Like two sides of the same coin, Taylor Swift and Kanye West both have the uncanny ability to captivate and polarize legions of consumers across the world. We love them or hate them, but regardless of how we feel, we can’t stop watching them. We don’t know these people, yet we think we do, and we’re supposed to. That’s part of their brand’s allure. The bizarre dance these two have been doing for the past seven years has sprung up in tabloids numerous times, with claims that Swift and West finally squashed their infamous VMA beef, then reignited it this year after West’s now iconic line on The Life of Pablo‘s “Famous”: “For all my Southside n*ggas that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous”.
For months, Taylor Swift and her allies have denied Taylor’s approval of Kanye’s lyric, and that such approval couldn’t have even been granted with claims that Taylor never received a call to hear the line from Kanye. Specifically, Swift’s team has fixated on the usage of the word “bitch” in the song, and how Taylor was unaware she would be referenced in such a way. The pop singer’s careful balancing act continued as she tried to distance herself from Kanye and his song, with numerous reports indicated Taylor was “horrified” by her weird, fetishized likeness in West’s “Famous” video. But in a recent turn of events, West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, finally released the video evidence of Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s conversation about “Famous” via Snapchat, proving that the Kardashians’ insistence of Swift enthusiastically greenlighting the line was in fact true. Coincidentally, the release of the footage came after the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians aired, where Kim openly discussed her GQ interview that accused Taylor Swift of lying about Kanye West and his character. In the article, Kardashian stated that upon discovery of the video, she and her husband received a letter from Taylor Swift’s legal team to attempt to silence the two. Taylor Swift and her team could very well take legal action against West and Kardashian, as the secret recording of a phone call is prohibited in the state of California, where West placed the call. However, if Taylor Swift genuinely aims to make amends with her betrayed fanbase, she should consider that the position of victim is no longer a productive place for her. If she truly wants to be excluded from West’s “narrative”, why egg it on further with a lawsuit? The nearly decade-long dispute between Swift and West does not have a clear hero and villain. There is a morally grey area that surrounds their discourse, and in light of that, Swift could take a few lessons from the repercussions of her dishonesty.
Critics, Twitter, and most of the Internet is quick to gleefully proclaim that Taylor Swift is over, but they’re wrong. She’s not “over”. Rather, her highly controlled facade has been shattered – Kim took a sledgehammer to it. We’ve been allowed to see behind the curtain, and those who bought into the product Taylor was selling don’t like what’s there. We’re now aware of just how much Swift does to control both her message and our perception of others in relation to her and her public persona. I’d think it’s smart to assume that this is just the tip of the iceberg in the “Stuff Taylor Didn’t Want Us To Know” department. But that doesn’t mean she, as an artist and an empire, has toppled entirely.
Part of what’s worked for Kanye West is his level of transparency. He’s been called a lot of things, but I’ve never seen him be called an outright liar. The man is presumably pretty open about most of his life, and he tells his consumers of his products – music, clothing, and more – exactly what he thinks and feels. Therefore, we as an audience have an inherent level of trust in Kanye. He allows himself to be seen as human, and this humanity has allowed him to build a lasting legacy as an artist and creator. Taylor Swift could take a lesson from Kanye in that regard. The reason Taylor has fallen so hard is because we don’t trust her brand anymore. She’s made a career out of being the underdog who dives into relationships and gets her heart broken, the small-town girl with the unlikely success story who’s risen to mega-stardom. And in truth, Taylor Swift has become far too famous and too powerful for that mythology to be an effective selling strategy for her any longer. If it wasn’t the damning “Famous” phone call video, it was going to be something else that would tell us who she is: a woman who represents and controls one of the most highly sought after empires in music. She is Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift doesn’t get to be Taylor Swift without an intense level of long-term strategic planning from her and her team.
So yes, the public persona of Taylor Swift has been damaged. Destroyed? No. If anything, Kim Kardashian’s release of the phone call evidence signifies the end of one era for Swift, and the beginning of another. Taylor is no longer the teen who is learning about love and life – she’s a 26 year old woman who has been a major player in the music industry for the better part of a decade, and to continue to portray herself as a naive young romantic is no longer believable nor appealing. Taylor Swift’s image could be reworked to represent the smart, and human, adult artist and businesswoman she is. She could be seen as capable of making really, really big mistakes, rather than continuing to claim that she is being victimised by all who surround her. The more she protests that everyone is out to get her, the more people will pile on the vitriol – sometimes, when you’ve been caught in a lie, you have to take the loss. It takes a strong person to admit defeat, and in Swift’s case, it may be the only way to start rebuilding the foundation of trust in her brand.