The Kanye-Taylor Industrial Complex must die: Can West and Swift stop feeding this aging, pointless "feud?"

What was once a legit beef now looks like shopworn stagecraft, allowing the two to bolster their brands

By Scott Timberg
February 12, 2016 10:41PM (UTC)
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Kanye West, Taylor Swift (AP/Vantagenews/Jordan Strauss)

Kanye West and Taylor Swift are feuding. Or rather, they’re still feuding. To be really clear about it, maybe they’re just still pretending to be still feuding.

The latest news grows out of West’s new album, “The Life of Pablo,” and a song in which West goes back to some old business. Here’s what broke Friday morning, as reported in Billboard:


Taylor Swift isn’t happy with her namecheck in Kanye West’s "Famous".

Those closest to Swift have already shared their thoughts on West’s new track (hint: they don’t like it), in which he raps "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous."

Now Swift has hit back at West, claiming she cautioned him about “releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message” and that she was never told about the contentious lyric, "I made that bitch famous."

Well, that's one way of looking at it. If it was anyone but Swift or a handful of other really calculating celebrities, these lines would land out of left field. No woman, even a famous one, should have a man talk about her sex life that way in public unless she clearly gives her okay – it’s just not respectful. Being called a “bitch” is at least – even with the word’s complicated meaning in hip-hop culture – problematic.

But the chances that this is mock outrage are pretty high. The longevity of the trumped-up fraught relationship between the two – already overexposed in the media – might just be a way they've found to extend their brands.

For starters, a song like this allows Swift to play up her innocence while reminding adults of her sexuality at the same time. The outrage from Swift and her crew in response to West's lack of respect, in turn, lets West play the martyr and adopt his most strident “but I’m an artist!” tone. He can also tap into his deep well of self pity as he promotes a new album. Both of them win. Both get to act like they are expressing sincere emotion, and being assailed by the other side, even as they are spinning the story like crazy.


Maybe it's paranoid to think they're just prolonging a feud that began famously when West bum-rushed the stage at the 2009 Video Music Awards, sure. We’ve got to do some speculating about the details here, but this seems to be the way it went down. According to West’s tweet today, he and Swift discussed "Famous" over the phone ahead of the release. According to West:

It’s not clear if they nailed down exactly how far the lines would go. Whatever happened, West later asked Swift if he could debut the song on her Twitter feed. (The mind reels.)

When West played “Famous” Thursday at Madison Square Garden, Swift initially said nothing in public. If she was really offended, she kept it to herself. Instead, the Swift Squad jumped into action.


It was only later that Swift said, through a rep, that she was unhappy, that she had not heard the "I made that bitch famous" line ahead of its release, and that she had “cautioned” West when they spoke earlier that she considered the song sexist. The controversy allowed West to grandstand as a persecuted artist:

But what really went on? What did the two talk about? Did West’s comments about her go further than Swift expected them to? Right now, we’re all being spun. The Celebrity Industrial Complex has become as multi-layered and hard to interpret as politics.


These are both talented musicians, and they are also two of the richest and most famous people on the planet, in part from their gift for calculation.

You can bow down at their genius at manipulating us, and think the beats on “The Life of Pablo” are pretty good and at times better than good, but also think that our musical life would be better off if musicians poured more of their talent into making music and less into pulling strings. There’s been stagecraft and marketing in popular culture since the beginning, but it’s just about taken over. It can be hard to hear the music through the noise.

And guys, we’re a bit sick of this one. Can you find a new feud, please? Will anyone be able to get through the Grammys unless you do?

Scott Timberg

Scott Timberg is a former staff writer for Salon, focusing on culture. A longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, he runs the blog Culture Crash. He's the author of the book, "Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class."

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Celebrity Gender Hip-hop Kanye West Music Taylor Swift