In the wake of Kim Kardashian’s much-discussed Sunday-night Snapchat — a post that revealed a controversial conversation between Taylor Swift and Kardashian’s husband, Kanye West, and which has come to be known on Twitter as the #KimExposedTaylorParty — the overwhelming response has been a kind of victorious vindication: "I always knew Taylor Swift was fake, and now there’s proof."
Well, sure. We all knew she was fake. She’s a celebrity. That’s part of how being a celebrity works, yes?
The "Famous" backstory
In case you missed it: Earlier this year, West released a song called "Famous," which contains the lyric, "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous." He claimed that Swift had approved the song prior to its release; she insisted that she most certainly had not, and went on to insinuate that he was trying to take credit for the success she had worked so hard to achieve.
Kardashian later announced that she had a video recording of Swift signing off on the song — and on July 17, she posted a series of clips from said video on Snapchat.
The clips Kardashian posted aren’t entirely a smoking gun. In the video, Swift clearly okays the line "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex," but in the months since "Famous" was released, she has always directed her objections most strenuously toward the line that follows it: "Why? I made that bitch famous." And in Kardashian’s video, there’s no indication that she heard or approved of that line. Given how specific Swift’s objections have been, I would be surprised if Kardashian had a clip of Swift okaying the phrase "that bitch" and didn’t release it — it would only strengthen her case to show it. The fact that we haven’t seen it suggests it’s not there.
But the video does seem to contradict much of Swift’s original story, which is that West called to ask if he could release the song via her Twitter account, and that she not only declined but also cautioned him against "releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message." It’s within the realm of possibility that we didn’t hear the whole phone call, and that West did indeed ask to release the song on Swift’s Twitter and Swift told him not to be a misogynist, but there’s no proof of that. And considering how chummy and ingratiating Swift sounds in the clips that Kardashian posted to Snapchat, it’s difficult to imagine Swift saying something so confrontational within the span of the same conversation.
At the very least, Swift almost certainly misrepresented her conversation with West. I would go so far as to say that she probably lied about warning him not to release a song with misogynistic language, and that that particular claim was probably a cynical attempt to cash in her Feminist chip. But she has consistently stated that her biggest issue with "Famous" is that West calls her "that bitch," and it seems plausible to me that she was genuinely offended and taken aback when she first heard that line.
There’s a lot to be said about Swift’s reasons for (probably) lying in her initial statement, her history of presenting herself as the victim in every controversy involving her public life, and the racial and gendered nuances of her longstanding feud with West. But what I want to discuss here is the sense that we are seeing behind the mask of Swift’s extremely savvy public persona, and that the fact that we are seeing behind it is damning.
Why are we shocked that Taylor Swift thinks about the press?
In Kardashian’s Snapchat videos, we hear Swift anticipating the press response to the song and musing over how she plans to spin her reaction. "Right after the song comes out I'm gonna be on a Grammy red carpet," she says, "and they're gonna ask me about it and I'm gonna be like, he called me."
"Hearing Taylor Swift think out loud about how to spin the story, to me, is more damaging than learning that Taylor Swift lied about Kanye West," Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos writes. "Kim Kardashian’s Snapchat video … confirms that underneath the thick coating of bubblegum pop known as Taylor Swift, there’s a shrewd, savvy woman who puts a lot of effort into shaping and maintaining her public image."
That’s one of the nicer versions of that sentiment. The less nice version is that with this video, Kardashian has revealed Swift as a fake. "She was so conniving," writes Sublime Zoo of Swift. "She reminded us of every (wannabe) bland ass mean girl in high school with her fake ass posse, her fake ass smile, and her fake ass feminism that she learned from her [should be] molester BFF Lena Dunham." (Not my brackets.)
And this Snapchat situation isn’t the only recent incident where Swift’s behavior has been met with a similar response. Just last week, Swift told Rolling Stone that she had written the lyrics to "This Is What You Came For," a song credited to her ex, Calvin Harris. The revelation came a month after Swift and Harris ended their relationship in June, and just weeks after Swift debuted her new relationship with Tom Hiddleston with a Nicholas Sparks-esque photo shoot.
Harris shot back on Twitter:
I know you're off tour and you need someone new to try and bury like Katy ETC but I'm not that guy, sorry. I won't allow it— Calvin Harris (@CalvinHarris) July 13, 2016
Harris was referring to Swift’s well-publicized feud with Katy Perry, which is allegedly the basis for Swift’s song "Bad Blood." (According to the rumors, Perry "stole" some of Swift’s backup dancers, and Swift was less than amused.) Harris suggested that Swift’s feud with Perry wasn’t organic, and that Swift wasn’t the victim she pretended to be; that in fact Swift has a habit of developing and amplifying feuds when she’s off tour, presumably as a way of keeping her name in the gossip mill. That the famous Swift/Perry feud is, like Swift herself, fake — and so is the controversy her camp created over "This Is What You Came For."
We will leave aside for the moment the fact that Calvin Harris is literally a fake name, chosen by a man named Adam Wiles because he hoped it would convince people that he might be black. Instead, we’ll return to the idea that Swift is a fake.
Of course she is. She’s a pop star, with a meticulously tended and managed image. You don’t get to be Taylor Swift levels of famous without developing a persona that an audience is willing to spend money on, and you don’t develop that persona without getting at least a little bit fake.
Sure, there’s always been something a little infuriating about the plastic perfection that surrounds Taylor Swift. Think back to her earliest videos, which tended to involve her twirling through a meadow full of wildflowers in a virginal white gown — she has always presented herself to the world as a sweet girl, a good girl, a pure and perfect pop princess, and yeah, that image can be irritating.
And now, the story goes, we have proof that it isn’t real. We have proof that Taylor Swift, one of the biggest celebrities in the world, thinks about the way the media perceives her.
Well, sure, we do, but did we need proof? Doesn’t the fact that Taylor Swift is as famous as she is suggest that she has devoted a whole lot of time and effort and thought to how the media perceives her?
(The same goes, incidentally, for everyone else who’s as famous as Swift, including Kardashian and West and yes, even the internet’s now-ex-boyfriend Tom Hiddleston. You do not get to be famous without thinking about how to spin things to the press.)
The idea that Taylor Swift cold-bloodedly manages her image to promote her career doesn’t make her a villain. It makes her good at her job.
Because a pop star’s job is not just to be a musician. It is to create a persona that people respond to, that sparks some universal response in an audience. Britney Spears was the damaged girl next door. Beyoncé is effortlessly perfect. Lorde is the weird witchy teen. Swift is the All-American queen bee.
So of course Swift thinks about how her life impacts her persona. Of course she curates the friends and boyfriends she’s seen with in public; of course she thinks about how she’ll spin this feud and that photo op into a good headline for the gossip mill. She does it because that’s her job, and she’s good at it.
The most disingenuous part of Swift’s response to Kim’s Snapchat — which she shared with the world by posting a statement Instagram — is her claim that "I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative." The narrative of Kanye versus Taylor versus Kim is one that she helped to build, and one that she’s profited from.
But it’s just as disingenuous for us, the audience, to pretend we’re shocked to discover that Swift’s persona is constructed — that when we look behind her mask, we’re surprised to find she’s put a lot of effort into cultivating her image. That’s just us making the Taylor Swift Surprised Face at each other over and over again, into eternity.