Music

A Primer On Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift And The Most Important Story In Snapchat History

Where were you the moment Kim Kardashian shattered Taylor Swift's carefully constructed persona?

If you’re someone who takes great pleasure in deliberately not being up to date with pop culture, stop tweeting “What’s Pokemon Go!?” and feast your eyes on this. Yesterday Kim Kardashian ripped a hole in the space/time continuum, and has made us question everything we once knew to be true.

To fully understand the significance of this moment in pop culture, we need to cast our minds back to one moment that changed the trajectory of two careers: Taylor Swift’s and Kanye West’s.

How Did All Of This Start?

Like everything else of note, this all comes back to Beyoncé.

This is Beyoncé.

In 2009, a cataclysmic event occurred that irreversibly changed the pop music landscape. While Taylor Swift was accepting her award for the MTV Video of the Year (a major coup for her, given by her own admission, she was a “country singer” who hadn’t won major mainstream points yet), Kanye West infamously interrupted her and claimed that Beyoncé was more deserving of the award.

Although the public immediately sided with Swift (particularly when Beyoncé graciously invited her on stage later to make a proper speech) West did apologise, and then seemed to disappear completely. He re-emerged in 2010 with the release of the masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and contrition-laced interviews in which he tried to convey that it wasn’t Taylor Swift winning that made him upset; it was the fact that Beyonce lost and that awards shows regularly overlooked black entertainers, despite enjoying their culture immensely.

This event marked both artists in interesting ways. Kanye had always had tendency to say whatever he wanted (and to crash stages), but now his persona was the egomaniacal disruptor to some, and a frustrated mouthpiece of racial inequality to others. Taylor’s songs were already full of longing, innocence and tales of disappointment, but post-2009 she was the underdog, the perpetually surprised and easily heartbroken American sweetheart, who suddenly, much more than before, became a global household name.

What Happened After That?

In 2010 Taylor Swift released Speak Now, an album that matched her compellingly vivid storytelling with much poppier beats. Steadily (and with the help of two more very good albums, Red and 1989) Swift had achieved a powerful ubiquity. For over five years, she has consistently been on annual lists of richest musicians and her cultural influence is still unmatched; partially to do with her engagement with ever-loyal fans, very much to do with her artistic genius and a little to do with the fact that she still makes good gossip fodder.

Keeping track of who Taylor Swift is/was dating became a global pastime, because throughout her career she has shown us that this heavily influences her music, creating a specific type of intimacy with fans. Stories are always more interesting when you know the people involved after all — why leave clues in the liner notes if you didn’t want fans to know exactly who you were talking about? It was a perfect plan: like passing notes to your girlfriends in class, then rolling your eyes when anyone else suggested that you were talking about boys.

This is important, because even though Taylor Swift had more power than any female musician in the world, she still somehow managed to retain a victim narrative that positioned potential enemies and critics into relentless bullies. She was simultaneously powerful, but also a figure to be pitied and protected. This, in itself, is amazing. When Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made a joke about her at the Golden Globes in 2013, Taylor Swift told Vanity Fair that there was a “special place in hell” for women who didn’t help other women. One year later, Swift released a song about Katy Perry called ‘Bad Blood’, a fact that she carefully conveyed in coded quotes to various journalists.

The release of 1989 also coincided with the #squad portion of Taylor’s life, in which she was photographed with other wealthy, white women and took every opportunity to emphasise that female friendship was her first priority. How could Katy clap back when Taylor had so many female friends?

Meanwhile, Kanye kept saying controversial things and making excellent music.

Then in early 2015, Taylor Swift casually mentioned to Vanity Fair that Jay Z had brought she and Kayne together, and they were sort of friends now. “I feel like I wasn’t ready to be friends with him until I felt like he had some sort of respect for me, and he wasn’t ready to be friends with me until he had some sort of respect for me,” she said. “So it was the same issue, and we both reached the same place at the same time.”

A few months later, Taylor — obviously feeling that Kanye had adequately respected her — presented him with the Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Awards. “I first met Kanye West six years ago — at this show, actually!” she said. She presented the award to her “friend“, a word she said with gravitas, as if she could already imagine the headlines. Some wept with joy, their problematic faves reunited. Other wondered if, once again, a black artist was being framed in relation to a white person. MTV were pleased with the social media engagement.

