*Note: This is a completely fictional account of an event that has not yet occurred.
It’s Feb. 14, 2016, and everyone is once again wondering what Kanye West is going to say.
Win or lose, he’s going to say something. If his seventh studio album actually pulls off an album of the year upset — and West wins his first album of the year trophy on his fourth nomination — his speech will be an all-timer, an epic shriek in the face of an industry long perceived to have shrugged off Kanye’s artistry in the general categories. And why is his latest album such a long-shot for album of the year, anyway? After all, the tender follow-up to the admittedly brash Yeezus had critics falling over themselves and hip-hop radio in a tearful chokehold. Everyone loves Kanye West, and tonight, the Grammys might, too.
But the real reason that West’s latest opus is a dark horse at the 58th annual Grammy Awards? Taylor Swift. 1989 has been a juggernaut all year long, using a massive sales debut as a launchpad to spin off hit after hit at pop radio and winning over the doubters who ever flinched at Swift’s pop supremacy. Fearless has already won album of the year, so Swift has at least some track record in the category, but Red lost to Daft Punk two years ago, so Swift can play the redemption card as well. The 1989 stadium tour was a rousing success, “Blank Space” is nominated for record of the year and song of the year, and once again, it’s hard to imagine an awards show in which T-Swift is not the main focus. In all likelihood, Swift will trump Kanye, Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar and Mumford & Sons for the top prize.
And if that happens, what will Kanye do? After all, he rushed the stage in 2015, when Beck pulled off the upset over Beyonce, but then thought twice about seizing the mic. He’s since been outspoken about that debacle, just like he’s been outspoken about Grammy voters when his albums lost the top prize (or failed to be nominated for it). Of course, everyone still remembers the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when Kanye rushed onstage to interrupt Swift and was publicly shamed for months; even if he doesn’t speak out during the actual ceremony, West will undoubtedly say something if he loses his fourth album of the year, in the press or on Twitter or in his next musical project. Yet another loss for West, and, if Lamar doesn’t win either, for hip-hop as a whole? Don’t expect Kanye to remain silent.
But before 80,000 thinkpieces can be written and Swift can write another “Innocent” to try and save Kanye’s soul, the actual award has to be given out. Swift, sitting front row at the Grammys in a shimmering backless dress with metallic embellishments (eerily similar to the gown she wore at the 2009 VMAs), has already won scored victories in four categories, including song of the year for “Blank Space,” in a surprise win over Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars‘ “Uptown Funk.” It’s starting to feel like her night. Meanwhile, West is sitting just six seats to her right, frowning in a suede jacket and letting his glow-in-the-dark Yeezys dangle in the aisle. Kim is patting him on his right shoulder, desperately trying to console her husband for losing best rap performance to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis a few minutes ago, but her words are not getting through to him. His eyes are fixed on the stage, and he’s awaiting the main prize.
Bono receives a warm round of applause as he strides onstage to announce album of the year, and although the audience at Staples Center chuckles half-heartedly at a clumsy joke about giving away the Grammy for free on iTunes, West remains motionless in the front row. “It has to win,” he thinks to himself, hands clasped together on his lap. “It just has to.”
Bono rattles off the five nominees, and Swift readies both the shocked expression of a winner and the gracious cheer of a loser. West closes his eyes. Bono opens his envelope.
“And the Grammy goes to…” he starts, then pauses as a sly smile creeps across his face. “Finally did it,” Bono says with a laugh. “Finally did it! Radiohead! You blokes finally won one of these!”
On cue, Swift stands up and claps heartily for Radiohead, who have just won their first album of the year after three previous nominations. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, complementing his plain gray suit with a black bowler hat, rubs his unshaven chin and stands up to hug his bandmates and longtime producer Nigel Godrich. He can’t believe that the band finally won for an offbeat acoustic album with a children’s choir on six of the album’s nine tracks, and neither can anyone else in the arena.
From the 11th row, Yorke and co. start strolling toward the stage, but are still 20 feet from the podium when they realize that West is already in front of them, forcibly taking the Grammy away from Bono. When West finally yanks the trophy away from him in a swift motion, Bono appears flabbergasted, and can only hold up a peace sign with a quivering hand as West turns his back to him. Radiohead still walks onstage to join the scene, puzzled at what Kanye is about to do but intrigued by what he’s about to say into the microphone.
But Kanye doesn’t say anything. He hops down the steps leading to the podium and takes the Grammy to Taylor Swift.
“You remember that September night, seven years ago?” West says to Swift, crouching in his leather pants and holding the Grammy like an infant. “It was warm that night. A nice late-summer breeze.”
“I’ll never forget it,” Swift murmurs.
West nods. “I took something from you that night,” he says, looking at the Grammy. “Something that belonged to you. It wasn’t a piece of metal — it was something bigger. It was something you didn’t deserve to have taken from you.”
He holds out the album of the year Grammy to Swift. “And this is something else you didn’t deserve to lose, because 1989 is greatness.”
Swift slowly reaches for the Grammy, but stops and peers toward the stage at the members of Radiohead, who have been watching the exchange in hushed amazement. Thom Yorke immediately understands Swift’s hesitation, and leans in to the microphone onstage. “It’s okay, Taylor,” Yorke says. “Kanye’s right. I love ‘Style.’ Nigel here, he can’t stop playing ‘Bad Blood.’ Colin is all about ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay,’ and Jonny is always gabbing about ‘Wildest Dreams.’ You deserve that award.”
Swift places her left hand over her heart and takes the Grammy with her right hand. Kanye winks at her stands up from his crouch, imploring the audience to do the same and applaud for 1989. Radiohead also starts clapping, but Bono, still onstage next to the band, wipes his brow and looks displeased. “But she didn’t win! You guys — you rock geniuses — won! Why does she deserve it more than you? She’s not even a real pop artist!”
“C’mon, cheer up, pal,” Yorke says with glint in his eye. “Can’t waste time on who’s a ‘real’ artist and who isn’t. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Just have to shake it off, y’know?”