Why won’t anyone respect Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn’s privacy? The blue-eyed chanteuse and her newest man-shaped accessory only had about two days in the internet spotlight before someone came along to knock her down. That someone was Katy Perry, the pop star who will stop at nothing—Hillary Clinton campaigning, head-to-toe Comme de Garçons, performative cannibalism—to get our attention. For two stars working in the same pop music genre, Swift and Perry are at totally different points in their careers. Swift was overexposed, which made her Snapchat outing and fall from public grace all the more striking. Now she’s the pop world’s J.D. Salinger, only emerging every so often to attend jury duty or lure a new boyfriend back to her beachfront property. Perry, on the other hand, is everywhere right now, which is exactly where she wants to be. But the question is if Perry’s quality can keep up with her quantity (and the answer, at least to anyone who’s bothered to listen to “Bon Appétit,” is no).
Since Katy Perry is currently trying, and failing, to get a top ten hit, it was only a matter of time before she pulled out her trump card: her years-long feud with Taylor Swift. Nothing ensures downloads quite like the promise of some serious dirt—which is probably why Perry included a literal receipt on the cover art for her latest single, “Swish Swish.” Subtle, Perry is not. Not since Remy Ma let a bunch of psychopaths loose on a poor innocent Barbie in her video for “Shether” has one diss track visually promised so much. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Perry’s music, which has so far failed to substantively aid the LGBTQ community or actually get Hillary Clinton elected, “Swish Swish” falls short.
It’s frustrating because Perry has so much good drama to pull from. This tea has been on the proverbial back burner since before 2014, when Swift told Rolling Stone that her song “Bad Blood” was about a pop star who “tried to sabotage an entire arena tour” by hiring her backup dancers out from under her. Tour dates quickly pointed to Perry as the main suspect. KP clapped back with a sassy tweet, writing, “Watch out for the Regina George in sheep’s clothing.” This celebrity feud had it all: Mean Girls references, back-up dancer beef, and Cara Delevingne playing with nunchucks. More than anything, Swift’s decision to assemble her still-nascent squad and dress them up in S&M gear for the “Bad Blood” music video cemented her status as a chick you don’t want to mess with. If you look up the definition of celebrity bullying, you’ll find a picture of Taylor, Cara, Lena Dunham and crew in pleather right next to a photo of Kim Kardashian testing out her Snapchat editing app.
Three years later, Perry is here to bring attention to the cause of celebrity bullying the only way she knows how: with a banger. “Swish Swish” is fun to listen to. It is not, however, a very good diss track. For one, while Perry is quick with the put-downs, she doesn’t appear to have any actual dirt to spill. Clearly, the promised receipts got lost in the mail. Perry is definitely trying to come for Swift. Lyrics like, “Don’t need opinions / From a shellfish or a sheep/Don't you come for me” and “You’re calculated / I got your number” make it clear that Perry is referring to pop music’s favorite mini Machiavelli. But insults like, “You're ‘bout cute as / An old coupon expired” and “Your game is tired / You should retire” are more Dr. Seuss than Dr. Dre.
Money can buy a rhyming dictionary but it can’t buy swagger. That’s why Perry brought in the perfect feature artist for “Swish, Swish”—the one and only Nicki Minaj. Minaj is a great fit for so many reasons. First and foremost, she has her own beef with Taylor Swift, dating from that awkward moment when Minaj came for racist award shows and Swift was like “not all white women.” Ever since Swift took Minaj’s music industry criticism personally, there’s been clear and apparent bad blood between the pop queens. Secondly, this radio-friendly banger masquerading as a diss track is very Nicki Minaj, a woman who famously claimed on Instagram, “We don’t do diss records, we drop HIT RECORDS & diss u ON them [sic].” Minaj knows how to craft a drag you can dance to, and her insults on this track are miles ahead of Perry’s pee-wee stuff. “Don’t be tryna double back, I already despise you / All that fake love you showin', couldn’t even disguise you” is an undeniable Swift reference. Minaj also cites her recent feud with fellow rapper Remy Ma, bragging, “Silly rap beefs just get me more checks.” Still, it seems a little unfair for Minaj to take a second swing at Swift, seeing as she so clearly bested her the first time they feuded, even forcing a rare public apology from the pseudo-saintly singer. In the immortal words of RuPaul, she done already done had herses.
Swift has yet to leave her London love nest/New York HQ/Cape Cod bunker and comment on this decidedly rude diss track. But, in true TayTay fashion, she appears to have conscripted a satellite squad member to do her damage control for her. On Friday morning, actress Ruby Rose went off on Twitter, writing, “‘Purposeful poop’ to ‘bomb a petit’ to a sloppy mess of writing over the top of Funkagenda,” she wrote, adding, “I just think with everything going on in the world to go from rebranding as political activist only to ditch it and go low.. is.. a bummer.” In conclusion, this is a half-hearted victory for Katy Perry—because honestly, how hard is it to make an explosive Taylor Swift diss track? There’s so much material! We can only hope that the Calvin Harris/Katy Perry collaboration we’ve been promised later this summer won’t be afraid to go there.