Interestingly 2015 was also the year when things began to shift. Conversations about black representation in pop culture were gaining mainstream momentum and suddenly to many people, Kanye West didn’t seem so crazy anymore. Through a Twitter beef with Nicki Minaj, in which she read Minaj’s frustration at being overlooked by MTV (again) as a personal dig, Taylor Swift revealed that intersectional feminism was not her strong suit. It was the first real time that people didn’t automatically take Taylor Swift’s side in a celebrity fight.

Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj appeared together at the VMAs, and once again the story belonged to good girl Taylor.

Okay, So What’s Happening Now?

Kanye and Taylor’s friendship didn’t last that long. In February, Kanye released The Life of Pablo and on one song called ‘Famous’, he pondered that he “and Taylor might still have sex” and claimed “I made that bitch famous”. Many people were very upset that Kanye would take credit for her fame. Taylor was silent on the matter (although her brother Instagramed himself throwing out a pair of Yeezys) until the Grammys, where she seemed to call him out for taking credit for her success. Unfortunately, she was surrounded by a gang of all-male songwriters at the time, so it didn’t win her a huge amount of praise.

At this stage, Kanye is once again an aggressive show-off and Taylor is a startled victim who is trying to rise above it. That is until a few weeks ago, when Kim Kardashian West did an interview with GQ (a story that conveniently came out the day after Taylor Swift was caught smooching Loki) and claimed that not only did Taylor know about the line in ‘Famous’ but she thought it was funny, because it fucked with her victim narrative.

“It was funny because [on the call with Kanye, Taylor] said, ‘When I get on the Grammy red carpet, all the media is going to think that I’m so against this, and I’ll just laugh and say, ‘The joke’s on you, guys. I was in on it the whole time’,” Kim told GQ.  “And I’m like, wait, but [in] your Grammy speech, you completely dissed my husband just to play the victim again.”

This leads us to yesterday, the day that Snapchat, unbelievably, became the most important social media platform ever invented. Yesterday Kim Kardashian West decided to Snapchat the video of Kanye West talking on the phone to Taylor Swift about ‘Famous’. They are friendly and laughing and thanking each other for their respective gifts to the culture. You can watch the full snap story here, but in short, it confirms that Taylor did approve every line referring to her (including the inference that he caused her fame, which she later seemed to dispute at the Grammys) with the exception of the word “bitch”.

This move was so off script, that it seemed unlikely that Taylor would respond at all. How could she, after denying that she had heard as many of the lyrics as she did? Then, we got this tweet.

Apart from the fact that Taylor apparently already had this note in her phone and had to ‘search’ for it, the most interesting tidbit is the argument that she wishes to be excluded from this narrative, “One that I never asked to be a part of, since 2009”. This is kind of jarring. If Taylor Swift was so adamant about distancing herself from Kanye West, why verbally approve any part of the song? Why present him with the Video Vanguard award on the same stage that hosted a moment she would rather forget?

What Do We Make Of All This?

Whether it’s true that Taylor knew about the song fully or not, isn’t even really the point. This snap was significant because it exposed the fragility of Taylor Swift’s carefully constructed identity as an innocent bystander. She never asked to be presented as a victim in 2009, but she can’t deny that it’s become an important part of her canon since. This snap proves that Taylor Swift actually cares so much about this narrative that she’s willing to maintain it at the expense of her friendships. Her statements in GQ and on Twitter today show us that her team desperately wants to keep this persona intact because it’s beneficial: Taylor is righteous and true, Kanye is a disruptor of the peace. Angry ex-boyfriends don’t have the power to destabilise Taylor’s narrative, but Kanye West sure does.

The fact that it was Kim that revealed the video is another fascinating layer. Kim will forever be taunted as representing the worst of our culture; vapid, too-sexual and a fabrication. Kim is the bad, slutty girl. Taylor is the good, pure girl. Yet it took the girl with the bad publicity to make people see that the girl with the good publicity was willing to throw others under the bus to protect her underdog identity — and  that she’s pretty manipulative, when it comes down to it.

Swift is a fraud in the way that we’re all frauds, because everyone cares about the image they project. But to maintain that your public persona is unadulterated and completely authentic — and that by that virtue, others are false — is insane. Of course Taylor Swift’s sweet underdog, beloved victim act is a play; we pretty much knew this already (image control is not necessarily a bad thing, I admire the extent of Taylor’s ruthless publicity dictatorship and knack for self promotion). But how long can her feigned shock last? It’ll be interesting to see how long Taylor Swift can keep pretending that this is all an accident.