When Kanye West dropped the music video for “Famous” last week, so did all remaining hope of a friendship with Taylor Swift.
Though both live in the uppermost stratosphere of fame and celebrity, these two have a long history of strained relations, starting with the 2009 MTV VMAs. The story is a classic, one which will grace pop culture references and will borne Twitter memes for years to come: West interrupts Swift to credit Beyonce Knowles as having, “one of the greatest videos of all time,” stealing Swift’s moment. And, so it began.
In 2010, West apologized via Twitter, “I’m sorry Taylor,” and not even a month later, began to publicly push the idea he raps about in “Famous” six years later — that the attention he created helped Swift. On Minnesota radio station KDWB, West lays his claim to giving her “100 magazine covers” and helping sell a million albums.
After the apology, however insincere it may have been, everything appeared to be OK — even friendly — between the two in 2015, when Swift presented the MTV Video Vanguard Award to West. She even used his own verbiage from the 2009 VMA interruption to praise him as having “one of the best careers of all time.” West sent roses to Swift afterwards.
But, every rose has its Kanye.
West drops The Life of Pablo and with it, the song “Famous,” in which he raps, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous / Goddamn, I made that bitch famous.”
When the backlash came, and oh, it came, West said Swift OKed the lyrics, which her team denied ardently, calling the song “misogynistic.” Kim Kardashian, West’s wife, jumped back into the fray to suggest there is video of Swift giving permission.
Then came the 2016 Grammy Awards, where Swift collected three awards, including the evening’s top prize, for Album of the Year. In her acceptance speech, she took aim at West, calling upon young women to watch out for people trying to “take credit for your accomplishments or your fame.”
With that, the two dropped into an official feud again. The “Famous” video, which depicts a nude wax figure of Swift in bed next to West (among other celebrities), was the very turning point that made their relationship, however phony it was before, appear irreconcilable.
Swift has made a wildly profitable career off her persona as a fun, but mostly innocent, girl trying to find love and happiness. To see her likeness naked in a celebrity orgy, I can imagine, is so horrifying that perhaps it will end the charade altogether.
That’s a shame, truly, because on a larger cultural scale, this broken friendship is consequential for the world’s two “problematic favs.” If West and Swift stayed cordial rather than feud, their comfort level with each other might be enough to form a dialogue between the two, one that pushes each other to do better. Swift and West as pals *cue Evita music* could be good for you — but mostly, each other.
Swift is a young, self-described feminist who struggles with understanding the cultural and racial element of the music she produces and of the music industry as a whole.
West is an older, self-described activist who struggles with the fine-line of limiting creativity and misogyny in music.
If these big stars could stay in each others’ orbit, they could glow together.
Remember Swift’s cringeworthy moment with Nicki Minaj regarding the 2015 MTV VMAs? Swift took Minaj’s argument — that the music industry doesn’t fairly recognize women of color or women who aren’t “slim” — very personally, turning it into an aimed attack at herself, rather than seeing the broader problem. This, too, ended in an awkward and seemingly insincere apology.
This wasn’t even the only time in the year that Swift was criticized for lack of awareness. When she released her “Wildest Dreams” video in September of 2015, it received backlash for, well, everything it wasn’t. Set in Africa with a cast full of white people, it was hailed as glorifying colonialism, romanticizing a horrific time period for the very continent on which she chose to shoot the video. Twitter critics begged Swift to get some friends of color, or to at least diversify her production team to avoid future insensitivity.
The sad coincidence is that the video was released only a month after Swift awarded West with the Video Vanguard Award, in which she applauded her “friend.”
Perhaps the only major criticism of The Life of Pablo was that West’s sexism is becoming harder and harder to ignore. Critics have penned articles demanding he do better in this modern hip hop era, with headlines like Bustle’s “8 Misogynistic ‘Life of Pablo’ Lyrics That Make Me Feel Guilty About Being A Feminist Kanye Fan” and Vice’s “Misogyny and Mr. West: Why I’m No Longer A Kanye Fan.”
The Life of Pablo deepened our understanding of his obsession with his ex, Amber Rose, who he trolls with lyrics like, “My ex says she gave me the best years of her life / I saw a recent picture of her, I guess she was right” and “For all my n***** with babies by bitches / That use they kids as meal tickets.”
Opposites attract might be the most untrue of all clichés, but in this case, I wish it worked like that. Swift and West could learn from each other, and not just artistically. That begins with respect, though, something both appear to lack for his or her former friend.