Kanye stormed the stage when it was announced that Beck had won the Grammy for Album of the Year despite Beyonce’s presence in the category. He quickly thought better of it, smiled and sat back down. (Unlike Kanye’s similar move at the 2009 VMAs with Taylor Swift.) But what made the self-styled revolutionary West back down? It’s not exactly his thing. The smile seemed to indicate that he was only joking, but in later comments he made it clear that he really did think the Beck award was a sham and that Beyonce was robbed. So why the reluctance to do a full Kanye and commandeer the mic? The tiny and self-effacing Beck (whose most popular song ever remains “I’m a Loser”) wouldn’t have offered much resistance.
Insiders point to the Prince influence. Prince had just handed Beck the award and hugged him, and in the pop music business there is no greater grace to be bestowed than Prince’s approval. This is a musician who makes people go insane just by walking on stage. (Compare the reactions Prince gets from the crowd when he appears to the reaction given any other performer–it’s not even close.) If anybody else had handed that award to Beck, Kanye West likely would have been undeterred. But Prince is in a class of his own as music royalty. When the award comes without Prince’s protest–especially after he just said “albums still matter, like books and black lives”–then you have to think twice before you take matters into your own hands. Even if you’re Kanye West.