Taylor Swift's Complete MTV VMAs History: The Biggest Performances, Shadiest Speeches and Kanye Drama!
By John Boone and Alex Ungerman
Taylor Swift has come a long way from country ingénue to one of the biggest pop stars in the world, and the MTV Video Music Awards has set the stage for many touchstone moments in that prolific career.
The Reputation singer has won seven awards from 17 total nominations, with three additional nods this year. At that number, Swift is not the most decorated musician by any measure (Beyoncé holds that distinction and, with 24 Moonmen, puts us all to shame); still, it's impossible to talk about the past decade of VMAs without crediting the 28-year-old as one of the primary players.
As we get ready for Monday’s show, let's take a moment to reflect on all the awards, performances, stolen mics, bad blood and shade throughout Swift's VMA tenure.
2008: This may not be Swift's most infamous trip to the Video Music Awards, but it was her very first. The "Teardrops on My Guitar" singer, then 18, was nominated for Best New Artist, and here's a real blast from the past: Two of her fellow nominees were newcomers Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus. And they all lost the award to Tokio Hotel.
2009: Swift returned the following fateful year as a contender for Best Female Video for "You Belong With Me" -- which she won. The fact that she won the award over Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" video, though, did not sit well with one Kanye West, who stormed the stage in protest.
"Yo, Taylor, I'm really happy for you, I'mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!" Yeezy called out in what remains one of the most iconic VMA moments of all time.
Beyoncé later won Video of the Year and brought Taylor back onstage to finish her speech. ("Maybe we can try this again," Swift joked, before thanking her Twitter and MySpace fans.) Afterward, Swift told reporters backstage of West: "I don't know him, and I don't want to start anything."
As we now know, something did start -- despite an apology that West wrote on his blog ("She is very talented! I like the lyric about being a cheerleader and she's in the bleachers!"), the "I'mma let you finish..." moment began a years-long narrative that Swift could and would not be excluded from.
2010: Swift was seemingly still reeling from the West incident a year later, and for her performance of "Innocent," she began by replaying footage of the stage-crashing. "I guess you really did it this time/ Left yourself in your war path," Swift sang while strumming on her guitar. "Lost your balance on a tightrope/ Lost your mind trying to get it back."
(West, meanwhile, closed the 2010 VMAs with a performance "Runaway," which has a few choice lyrics of its own: "Let's have a toast for the douchebags / Let's have a toast for the a**holes.")
Swift was also once again nominated for Best Female Video, for "Fifteen," though we never had the chance to hear West's opinion of that video, as Swift ultimately lost to Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance."
2011: Swift skipped the VMAs this year, even though the rise-above-the-bullies themed music video for "Mean," which is widely thought to have been written about a music critic, received a Best Video With a Message nomination. The award ultimately went to Lady Gaga’s "Born This Way."
2012: While her album, 1989, may be the official beginning of Swift's post-country era, Red was certainly the preamble, and she took the VMA stage with a vengeance, performing her breakup anthem, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," to a screaming audience who already knew all the words to the breakup mega-anthem.
Red’s album cycle made it eligible for the following year’s awards show, but the singer didn’t take home any Moonmen. However, it did kick off a several-year period of Swift being a fixture at the VMAs.
2013: And her appearance at the 2013 VMAs will arguably go down as the shadiest. While accepting the Best Female Video for "I Knew You Were Trouble," Swift directed some not-so-subtle shade at her ex-boyfriend, Harry Styles, when she thanked "the person who inspired this song, who knows exactly who he is."
Later during the broadcast, as the members of One Direction were presenting onstage, Swift was seen in the audience muttering what really appeared to be the words, "Shut the f**k up."
2014: Where better to officially rebrand yourself as a pop star than the VMAs? Step one: Hit the red carpet without pants. Pop stars hate pants. (Instead, Swift opted for a shorty-short, hot pants unitard.) Step two: Perform your new pop ditty, which in this case was the live debut of 1989's lead single, "Shake It Off."
"I don't care if it's the VMAs, I am not jumping off there. There's all kinds of people getting bit by snakes. It's dangerous!" Taylor joked in the middle of her performance, referencing Nicki Minaj's dancer, who was bitten by a boa constrictor during rehearsals. (The two artists' paths would cross again the following year.)
And step three: Dance in your seat during every single performance, whether it be Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, whoever! This may not be so much a pop star thing, though, as a Taylor Swift thing. Either way, it continued the trend of Swift dancing at awards shows, proving some things will never change.
2015: Some VMAs spark feuds; others are used to end them. 2015 was a year of mending fences for Swift, who first used a performance of "Bad Blood" to settle any beef she had with Nicki Minaj onstage. Prior to the telecast, Minaj had called out MTV for snubbing "Anaconda" in the Video of the Year category because she was not a "different 'kind' of artist." (Different, in this case, meant skinny and white.) Swift took offense and tweeted that it was "unlike" Minaj to "put women against each other." Swift eventually apologized and Minaj invited the singer to join her during the actual show to poke fun at the brief feud.
The conciliatory night continued when Swift introduced West for the Video Vanguard Award. Six years after the mic-grabbing moment to end all VMA moments, Swift came full circle, saying, “To all the other winners tonight, I’m really happy for you, and I'ma let you finish, but Kanye West has had one of the greatest careers of all time. And right now, I am honored to present the 2015 Video Vanguard Award to my friend, Kanye West.”
Remember that time? And the cute, since-deleted Instagram she posted with all the white roses West sent her? Before a little song called "Famous" premiered at Madison Square Garden? Before Kim Kardashian West posted a recorded phone call to Snapchat?
That was a nice time.
2016: Taylor stayed home this year, which is just as well, 'cause this night was all about Beyoncé. Queen Bey won eight awards for her Lemonade visual album, besting Madonna for the show's most decorated artist of all time. Not to mention, she delivered the greatest VMA performance ever!
2017: Another year sans Swift, which maybe should have been expected, considering Katy Perry served as host. Taylor made sure her presence was felt, though: She debuted her first Reputation music video, the snake-filled visual for "Look What You Made Me Do," during the live telecast. (When Perry would later summarize the highlights of the night as, "Kendrick Lamar: on fire. Ed Sheeran's friends: dead," fans called shade, even if Taylor was, in fact, a zombie in the video.)
Taylor may have gotten the last laugh, beating Perry and ex Calvin Harris for Best Collaboration, for her Zayn Malik duet, "I Don't Wanna Live Forever." (The former 1Der was also a no-show, so the song's co-writers Jack Antonoff and Sam Drew accepted the Moonman on their behalf.)
2018: The 35th annual VMAs will likely mark the third consecutive year of Taylor skipping the show, as she is not set to perform or present and has not been confirmed as attending by any MTV brass. And why should she? "Look What You Made Me Do" was passed over for all of the night's major categories -- mostly notably, Video of the Year -- and instead nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects and Best Editing. According to Taylor's diehards, you might as well have snubbed her completely.
Cardi B is set to reign as 2018's queen of the VMAs, anyhow, with more nominations this year than even Bey. While Taylor could always make a surprise appearance, her fans seem content to throw the #VMAsAreOverParty in her absense. We'll have to tune in and see...
The 2018 MTV Video Music Awards will air live from Radio City Music Hall, on Monday, Aug. 20 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.