Here is what we know for sure: Taylor Swift flat-out lied.
While accepting the 2016 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, Swift marched up to the podium and launched into a thinly veiled broadside against legendary musician Kanye West.
“As the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, I wanna say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame, but if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you’ll know that it was you and the people who love you that put you there, and that will be the greatest feeling in the world,” Swift declared.
The pop superstar maintained offense at the following lyrics off West’s Life of Pablo track “Famous”: “For all my Southside niggas that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous / God damn / I made that bitch famous.” To drive the point home, three days prior to the award show, Swift released a statement through her rep alleging, “Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account. She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous.’”
West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, released snippets on Snapchat of a telephone conversation between West and Swift in which the rapper can clearly be heard running the offending lyrics by Swift (sans “that bitch”), who laughs and gives her approval. Swift posted—and quickly deleted—an unconvincing Instagram response to Kim’s receipts wherein she claimed, “You don’t get to control someone’s emotional response to being called ‘that bitch’ in front of the entire world,” even though Swift had already: A) Alleged that a phone call never took place, and B) Made her whole Grammys speech about West taking credit for her accomplishments, not calling her a misogynistic name.
So, in lieu of an Instagram reply, Swift has—as is her wont—addressed the controversy in song, on the new track “Look What You Made Me Do.” The tune is packed with references to West and Kardashian, from West’s “tilted stage” (as featured on his Saint Pablo tour) to a voiceover monologue echoing the West/Swift “Famous” phone call. Swift even reappropriated the font to West’s Saint Pablo merchandise for her own merch and cover art to forthcoming LP Reputation. The intended message is rather clear: Taylor Swift believes it was she who was wronged, and wants you back on her side.
Swift has now released an accompanying music video for the song, directed by frequent collaborator Joseph Kahn (the man behind the video for “Blank Space”). In it, there is a sequence where the singer is lying in a bathtub covered in diamonds with a single dollar bill placed on top—a reference, no doubt, to the symbolic one dollar she demanded in her countersuit against a radio DJ who allegedly groped her butt. The scenes come right after Swift references West’s “tilted stage,” with Swift singing, “I don’t like your perfect crime / How you laugh when you lie / You said the gun was mine / Is it cruel, no I don’t like you.”
The sequence caused a minor uproar following the music video’s premiere during the MTV VMAs, with many feeling that it mocked Kim Kardashian’s robbery at gunpoint in Paris—an episode where Kardashian was robbed of diamonds, including a $4 million diamond ring, by a gang of criminals. The masked men penetrated Kardashian’s penthouse hotel suite, held a gun to her head, gagged her, and placed her in a bathtub. Kardashian has since revealed that she thought she would be raped and murdered during the terrifying ordeal, and even recited a final prayer for her children and family.
So Swift, in her video, while singing lyrics about West and Kardashian, has chosen to pose in a bathtub covered in diamonds. During the words “perfect crime” the camera zooms in on a close-up of her hand covered in diamond rings (the item the Paris robbers targeted), and when she chants “gun was mine,” Swift forms her fingers into a gun and fires.
To the common Swift consumer, this may all seem like a stretch—but the Pennsylvanian is unquestionably the most calculating pop star on the planet, and every decision she makes (save perhaps the hasty aforementioned Instagram post) is handled with remarkable precision and care.
Which also begs the question—one first raised by the intrepid music critics at The New York Times: Why is Swift releasing Reputation on the 10th anniversary of the death of Kanye West’s mother, Donda West? A date that reports claim triggered his recent mental breakdown?