Nearly a month after the release of Lover, one of Taylor Swift’s most autobiographical albums to date, the pop star opened up to Rolling Stone in an in-depth profile. The interview, published on Wednesday morning, is further proof that Swift may finally be ready to show us the “real Taylor” three years after dramatically declaring the old wide-eyed, red-lip-classic version of herself dead.
In fact, in the piece, she finally breaks down the meaning behind the notorious “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now” line from Reputation. “I needed to make boundaries, to figure out what was mine and what was the public’s,” Swift told Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt, who also interviewed her for the magazine back in 2012. “That old version of me that shares unfailingly and unblinkingly with a world that is probably not fit to be shared with? I think that’s gone.” As for why she delivered the line as a staticky voicemail greeting during the bridge of a spiteful, Right Said Fred-tinged revenge anthem, “that’s how all of this started, a stupid phone call I shouldn’t have picked up.”
The 29-year-old is, of course, referring to her secretly recorded phone call with Kanye West in which she seems to give him permission to write about her in his 2016 song “Famous,” a call that reignited a celebrity feud of biblical proportions and could have doubled as a publicity campaign for the green snake emoji. In the damning recording, leaked by West’s wife Kim Kardashian, Swift can be heard consenting to the song lyric, “me and Taylor might still have sex.” She has since maintained, however, that he never sought her approval for the lyric she actually took issue with, the one that comes afterwards that says, “I made that bitch famous.” Specifically, she had a problem with him calling her “bitch.” This account seems to be corroborated by the recording, in which Kanye does not mention that second line.
Now, the singer reveals that there was much more to her side of the story. She meditates on the tumultuous ups and downs of her and West’s relationship, beginning with the 2009 VMAs when he hijacked her Best Female Video acceptance speech. According to Swift, while she was branded as a snake in comments sections and Twitter threads across the internet, West was actually the one who was two-faced throughout the entirety of their friendship. First and foremost, she wants us to know that it was never just about being called a bitch.
“Some events took place to cause me to be pissed off when he called me a bitch,” she says. “That was not just a singular event. Basically, I got really sick of the dynamic between he and I. And that wasn’t just based on what happened on that phone call and with that song—it was kind of a chain reaction of things.”
The chain reaction began with the VMAs incident, which, Swift says, left her wanting nothing more than the famous rapper’s approval. “All I ever wanted my whole career after that thing happened in 2009 was for him to respect me,” she explains. “When someone doesn’t respect you so loudly and says you literally don’t deserve to be here—I just so badly wanted that respect from him, and I hate that about myself, that I was like, ‘This guy who’s antagonizing me, I just want his approval.’”
The two stars made efforts to reconcile in the years that followed, leading up to the 2015 VMAs, where Swift presented West with the Vanguard award—a public olive branch in the place where it all began six years before. Swift claims that, though she has no proof (“I didn’t illegally record it, so I can’t play it for you”), West called to personally ask her to present him with the award. She was blindsided when he got on stage to accept and shouted, “You know how many times they announced Taylor was going to give me the award ‘cause it got them more ratings?”
As she was standing in the audience, arm-in-arm with Kim, she says she realized, “he is so two-faced. That he wants to be nice to me behind the scenes, but then he wants to look cool, get up in front of everyone and talk shit.” For Swift, the release of “Famous” the following spring was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Swift and Hiatt cover a lot of ground in the remainder of the interview. Though she describes their conversation as “the best therapy session,” it reads like Swift’s way of finally taking the narrative into her own hands, a far-cry from the Reputation days, during which she begged to be excluded from it. Her candor in the interview feels an extension of the questions she began to answer with Lover, as well as a call back to the trusting “old Taylor” she tried to bury years ago. She talks a bit about politics, a subject that rivals Kanye West as one of the most controversial aspects of her public image.
Of the political messaging on the Lover track “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince,” Swift says, “I have that line ‘I see the high-fives between the bad guys’ because not only are some really racist, horrific undertones now becoming overtones in our political climate, but the people who are representing those concepts and that way of looking at the world are celebrating loudly, and it’s horrific.”
Swift skeptics will be pleased to learn that she also finally, unequivocally denounced white supremacy when asked about the white supremacist site that falsely claimed her as one of their own back in 2016. Many were frustrated by her silence at the time, but she tells Rolling Stone that she did not even know about the website in question. Still, she says, “if that happened, that’s just disgusting. There’s literally nothing worse than white supremacy. It’s repulsive. There should be no place for it.” Right now, she’s focused on how she can “help and not hinder” the Democratic effort in 2020.
Swift’s final statement on politics is a rallying cry for unity. “If we’re going to do anything to change what’s happening, we need to stick together,” the “You Need to Calm Down” singer says. “We need to stop dissecting why someone’s on our side or if they’re on our side in the right way or if they phrased it correctly. We need to not have the right kind of Democrat and the wrong kind of Democrat. We need to just be like, ‘You’re a Democrat? Sick. Get in the car. We’re going to the mall.”