Kanye West closed the Billboard Music Awards on Sunday with a performance of “All Day” and “Black Skinhead” that got the people going, but for the wrong reasons. Despite self-censoring a few instances of “bitch” and “fuck” in his lyrics, West had long stretches of his performance muted by ABC censors. Unsurprisingly, he responded not with one of his infamous so-called rants, but with a statement via his rep.
Kanye West was grossly over-censored at the Billboard Music Awards. Non-profane lyrics such as ‘with my leather black jeans on’ were muted for over 30 second intervals. As a result, his voice and performance were seriously misrepresented. It is ridiculous that in 2015, unwarranted censorship is something that artists still have to fight against. Although West was clearly set up to face elements beyond his control during the live broadcast, he would like to apologize to the television audience who were unable to enjoy the performance the way he envisioned.
As Rolling Stone points out, West was onstage for five minutes and 18 seconds, but sound during his performance’s broadcast was audible for just four minutes and 16 seconds. And as BuzzFeed highlights in a list of all the words bleeped by ABC, this included completely innocent lines like, “Ride around listening to Sade,” due to their proximity to the n-word in “All Day.” Yet a line like, “300 bitches, where the Trojans?” from “Black Skinhead” went uncensored, multiple times. Billboard reports that “ABC and show producer Dick Clark Productions both have no comment on West’s remarks.”
And so, let’s state the obvious: whoever was tasked with censoring the Billboard Music Awards not only did a sloppy job, but I imagine they screwed up while attempting to be particularly vigilant because of both the Kanye Unpredictability Factor and the fact that it’s rare to see tens of instances of the N-word popping up in one performance (Billboard claims there were 44). Regardless of the FCC’s regulations, you’d think a network that airs multiple major awards shows every year would go to lengths to be more detail-oriented and, frankly, professional in their censorship. (He’s not improvising; follow the lyric sheet.) Shame on them for not copping to that. Instead, Billboard wrote a tone-deaf defense of Kanye’s performance that focused on the fact that he was obscured through arty fog, and that Kendall and Kylie Jenner were booed while introducing him. I mean… what? No one is even thinking about those things when you can’t even hear the songs being performed.
Kanye West is probably the single worst musician to censor at an awards show, because he’s Got Feelings about awards shows and because — to steal a Kanyeism — that’s disrespectful to artistry. His pattern of public outbursts at awards shows dates back to the 2006 EMAs, when he rushed the stage to say, “If I don’t win, the award show loses credibility,” after “Touch the Sky” lost Best Video to Justice vs. Simian’s “We Are Friends.” In a move he’ll likely never live down — seriously, this will be the eighth line in his obituary — Ye did it on ’em at the 2009 VMAs, only this time he was speaking out against the racism he felt was inherent in Taylor Swift winning an award over Beyoncé. He mostly stayed away from the awards show circuit until it came time to promote 2013’s Yeezus. Then history almost repeated itself at the Grammys earlier this year, this time with Beck winning Album of the Year over Bey.
In a post-Grammy interview with the smiling fame whores of E!, Kanye alluded to the sticky power dynamics of awards shows, saying, “If they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us… We’re not playing with them anymore.” Keep in mind, this is an awards show that West talks about often, noting that he hasn’t won the right kinds of Grammys or ever been victorious against a white person. As he told the New York Times two years ago, “The thing is, I don’t care about the Grammys; I just would like for the statistics to be more accurate… I don’t want them to rewrite history right in front of us.”
The Billboard Music Awards, on the other hand, mean very little in the way of creative merit or even history-making; they’re determined by record sales and chart placement within a designated time frame. Slice these statistics another way and they mean more on the year-end charts anyway. The show is a celebration of pop music, plain and simple — but Kanye brought his artistry there anyway. And I don’t expect he’ll do the same again. It’s a loss for us Yeezy fans, and just when we’d gotten used to seeing his subversive tactics shake up the sparkling celebrity sheen of the awards show circuit once again.
(Disclosure: the author of this piece was previously employed by Billboard, from 2010 to 2012.)