I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to wade in to the Kanye West/Kim Kardashian/Taylor Swift debate – not just because it’s clickbait but because of what it tells us about the messed up state of contemporary feminism.
The story so far:
On Kanye West’s latest album Life of Pablo, Kanye raps the lines:
I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex
Why? I made that bitch famous
I made that bitch famous
This makes Kanye sound like an unpleasant, misogynistic, egotistical creep. Especially if you’re aware of the background to their relationship, notably the 2009 MTV awards when Kanye famously dissed Tay-Tay (as she’s known) by interrupting her award speech with a rambling, drunken rant.
You can read the history in more detail, here and here but all you really need to know for the purposes of this piece is this: Taylor Swift, one of the world’s highest grossing and influential recording artists, has consistently sought to portray herself as the whiter-than-white goodie two-shoes victim of Kanye West’s crass, dumb-assed, leering misogyny and also – of course – as a crusading, feminist role model for her vast audience of uber-loyal, mostly teenaged, mostly female fans.
Her behaviour towards Kanye since the MTV awards incident has been controlledly more-in-sorrow-than-anger – as witness this song she wrote about it. It’s called “Innocent,” has a deceptively sweet, gentle melody and (Taylor has hinted heavily) is addressed to Kanye.
I guess you really did it this time
Left yourself in your warpath
Lost your balance on a tightrope
Lost your mind tryin’ to get it back
Wasn’t it easier in your lunchbox days?
Always a bigger bed to crawl into
Wasn’t it beautiful when you believed in everything?
And everybody believed in you?
The song has been described (by Allison Stewart of the Washington Post) as a “small masterpiece of passive aggressiveness.” Indeed. In her most honeysweet, sympathetic tones, Taylor is kindly, generously telling Kanye that he is a complete jerk who has totally lost it – but that it’s OK she understands and forgives him.
It is a dish of revenge served very cold indeed. But given that Kanye started it, you might well feel he got no more than he deserved.
After today’s revelations you may not feel quite the same way about either party. I know I certainly don’t.
The story hinges on what Taylor said when Kanye played out his new album. According to the New York Times:
Soon after the song’s premiere, anonymous sources told the gossip website TMZ that Ms. Swift had approved the joke and the song.
A video Ms. Swift’s brother posted to Instagram that showed him throwing his Kanye-designed Yeezy sneakers in the trash indicated otherwise, and about an hour later, a spokeswoman for Ms. Swift denied the report.
“Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account,” said Tree Paine, a representative for the Ms. Swift. “She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message.” She added, “Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that [expletive] famous.’”
On Friday morning, Mr. West couldn’t help but respond on his free-form Twitter account. “I did not diss Taylor Swift and I’ve never dissed her,” he wrote. “First thing is I’m an artist and as an artist I will express how I feel with no censorship.”
Well, given their behaviour in the past, I know which one I believed and it certainly wasn’t Kanye. But then, I’m biased. Not only do I have certain fanatically loyal Swift fans in my close family but I have never quite forgiven Kanye West for his abysmal headlining performance at Glastonbury festival last year, truly the most awesomely useless exercise in egotistical masturbation it has ever been my misfortune to witness in twenty-five years as a music critic.
Be that as it may, what we can now see fairly clearly is that – against all odds – Kanye seems to be the good guy in this affair and Taylor the lying manipulator.
We know this because Kanye’s loyal wife, Kim Kardashian, has dramatically ridden to her husband’s rescue by posting on Snapchat footage of the conversation he had with Taylor on the subject of the song’s lyrics. A conversation which – until the release of this damning evidence – Taylor insisted she had never had.
What’s fascinating about the video is that Kanye comes across as far more sensitive, sympathetic and emollient a character than he’s ever prepared to show in public.
Here, courtesy of Fader, is a partial transcript:
Kanye [quoting his new album]: For all my south side niggas that know me best, feel like me and Taylor might still have sex.
Taylor: I’m like this close to overexposure.
Kanye: Oh well this one is, uh — I think this is a really cool thing to have
Taylor: I know! I mean it’s like a compliment kind of.
Kanye: What I give a fuck about is just you as a person, and as a friend.
Taylor: That’s sweet.
Kanye: I want things that make you feel good. I don’t wanna do rap that makes people feel bad.
Taylor: Um, ya. I mean, go with whatever line you think is better. It’s obviously very tongue in cheek either way. And I really appreciate you telling me about it, that’s really nice!
Kanye: Yea. I just felt I had a responsibility to you as a friend. I mean, thanks for being so cool about it.
Taylor: Aw, thanks! Yeah I really appreciate it. Like, the heads up is so nice!
But you really need to listen to the audio to get the tone of the discussion. Kanye comes across as fetchingly coy (as if embarrassed by the brazenness of his lyrics) and politely eager-to-please; Taylor is coolly distant and sounds a bit embarrassed, but nonetheless it’s fairly obvious that she understands that this is a game rappers have to play, that it’ll be good for both their careers and that she’s giving the song her assent.
Which brings me to my point. Taylor Swift could have chosen to remain loftily remote from the politics of modern feminism, but has instead sought to use it to her advantage by hanging out with the likes of self-proclaimed feminists like Lena Dunham and Lorde. In videos like Bad Blood – which has had approaching one trillion YouTube views – she has co-opted half the world’s twentysomething female celebrities (Gigi Hadid; Lena Dunham; Cara Delevinge; etc) into creating an image of empowered, go-getting chicks striking a blow for girl power.
Nothing wrong with that: she’s a woman with records to sell to impressionable girls who want to buy into that stuff.
What is wrong, though, is that Swift should resort to the dirtiest of girl tricks to achieve her nefarious aims.
One of the main contentions of anti-feminist campaigners is that modern feminism is a dishonest, manipulative, underhand movement which denies the quintessential differences between men and women in order to gain political advantage. It suits feminists’ interests to pretend to be weak and oppressed and exploited, anti-feminists argue, when in fact women are nothing of the kind: just different from men, the yin to their yang.
And here is Taylor Swift proving their point perfectly.
Instead of fighting Kanye West fair and square – and heaven knows, it’s not like he’s the most difficult of targets to criticise – she has actually resorted to lies to try to tarnish his reputation and burnish hers. The fact is that Kanye did run the key lyrics of that song by her first; and Taylor did approve them. Now she’s quibbling that he didn’t say he was going to use the word “bitch” – as if that changes anything, which really it doesn’t. This is rap, for goodness sake, not The Sound of Music. And anyway, that’s barely the point.
The point is that Taylor lied and would happily have gone on lying had not another woman possessing even more cunning female wiles – that’ll be Kim Kardashian – hadn’t caught her out using the medium of filmed footage and Snapchat.
What can we learn from this? That girls – as anyone with half a brain has always known – are just as capable as behaving badly than men and are, in truth, probably better at it. This is one reason why modern feminism is such a sham: most of these girls, Taylor Swift especially, aren’t real victims but a bunch of manipulative cry-bullies. And it’s why the world owes Kim Kardashian a vote of thanks for exposing it.