Kanye West lied. He’s never gonna let this finish.
Pop culture’s most curious spat—if that’s even what it could be categorized as—found its umpteenth life Friday, thanks to a he-said-she-said back and forth between Kanye West and Taylor Swift about lyrics to a song on his new album, The Life of Pablo. And this round? Just as icky as the first.
The lyric in question harkens back to the stage crash that started it all, West’s jarring and upsetting storming of the stage to interrupt a nubile Taylor Swift, not yet pop’s reigning queen, during an acceptance speech for her first ever MTV Video Music Award win back in 2009.
With four words—“Imma let you finish”—West created a meme, birthed an immortal pop-culture controversy, forever linked his career with Swift’s, and announced himself as one of the industry’s worst kinds of misogynists: Someone who swears he isn’t one and complains when people say he is.
The VMAs incident is referenced in West’s new song, “Famous.” A lyric that set Twitter on fire when the track debuted has West rapping, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / I made that bitch famous.”
Now, we understand irony. We appreciate the power and necessity of braggadocio in hip-hop. We get that the song is a meditation on fame and that an “Imma let you finish” reference is a cheeky and clever layer to add to that conversation.
We also can sniff out calculated exploitation: Gee, I wonder if West knew that this lyric would make headlines. And that we have also have a kneejerk distaste for blatant and valueless misogyny, especially when it’s accompanied by a doth-protest-too-much Twitter rant by music’s biggest baby.
In the past people have viewed West’s Twitter account as some kind of performance art. (How else to explain this week’s outrageous "BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!" tweet?)
But lately it’s doubled as a platform in front of 18.6 million followers—and the additional millions who read the media’s incessant coverage of his account—to whine about various grievances and from which to conduct his daily affirmations about being the greatest.
Friday morning West, the grown man who insinuated in his new song that a 26-year-old singer will probably bang him because she owes him for making her more famous with his rude antics, was affronted that people, namely Swift, called him a misogynist.
It all started when Swift’s spokesperson released a statement in response to the lyrics.
“Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account,” it reads. “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.’”
Oh boy. The Greatest did not like that.
Cue the Twitter rant, an exercise that’s become a favorite pastime of West's whenever anyone questions his infallible genius.
“I did not diss Taylor Swift and I’ve never dissed her,” he tweeted. “First thing is I’m an artist and as an artist I will express how I feel with no censorship.”
Thus far there are nine “things.”
His second thing, he tweeted, was that he asked his wife, Kim Kardashian, for her blessing. (Don’t worry guys, Kim Kardashian doesn’t find West’s lyrical gag about banging Taylor Swift offensive.)
The third thing: “I called Taylor and had a hour long convo with her about the line and she thought it was funny and gave her blessings.” This obviously contradicts the statement Swift’s spokesperson made.
At best, what we have here is a classic he-said-she-said situation, each party with their own interest in doubling down on their own versions of the story.
At worst, what we have here is another ridiculous entry in the Kanye-Taylor circus canon, and an incendiary lyric that debases a successful woman, strips her of her agency, and, if she really did give her “blessings,” commoditizes misogyny as comedy for the goal of headline-making controversy and fame. Yay!
Oh, but wait! There are at least six more “things.”
The fourth thing is my favorite. “Bitch is an endearing term in hip hop like the word Nigga,” he tweeted. Imma let you finish but the level of degradation suggested here…actually, no. Imma just let you finish, Kanye, because that is a dumbass thing to say and it just speaks for itself.
He goes on to tweet the classiest thing possible when a person finds themselves the subject of controversy and outrage. He passes the blame. He claims it was Swift’s idea to use that lyric, a Eureka moment manifested at a dinner with a mutual friend “who’s [sic] name I’ll keep out of this and she told him.”
Then he goes on to the second-classiest thing to do when a person finds themselves the subject of controversy and outrage. He makes himself the victim.
We’re compromising his art, he said. We’re demonizing the artist. We’re controlling him with money and perception, the effect of which is muting culture. It’s watering down his music, he says. “I miss that DMX feeling.”
And apparently, he says, it all comes down to facts, tweeting, “I can’t be mad at Kanye because he made me famous! #FACTS.”
There’s institutionalized misogyny that begs to be addressed in hip-hop. Will outrage over a lyric about Taylor Swift fix that? Probably not. (And boy does it say something about white privilege if this is the thing that does.) And try not to read into the gender politics of a man conditioned to exaltation taking to Twitter to demand approval after being called out on his misogyny, going so far as to pass the blame onto the woman.
There’s a concession to be made, and it’s that it is a provocative notion to suggest that West’s VMAs interruption of Swift in 2009—an act that he was vilified for and which sainted Swift in all of the exhaustive press coverage of the event—was a major turning point in the then-country star’s career, raising awareness of who she was, solidifying her "BFF" brand, and catapulting her to a new echelon of fame.
We can actually buy and are intrigued by that argument.
Certainly, both West and Swift have exploited the event within an inch of its life in their respective careers.
West’s tearful apology to Swift on Jay Leno helped him reclaim fans he lost over the incident, and won him some new ones, too, who were impressed with his contriteness and humility. (Kanye West. Humility. LOL.) When Beyoncé lost the Album of the Year Grammy to Beck last year, he stormed the stage again in what was considered to be a hilarious stunt in which he owned his reputation and proved in on the joke of being the Volatile Kanye West.
Then last year it was Swift who actually presented West with the Video Vanguard award at the VMAs, a groan-worthy PR spectacle that paid off just the way its orchestrators planned.
Viewers ate it up like the manipulative candy it was, and Swift and West proved that appropriating scandal for your own benefit is the best way to handle a controversy in the reactionary social media age. Anger us, and fear the wrath of the Twitter pitchforks. Enamor us, and bask in 140-character adoration.
Based on West’s Twitter rant, it appeared that he was attempting to capitalize on the whole gross affair once again, by having Swift overtly be in on the joke of the “Famous” lyric by sharing it on her Twitter. Honestly, despite our own intense reaction to the tone of the lyrics, we could see a world in which Swift does just that.
It’s only since the plan backfired—Swift’s camp apparently ruled that a statement enforcing her feminism is more valuable than a move that suggests her willingness to laugh at herself—that West has found himself in this hot water.
And that’s the root of this whole, years-long Swift/West inanity, and why this latest development is so problematic and exhausting.
When West stormed the stage and, with his arrogance, diminished one woman’s accomplishments because he didn’t believe she earned it—and apparently his opinion is the only one that is valid—it was glaringly misogynistic. It was classless. It was demeaning. And it only happened because he devalued her.
Perhaps, in the current age of celebrity, there was no other option than Swift gamely participating in the exploitation of the incident over the years, particularly since the controversy’s longevity has continued to define her and his respective careers.
But now that there’s a chasm in the charade—Swift’s no longer playing along; she is, at least publicly, too offended—we’re able to look at the whole thing for what it really is: a misogynistic event that we have all been complicit in celebrating as pop culture iconography. We have as much a part in this as West and Swift do.
Will it ever be finished?