If you follow pop culture drama and you woke up Monday morning feeling confused and overwhelmed by everything that went down in the ongoing he said/she said feud between Kanye West and Taylor Swift, you're not alone. And as you catch up on the deluge of shade being thrown between Team West and Squad Taylor, take some time to consider whether, in all the excitement, some truly unethical behavior went down.
The now legendary West and Swift feud began in earnest seven years ago, when West fearlessly jumped the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards to steal the spotlight from best female performance winner Swift. West soon insisted he was "sooooo sorry to Taylor Swift and her fans and her mom," and Swift came back with a whole ballad about the incident, and the insistence that "It doesn't really add anything good if I start victimizing myself and complaining about things." Last year, she presented him with the Video Vanguard Award at the VMAs. Yet as the two have continued to ascend in their fame, they also can't seem to stop pecking at each other.
This past winter, West released "The Life of Pablo," with its swiftly notable lyric "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous" on the song "Famous." At the time, West stated that " I called Taylor and had a hour long convo with her about the line and she thought it was funny and gave her blessings," but Swift's reps insisted, "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.'"
And at the Grammys, Swift took the opportunity to announce to her fans, "I want to 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."
Then things got even stickier when West released the video for "Famous," featuring what Swift's buddy Lena Dunham disgustedly described as "the prone, unconscious, waxy bodies of famous women" — including a Swift look-alike.
And in a cover story for GQ, West's wife Kim Kardashian said that Swift knew about the incendiary line in "Famous," that "She totally approved that," and, because West has filmmakers document his entire creative process, a recording of their phone call proved it. "She totally knew that that was coming out. She wanted to all of a sudden act like she didn't," she said. "I swear, my husband gets so much shit for things [when] he really was doing proper protocol and even called to get it approved."
Last month, the UK tabloid The Sun reported a source saying that "Taylor got her lawyers to threaten Kanye and demanded that the recording was killed. They stressed the phone call was confidential and that publishing it would violate her rights. It validates that a taped conversation where Taylor was on board with the song does exist, and just shows how worried she is about the truth coming out."
But Swift's team issued another statement, saying, "Taylor has never denied that conversation took place…. Kanye West never told Taylor he was going to use the term, 'that bitch' in referencing her. A song cannot be approved if it was never heard. Kanye West never played the song for Taylor Swift. Taylor heard it for the first time when everyone else did and was humiliated. Kim Kardashian's claim that Taylor and her team were aware of being recorded is not true, and Taylor cannot understand why Kanye West, and now Kim Kardashian, will not just leave her alone."
Then on Sunday, all hell broke loose when Kardashian West asked on Twitter, "do u guys follow me on snap chat? u really should ;-)" and then KABOOM, she released a clip of their disputed conversation. In it, West reads her the song's lyric, "For all my Southside n---as that know me best, I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex," and Swift replies, "I mean it’s like a compliment, kind of."
West goes on to say that "I want things that make you feel good. I don't wanna do rap that makes people feel bad," and Swift conveys that "I really appreciate you telling me about it, that's really nice…. The heads up is so nice.… Even asking or seeing if I'd be OK with it. I just really appreciate it. I never would have expected you to, like, tell me about one of the lines in your song." (Read a full transcript.)
Is this the gigantic gotcha moment that Swift's critics have made it out to be? Well, she does appear to be on record giving her blessing to West for running any lyrics by her. But the ethics of the whole situation still feel shady on more than one side. On Instagram Sunday, Swift shot back, asking, "Where is the video of Kanye telling me he was going to call me 'that bitch' in his song? It doesn't exist because it never happened." She called what went down "character assassination" and captioned the whole response, "That moment when Kanye West secretly records your phone call, then Kim posts it on the Internet."
The laws around recording conversations vary from state to state. As Newsweek reports, "In the event that West placed his phone call to Swift from California… there could be potential legal ramifications as California is an all-party consent state. California law is one of the strictest when it comes to tape-recording consent — there are criminal penalties for not gaining consent from all parties, and additional penalties for disseminating or publishing a recording."
Yet the question of whether what the Wests did was legal — a question involving consent and privacy — doesn't seem to matter much today. In the video, West comes across as accommodating and respectful, even as he's running his song lyrics about maybe having sex with Swift someday by her. In the court of public opinion, Swift is the current loser. But the more far-ranging casualty here is the reasonable expectation of privacy — even between two public figures.