Date: August 25, 2013
Stage designers: Steve McQueen
Music performed: “Blood on the Leaves”

Many people were expecting a laser-filled, high-energy performance for Kanye's performance of "Black Skinhead" at the VMAs (instead, they got Miley twerking and Kanye doing "Blood on the Leaves"). Kanye delivered energy, but no one expected such a stripped down stage design for a live MTV performance, especially on the heels of Yeezus' big, projection-filled rollout and release.

Director Steve McQueen's Lynching Tree photograph filled TV screens around America while a backlight Kanye West performed the controversial song sampling Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit." Kanye wanted people to focus on the meaning behind the image, because just before the performance started, he tweeted a link to his website with the explanation and source of the photograph. He expanded on these manifold meanings of slavery, both past and present, in his recent interview with Zane Lowe on BBC Radio 1.

Just when you think you know Kanye's next move, on stage or off, he does something powerful and unforgettably minimal like "Blood on the Leaves" at this year's VMAs.