Swift vs. West: Round 3
It’s starting to feel a lot like 2009 because rapper Kanye West and singer Taylor Swift are, once again, at odds in the media. After their MTV Video Awards Show moment when Mr West lept on stage and interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video Award, it was clear that the pair wouldn’t be the best of friends. Few, however, could’ve expected their rivalry to continue into the following years.
After the release of his “Saint Pablo” album in 2016, their public feud picked up again. In the song Famous off the project, he raps “For all my Southside n**gas that know me best/ I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why, I made that b*tch famous/ God damn/ I made that b*tch famous.” A few months later, adding salt to the wound, West also featured Swift (and several other celebrity figures including Donald Trump, Ray J and George W. Bush) as wax-figure, completely nude and in bed with him.
In true West fashion, he disregarded his video concept as a philosophical “comment on fame,” and stated that Swift was aware of his lyrics in the song. Swift denies his claim that she was a willing participant and said in a statement on Instagram, “Being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story or played any part of the song is character assassination. I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never asked to be a part of, since 2009.” Taylor never got her wish because nearly 10 years after their initial feud began, West and Swift are on opposite sides of another issue, this time more ideological in nature.
Recently, Taylor Swift broke her silence on political topics and endorsed Democrats Phil Bredsen for Senate and Jim Cooper for the House of Representatives in the state of Tennessee. In the statement she made via caption on Instagram, Swift states, “In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now… I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love. Running for Senate in the state of Tennessee is a woman named Marsha Blackburn. As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn.” Her overall message was for people to educate themselves on candidates, register and vote in the upcoming Midterm elections on November 6.
This is the most political Swift has been over the course of her 12-year career. It is still pretty unclear what exactly prompted her to change her apolitical position, but her two-year time frame could be a signal to the election of our current president or some events that recently happened to her. Swift posted her statement right after the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court who was confirmed though he faced allegations of sexual assault. Swift recently wrapped up her own legal issues when she accused DJ David Mueller of groping her in 2013. Either reason could have sparked her decision to finally take a political stance, which received mixed reactions. Some praised the post, including Senate hopeful Phil Bredesen who thanked her for the “kind words” on social media. Skeptics on Twitter scoffed at her remarks and mocked those who treated the caption as if it were breaking news. When asked about it, President Trump responded, “I’m sure that Taylor Swift has nothing — or doesn’t know anything about her (Blackburn). Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25% less how, OK?” Trump’s comments recycle the “shut up and sing” rhetoric usually thrown at celebrities who make liberal political statements.
The idea that celebrities and politics don’t mix is nothing new. Some believe that celebrities aren’t qualified to speak on politics. That they are overpaid and spoiled, living a life that shouldn’t be taken seriously. It could also be argued that when celebrities become involved, the real issue is overlooked and they become the main story. Earlier this year, journalist Laura Ingraham told NBA player LeBron James to “shutup and dribble” after James talked politics in an interview with ESPN. Ingraham called his comments “barely intelligible” and “ungrammatical,” also stating that “it’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball.” It’s interesting that the “shut up and dribble/sing” rhetoric from the right is applied to left-wing positions like the one Swift took while the recent political antics of Kanye West have avoided similar critique.
Unlike Taylor, Kanye has never been considered apolitical, rarely shying away from the chance to speak his mind. In 2005, West famously blurted out, “George Bush doesnt care about Black people,” while standing next to Mike Myers on an NBC telethon for Hurricane Katrina. He shocked fans (and haters) when he decided to meet with president-elect Trump in 2016. Though the intentions were unclear, many assumed it was a typical Kanye stunt, similar to the way he disrupted Swift on stage in 2009. Two years later, West came out in full support of Trump and his “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) slogan. In a series of tweets, West called Trump his brother, stating that they “are both dragon energy.” He said that although he didn’t completely agree with everything Trump does, he didn’t completely agree with anyone but himself.
On his Saturday Night Live appearance last month, West took to the stage and gave an impromptu speech as cast members looked on uncomfortably. He spoke on the one-sided liberal media, and on how those backstage of SNL bullied him for wanting to wear his MAGA hat on stage. Over a week later, West met with President Trump in the Oval office. West spent his time commenting on a number of things, including a new model for Air Force One, the idea that time doesn’t exist and that the MAGA hat makes him feel like a superhero. The meeting was supposed to be primarily centered on urban revitalization, workforce training, African-American unemployment, potential future clemencies and crime in Chicago - specifically the detriments of applying stop-and-frisk policing procedures. Why Trump or anyone in the White House would listen to Kanye West on these issues is as critical a question as what makes Kanye think he is suitable to discuss policy on a federal level. Regardless, the fact that Trump is using him as a mouthpiece or mascot directly contradicts the narrative that celebrities and politics don’t mix.
The downside of celebrity intervention in politics, as stated earlier, may be that, for better or worse, they become the running headline (as exampled by this very article). The upside, however could be that celebrities use their platform to encourage their fans to engage in their civic duty and pay attention to politics while forcing fans to realize that their favorite singer, rapper or actor is also a citizen equally impacted by the politics of this country. Both Kanye and Taylor, currently existing on opposite ends of the political spectrum, have gained unexpected fans and lost core fans for their political stances. In 2009, the West/Swift feud was more about music. The fact that their differences are now political in nature is a true reflection of where we are as a nation. It’s unclear that given the country’s political climate, celebrities can remain apolitical much longer. It’ll be interesting to see who else falls on the side of West or Swift this time around.