Sunday 4 December 2016

The princess of pop and her favourite enemy

Taylor Swift's dig at Kanye West during her Grammys acceptance speech added more fuel to the frenemy fire. What's next for this duelling duo

Published 19/02/2016 | 02:30

Kanye West and Taylor Swift in happier times at the 57th Grammy Awards in 2015.
Kanye West and Taylor Swift in happier times at the 57th Grammy Awards in 2015.

The on/off feud between Taylor Swift and Kanye West is most definitely on again with Swift using her acceptance speech at Monday night's Grammys to take a veiled - yet forceful - swipe at West.

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Surveying the great and good of the music industry, a steely eyed Swift urged fans to beware of those who would "try to undercut your success or try to take credit for your accomplishments, or your fame". This was perceived as a blast across the bows of West, whose bonkers new album, The Life Of Pablo, features a misogynist kiss-off to Swift.

"I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous," rhymes the one-man controversy machine on the track Famous. When he debuted the number at Madison Square Garden last week, the internet was duly whipped into a state of apoplexy. Even for the surly and combative West it was surely a diss too far (he has stated that Swift "gave her blessings" to the lyrics).

In the social media era, musician feuds are commonplace and often contrived. Taytay v Kanye is different. The vehemence feels very real - when Swift unleashed her Kanye broadside at the Grammys, the frostiness in her voice was unmistakable.

Moreover, Swift and West are no "ordinary" celebrities. Both are generation-defying figures who have used Twitter and other electronic media to shape and control their image. In that context, something as unpredictable as a feud has the potential to be hugely damaging.

But for all the parallels, in other ways they could not be more different. Swift is the human version of an always-updating Instagram feed.

West, on the other hand, has come to resemble the brooding Sauron of hip-hop - a grumbling, mysterious figure more comfortable in the shadows than the spotlight. In contrast to Swift, he seems increasingly disinterested in the slog of being an actual pop star. Contrast his genuinely unhinged new LP with Swift's supremely catchy 1989 (for which she won Best Album Grammy). That he might revert to releasing straightforwardly agreeable music in the vein of hits such as Gold Digger is unthinkable.

Their "history" goes back to 2009, when West bum-rushed Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards. Just 19 and still navigating the treacherous rocks of early celebrity, she looked stunned as he interrupted her acceptance speech to proclaim the prize for Best Video should have gone to his bestie Beyonce.

"When the crowd started booing, I thought they were booing because they also believed I didn't deserve the award," Swift would later recall. "That's where the hurt came from. I went backstage and cried, and then I had to stop crying and perform five minutes later."

Kanye has, for his part, veered between regret and self-pity regarding the incident. With even President Obama joining the chorus of cat-calls, in the days afterwards he had his people convey his deepest apologies to Swift.

"It's been a difficult day," he said soon afterweards "I'm just dealing with the fact that I hurt someone or took anything away from a talented artist or from anyone, because I only wanted to help people... I immediately knew in this situation that it was wrong... It's someone's emotions that I stepped on. It was rude, period."

Yet with time his pronouncements on the incident have grown increasingly inscrutable - to the point where one might easily conclude he was the victim. "[The Taylor VMA affair] only led me to complete awesomeness at all times," he said 2011. "It's only led me to awesome truth and awesomeness. Beauty, truth, awesomeness. That's all it is."

Full-blown rapprochement did, it is true, threaten to break out at last year's VMAs, at which Swift popped up to present Kanye with an award.

"I first met Kanye West six years ago - at this show, actually!" she had said "It seemed like everyone in the world knew about our infamous encounter at the VMAs. But something that you may not know is that Kanye West's album College Dropout was the very first album my brother and I bought on iTunes when I was 12-years-old. I have been a fan of his for as long as I can remember."

Taytay's kind remarks were overshadowed by Kanye's acceptance speech and his Donald Trump-esque vow to run for president. Still, her generosity was not lost on the rapper, who sent Swift flowers the next morning. All was peachy - as Taylor confirmed in a subsequent interview with GQ.

"I wasn't ready to be friends with him until I felt like he had some sort of respect for me, and he wasn't ready to be friends with me until he had some sort of respect for me - so it was the same issue, and we both reached the same place at the same time."

There was even speculation that they might collaborate in the future. Such sentiments will ring hollow in the ears of both protagonists as the fall-out from the Grammys rumbles on. At time of writing, West has yet to respond to Swift's two-fingered proclamation. His latest Twitter update reads simply, if enigmatically, "all positive energy".

What can be said with certainty is that the torrid relationship between two of the biggest stars of the 21st century will likely yield more drama in the weeks ahead.

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Irish Independent

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