the dark and mysterious ancient powers that bore you on to this earth, and not the one that had that.

Kanye is subject to a rigorous intervention from his friends

Fair to say Kanye’s interruption in 2009 was “very cognac-inspired” and, in a just and right world, his mates (does Kanye have mates? Someone check please) (Just thinking about how exhausting it would be to be Kanye’s mate. Have decided since the last brackets: Kanye doesn’t have mates) would sit him down in a quiet room and tell him: “Kanye, though aesthetically this is your greatest ever era, and last year’s 808s is your most underrated album, you probably need to not get up on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech and start yelling about Beyoncé; come on buddy, let’s get you to some nice cosy talking therapy.” Ultimately, the only thing different about a timeline where Kanye West addresses his demons in 2009 rather than post-Kim is we do not have the album Ye, and I think we can all agree that’s no great net loss.

Hennessy Cognac
Hennessy Cognac. Photograph: PR

Taylor goes off-piste

If there’s one thing Taylor Swift is known for, it’s for being an almost painfully wholesome presence in the pop world, sort of like if a BuzzFeed five-ingredient brownie recipe came to life and started doing stadium tour choreography. In the 10 years since The Kanye Incident, she has behaved with nothing but distant grace and beef-free decorum in relation to it and the ensuing remembrances (see: Kim Kardashian beef, circa 2016). But what if that’s all Kanye’s doing? Think about it: is it not possible that, 10 years ago, Kanye West handed Taylor, on stage, a sort of bulletproof moral high ground, and it’s been the handbrake on any bad behaviour ever since. She cannot possibly rebel because if she does that she will “Kanye” herself, and therefore lose. As Taylor (now) approaches the age of Kanye (then), she is nowhere near getting ungraciously drunk on Hennessy and interrupting someone else’s awards speech. Without a Kanye-shaped villain for Taylor to be the golden light in contrast to, alt-universe Taylor is currently in her OxyContin phase and flirting with a face tattoo, simply because there’s no one to prove wrong by not doing it.


Joel Golby

The GuardianTramp

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