Here lies Taylor Swift, 1989-2016, Murdered Via Snapchat By Kimberly Kardashian
It began as they said-she said and remains that, even as the somewhat gleeful social media reaction to Kardashian’s damning Sunday night Snapchats poisoned Swift’s already weak celebrity immune system, sending her to an early grave amidst an increasingly fatal case of public weariness over the star.
There’s fatigue over Swift’s insistence of turning fun and friendship into performance art, culminating with her star-spangled squad’s obnoxious flaunting of Fourth of July frivolity.
There’s reflexive scoffing at her picture-perfect—as in probably/most definitely posed for—relationship with Tom Hiddleston. And not to mention eye-rolling as the “Maneater Swift” media narrative makes its way around the carousel again, with Swift and Hiddleston hamming for the paparazzi just a blink and a kiss-off after her breakup with Calvin Harris.
Then there’s the Nils Sjoberg saga, which is just about as interesting as the words “Nils Sjoberg saga” sound.
And now, as has been breathlessly reported overnight after some masterful foreplay on Sunday’s episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kim Kardashian cast Taylor Swift to the wolves, via Snapchat. This sentence was brought to you by the year 2016.
The wife of Kanye West provided video proof that her husband had, indeed, called Swift for her approval to refer to her in the “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous” lyric in his song “Famous,” though Swift’s publicist had claimed he never did.
Furthermore, when Swift won the Album of the Year award at the 2016 Grammys, she calculatedly used her speech to elevate herself above what her rep’s statement called a “misogynistic message,” ascending to her throne as pop’s resilient ruler and banishing West and Kardashian from her Kingdom of Respectability.
Kardashian’s videos, however, shone a spotlight—albeit a grainy and at times questionably edited one—on how Swift and her camp manipulate the press and the public, going so far as to even fabricate narratives (cough, Hiddleswift, cough).
As the Twitter pas de deux between the downright celebratory #KimExposesTaylorParty and #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty hashtags suggests, Kardashian, according to this new narrative, had revealed the “real” Swift, the ostensibly conniving one too blinded to think she could be crushed. But Kardashian whipped up the tornado that threw the house right on her. After weathering a spate of frustrating PR stunts and controversies, the resounding chorus in the carnage: Ding dong the witch is dead.
As The Daily Beast’s Amy Zimmerman wrote, Kardashian beat Swift at her own game. Using celebrity power, a PR machine, immeasurable cultural influence, and media masterminding she refocused a spinning, potentially damaging narrative to not just “set the record straight”—once the singular concern in a celebrity controversy, now second to public perception and goodwill—but recast herself as the victimized hero. Swift? Now she’s the mean girl.
For proof that truth is auxiliary to mass opinion, look no further than the more nuanced facts of the controversy.
From the start, the statement from Swift’s rep articulated that the issue was with the phrase “that bitch,” specifically—which West, at least in the clips provided by Kardashian, doesn’t run past her. Swift points that out in an Instagram post published in reaction to the Snapchat that broke the internet, going on to say that she’s being “falsely painted as a liar.”
In the post, Swift called Kim’s snap a “character assassination,” and she’s right. What really happened may no longer matter. The script has been rewritten. The persona—the perfect Taylor Swift character that a team of people worked so hard to cultivate—has been murdered. That Taylor Swift is dead, at least in the eyes of gossip-mongering social media addicts scarfing down the popcorn watching the soap opera of the last 24 hours.
Swift had tried, and failed, to throw Kanye West and Kim Kardashian under the bus, once again asserting herself as the good girl. But Kardashian tipped off the driver. Now that proverbial bus has gone in reverse and it’s Swift under its tires.
But for all the hashtag-partying on her meme grave, it’s worth exploring if the injuries to Swift’s persona are really fatal. Is it possible to repair the damage?
It goes without saying that the prognosis isn’t good—a brief scroll of Twitter makes that clear, even as Swift’s fans and celebrity friends defend her, and the typical and at this point embarrassingly antiquated “who cares what the famous-for-doing-nothing girls do” Kardashian write-offs roll in.
