On August 28th, Kanye West took the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards. The network had given him four minutes of airtime to do with as he liked — another presidential stump speech?
“You can be superwoman. You can have that balance in your relationship, your family, your career.” – Teyana Taylor
A new dig at Taylor Swift? Instead, after a few words, he premiered the video for The Life of Pablo track “Fade.” The song’s famed artist was completely overshadowed by the clip, a Flashdance-inspired choreographic tour de force featuring a single dancer: Teyana Taylor.
“It was a do-or-die moment where I was like, ‘I’m going to dance my fucking heart out,'” Taylor recalls. Her sexy, athletic performance was riveting, and it immediately kicked off a storm of Twitter praise from everyone from Chrissy Teigen to Kim Kardashian West to Jennifer Beals herself — not to mention a lot of vows to get to the gym. “I honestly don’t feel like ‘Fade’ would have had the same effect had I just been 21, hot body, single,” Taylor says. For her, the just-under-four-minute short, which, in addition to her incredible dancing also features her fiancé Iman Shumpert and their nine-month-old daughter Junie, is about the power of women and her journey as an artist.
“It was more than just dancing in a sports bra and a thong,” she says. To hear Taylor tell it, her performance was an aerobic answer to the question every working woman hears at some point: Can you have it all? And Taylor’s answer is a resounding “Yes.” “You can be superwoman. You can have it all, that balance in your relationship, your family and your career. It’s the opposite of the cliché that says kids will slow you or your career down.” She credits her struggles and successes as both a musician and a mother as the reason why Kanye chose her for the video. “Being signed to his label for four years, and Kanye being like a big brother to me, he’s seen everything that I’ve been through,” Taylor says. “He was like, ‘It’s so dope because y’all so young and y’all fresh, but then y’all got the baby and the championship.'” (Shumpert is a part of the 2016-NBA-title-winning Cleveland Cavaliers.) She adds, “I think that gave him the idea of wanting to see us all in the video together.”
Taylor’s relationship with Kanye is long-standing, going back to 2010 and the recording of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A meeting to talk fashion (specifically so Taylor could give West her opinion on some custom Balmain) ended up with her adding vocals to the tracks “Dark Fantasy” and “Hell of a Life.” She then joined up with G.O.O.D. Music in 2012, and released her debut album, VII, with them in 2014.
The VMAs were only the start of an eventful September for Taylor. Following “Fade,” Taylor released her remix of West’s “Champions,” complete with a stop-motion video created from thousands of photos that again featured her enviable physique — this time dipped in gold. She was also everywhere during New York Fashion Week, including the runway.
Just a week after “Fade” dropped, Taylor was walking in the much-anticipated Yeezy Season 4 show at Roosevelt Island. The Vanessa Beecroft-designed production was controversial, with some models fainting and struggling to negotiate the catwalk. “I was nervous as hell,” recalls Taylor. But not for the reasons you’d think — heat and heels were nothing compared to the daunting prospect of walking in front of Anna Wintour. “I saw the posture, I saw the bangs, I saw the bob and I saw the shades, and I said, ‘Anna’s here,'” Taylor recalls. “That’s when my nervousness really turned up. I love Anna. I’m obsessed with her. So, to know she was there, that she knows who I am…” She trails off, the enormous smile on her face a clear indication of her feelings about her idol (who also got a name check in her “Champions” verse).