In a way I’m glad that Kim Kardashian has reignited a four-year-old feud with Taylor Swift based on an 11-year-old feud with Taylor Swift that was all started by Kanye West, a man who has hardly been involved in it since about 2017. In a way, that’s good.
It’s hard not to [gestures at current reality] be constantly thinking about, you know, rather more pressing matters. The cleanliness of door handles, for example. The intensity of other people’s coughs, or how far to veer away from each other on the pavements while out on your government-mandated walk. Whether you have enough food in the cupboards to last two weeks. Whether daytime TV will ever go back to normal. How deeply we can possibly scrape the bottom of the Netflix barrel. How desperate for entertainment we will have to be to plunge ourselves into going on YouTube and watching a vlog. Right now, these are my worries. It’s nice of Kim Kardashian to try to distract me with something totally and utterly facile and pointless at a time of global crisis.
On the other hand, come on. To help you catch up, this all truly started at the VMAs in 2009, when Swift was 20 and Kardashian was three years away from even dating Kanye, in fact was still at the “Carl’s Jr advert and a guest appearance at WrestleMania” level of fame. In 2016, Kanye released the song Famous, featuring the eternally controversial lyric: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous.” Swift rightly took exception to having her career as one of the most successful singer-songwriters in global history getting reduced down to “that bitch”.
At which point Kardashian – now an ascendent, royalty-level celebrity, married in a palace – released a Snapchat video of Kanye on the phone to Swift before the song was even recorded, openly discussing the lyrical content. The intimation was: Swift knew about the lyric, she fully had the heads up, she can’t be mad at being called “that bitch” in one of the biggest songs of 2016, and by being in any way upset at being called “that bitch” she is somehow Playing The Game. This is the natural starting point of our feud.
I have gone through some changing feelings about Swift over the years, because I don’t really like her music – which is a fine and normal opinion to have. But something about the hugeness of Swift, and her ubiquity, makes “not really liking the sounds she makes” become something close to political. Here’s a rough Marmite analogy for you. Swift is the semi-popular yeast spread Marmite, in that if you love her, you love her with an intensity that blocks out the sun; if you don’t, she leaves you utterly cold. But because her songs constantly loop on the A-list of society, you cannot escape Marmite, and now you’re starting to really get rubbed up the wrong way by Marmite.
Every Friday afternoon, all the people in the office take control of the shared kitchen and make you eat a slice of bread and Marmite. At every wedding you are at, there is a tangible point in the evening when everyone, fuzzy drunk and joyful, kicks their shoes off and loudly heaps an entire spoon of Marmite into your mouth. Every time you tell someone you don’t like Marmite, they bore on at you for ages about how much umami her new album adds to stews and bologneses. At this point, you cannot avoid Marmite, because every advert is for Marmite and every time Marmite releases a new jar, every headline is about Marmite, and how Marmite “did that”. Despite not even liking Marmite, you somehow know about Marmite’s thing with Tom Hiddleston where he wore that vest.
And now your feelings about Marmite aren’t about Marmite any more. They are fixed towards the celebratory Marmite culture that has been built around it, one you are constantly on the outside of, looking in.
Anyway, this week the full and explicit 25-minute video of Kanye’s call to Taylor in 2016 got leaked. It went a fair way to vindicating Swift and making it clear she was unprepared to be called “that bitch” in the song. And Swift reacted to the leak by posting on Instagram: “Instead of answering those who are asking how I feel about the video footage that leaked, proving that I was telling the truth the whole time about *that call* (you know, the one that was illegally recorded, that somebody edited and manipulated in order to frame me and put me, my family, and fans through hell for 4 years) … SWIPE up to see what really matters.” And she added a link to various charity organisations supporting those on low income in the whole global pandemic thing. Kardashian responded by going on a Twitter rant.
It’s actually quite fascinating how badly Kardashian has played this one, because normally the dynasty is so good at upselling bad news in a way that just makes them richer and more adored. In the past few years they have managed to turn secret pregnancies, cheating scandals, Kanye’s personal debt and the Kendall Jenner Pepsi advert into major PR wins. Each time, Kardashian somehow comes out of each one more regal and elegant and more on the cover of Vogue.
But her feud with Swift has been a bum note from the off. What is it that Swift has been doing wrong, again? Being slightly too earnest in a hard-edged industry that clomps her around like a pair of shoes in a tumble dryer? Being gracefully tight-lipped in the face of years of provocation? Linking to a charity organisation on Instagram? Not liking being called a bitch? At this point, whatever your feelings about Marmite, it’s really hard not to take its side in the face of relentless attempts by Nutella to reignite a feud with it.
We’ll meet you on the barricades, Britney!
A word on Comrade Britney, now, to whose revolution I offer humbly my hands and heart. While Kim Kardashian has been holed up in a Calabasas mansion going on about arguments that happened an entire World Cup cycle ago, Britney Spears has been a sunbeam of support to her fans throughout this pandemic, offering aid to those who are struggling and reaching out to her via DM. And, in really quite an unexpected zig, she has amplified an artist’s call for a general strike and a redistribution of wealth in the US. All right, Britney, let’s … all right man. Let’s do this. Drag them out by their hair.
On Instagram, Britney shared a quote from the writer Mimi Zhu, saying: “During this time of isolation, we need connection now more than ever […] We will learn to kiss and hold each other through the waves of the web. We will feed each other, redistribute wealth, strike. We will understand our own importance from the places we must stay. Communion moves beyond walls. We can still be together.”
Personally, I’m a little unsure how much of that Britney actually meant. Over the course of her long career, she has only touched on politics once or twice, endorsing the Iraq war, being registered in Louisiana as a Republican (in 2001) and, in 2017, encouraging her followers to support the Dream Act, which would have offered legal status to undocumented immigrants who went to school in the US. So, “a mixed bag”. But then, in a nice font and on an orange background, and talking so charmingly about reaching out to friends and family … it does sort of look like a generically wholesome Instagram quote, if you squint and look at it.
Like … you really have to read down to see the bit about taking the wealth and striking hard. I still back her pivot to communism to the hilt. And who among us hasn’t accidentally called for a revolution by sharing a meme they liked on Instagram? If she comes out of this with a Vegas show that calls for us to bring society crumbling down and rebuild it again from the rubble up, cool. And if she doesn’t? That is also OK. Stay safe, Britney Spears. Stay golden.