As complicit as pop culture and celebrity gossip consumers are in feeding into the artifice that has, well, pretty much forever defined the entertainment and celebrity industry, it’s still a cardinal sin to betray them. The penance for doing so is taxing, if even insurmountable.
Swift’s authenticity had already been in question following the increasingly groan-worthy relationship with Hiddleston, which, whether or not it truly is, suffers the grave plight of appearing to be fake.
Casting aside, again, the more complicated shades of the controversy and evidence, the court of public opinion has ruled in the People v. Taylor Swift. The verdict: guilty of continually duping and using us. Punitive damages: our trust, the loss of which is worse for the modern celebrity than, say, losing Twitter followers, record deals, or endorsement contracts.
It’s all a fascinating insight into the celebrity machine. Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, and any major celebrity, for that matter, are merely the visible tips of very vast, very calculating icebergs. The army of people constantly fretting over a celebrity’s branding, promotion, security, and opinion operate largely unseen under the surface.
But being that tip of the iceberg sometimes leaves you exposed and vulnerable. Sometimes you’re propped up strong and tall by the work of that underwater base, capable of destroying ships, even—or, in this case, goodwill toward one of the world’s most gee-golly celebrities.
In this particular situation, what’s a melting iceberg to do?
Swift and her camp, as we mentioned before, are experts at controlling the media to rescue an intended narrative.
Criticized for her talent? Release a song called “Mean.” Slut-shamed and called a maneater? Own and then eviscerate the characterization in the “Blank Space” video. Get embroiled in a misguided and misinformed Twitter spat with Nicki Minaj? Make amends during an awards show performance. Find yourself feuding with Katy Perry? Assemble an Avengers of Glamazons to defend you in “Bad Blood.”
Even when it comes to Kanye West, who Swift has been dramatically intertwined ever since he crashed her mainstream coming out party at the MTV Video Music Awards, she’s cannily capitalized on the controversy in her own favor, making amends by presenting West with the Video Vanguard Award on MTV in 2015.
Would a move from the Taylor Swift playbook work now?
Does she address it in song? Spoof it in a video? Send the message that she’s over it by appearing together at an awards show? Continue on the attack?
And if not one of those, does the usual 2016 Celebrity Image Makeover tactic work: a self-effacing viral bit on a late-night talk show, or a winking cameo on a buzzy comedy?
Ordinarily the entertainment news cycle has the memory of an elephant (or a fly—I can never remember which is the forgetful one, in true entertainment news writer form). But the Taylor Swift/Kanye West news cycle has, thus far, had a shelf life of nearly seven years.
Moving on or ignoring it isn’t sufficient, not at this juncture. She likely won’t be able to escape the inevitability: a paragraph referencing the feud and Snapchat scandal in magazine cover story and profile written about her, no matter what’s going on in her career, in perpetuity.
In the absence of public trust, then, Swift’s best bet is candor. And not candor-as-performance, the kind of scripted truth-telling we’ve become accustomed to. The tell-all interview event is a step. But saying something meaningful in it is a must. It sounds stupidly basic to offer “say something meaningful” as advice. But in today’s manufactured publicity machine, it might be the cultural shock needed to repair the damage.
There’s no denying the layers of misogyny in this controversy. The joy with which we are taking sides between two strong, powerful, and important women, likening them to dueling soap opera divas and dancing on the grave of the one who has been “taken down,” so to speak.
We see male entertainers get caught in far more damning scandals all the time, and it always blows over, and quickly. (Here is where I dutifully express my incredulity that Chris Brown is still a successful entertainer.) But Kim Kardashian defends her and her husband’s reputation against Taylor Swift, and we turn the latter star into a gravestone meme.
Celebrities can always come back from the dead, musicians especially. Usually all it takes is the next great song, and all is forgiven. It won’t be that simple for Taylor Swift. Please welcome to the stage: some humility.