Musicians often sell us on not only their music but their image. This has been the case for years with Taylor Swift, who has made incredible bank on her wholesome and relatable persona of the every girl next door. This week has cracked that image, and instead she looks calculating, manipulative, and deceptive. While this tarnishes the reputation of a songstress, is this really what we need to be paying attention to?
Taylor has long had an acrimonious relationship with Kanye West. In 2009, Swift was awarded the Best Female Video award at the Video Music Awards. During her acceptance speech, Kanye took to the stage, interrupted her, and went on a now-famous rant about how Beyoncé deserved the honor, not Taylor. “Imma let you finish, but…” has become a widely used meme, but it wasn’t the only standout of the whole drama. Kanye describes this as the moment he made Taylor famous.
Any further interactions between them were mostly low-key until 2015 when they took pictures together at the Grammys. They hugged in front of the camera, Taylor chatted up Kanye’s wife Kim Kardashian, and everything appeared warm and positive, if a little staged. Kanye treated what had happened between them as a joke by staging a partial interruption of another artist up against Beyoncé, and her and her husband’s reaction was hilarious and showcased that even close friends of Kanye can’t predict his actions.
February of this year brought us “Famous,” a song/video combo from Kanye that is bizarre and uncomfortable to watch. He and his wife lie in bed surrounded by nude wax models of famous people, including Taylor and Kim’s former step-father, the transgender Caitlyn Jenner. Also awkward and weird was the inclusion of Ray J., who was famously in a sex tape with Kim. The video also included nude models for: George W. Bush, Donald Trump, Anna Wintour, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Amber Rose, and Bill Cosby. Kanye personally spent months supervising all aspects of these wax figures. While the nudes were disconcerting and strange, Kanye’s lyrics included lines about Taylor: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous.”
This is where Taylor brought back out her bread and butter—her sweet and wholesome image. She claimed outrage, that she had no idea this was coming, and her friends and fans rallied to her defense. Lena Dunham, a controversial actress and close friend of Taylor, opined, “Now I have to see the prone, unconscious, waxy bodies of famous women, twisted like they’ve been drugged and chucked aside at a rager? It gives me such a sickening sense of dis-ease. I know that art’s job is to make us think in ways that aren’t always tidy or comfortable. But this feels different. It makes me feel sad and unsafe and worried for the teenage girls who watch this and may not understand that grainy roving camera as the stuff of snuff films. Here’s the thing, Kanye: you’re cool. Make a statement on fame and privacy and the Illuminati or whatever is on your mind! But I can’t watch it, don’t want to watch it, if it feels informed and inspired by the aspects of our culture that make women feel unsafe even in their own beds, in their own bodies.”
Bre Payton highlights the snakelike lies: “All while [Taylor] was shaming Kanye, she claimed she heard the lyric for the first time when everyone else did — a statement Kim Kardashian West contradicted in a recent GQ magazine interview. So here’s the deal: Kim backed up her claim that Kanye had called Taylor ahead of the song’s debut and she approved the lyrics in a phone conversation by dropping video footage of the conversation on her Snapchat story last night. Taylor gives emphatic approval for the lyric: ‘I mean, it’s like a compliment!’” The full transcripts are here, if you’d like to read the whole insipid mess.
Twitter erupted over this fracas, and some of the tweets are pretty entertaining, all tagged #KimExposedTaylorParty.This is occupying a ton of media and distracting us all from the real news happening. There’s more than a million tweets about this subject, and it’s being covered as actual news on mainstream networks. They’re not using this to explore the broader privacy issues here, such as: Did Taylor know she was being recorded? California law has illegal recording as a felony, so are we cheering a crime, even if that crime exposes a lie?
Instead we are focusing, with desperate intensity, on escapist drama. This isn’t real news. It’s not even adjacent to real news. We have a Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, engaging in unprecedented candidate criticism. We should be discussing if Turkey’s coup was actually an orchestrated political purge. More black men have been shot by police, and police officers are being murdered in retaliation. Our political bodies are getting ready to crash together, with the top two contenders for president being someone the FBI describes as extremely careless with classified information and a man so driven by ego he has defended the size of his own hands.
We’ve lost sight of what matters. We’re drowning in futility, in feeling powerless, and instead of putting down our feet and demanding this insane roller coaster of death and destruction stop, we’re pondering Taylor’s lies and if Kanye is fixated with Jenner. Wake up, America.