It’s instantly iconic, the last line of Taylor Swift’s latest statement on her media tiff with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian: “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never been asked to be a part of, since 2009.”
Not long ago—pre-2009?—it might have seemed strange for most people outside an English seminar to casually throw around the word “narrative,” much less a Nashville pop star known for her love of cats and Christmas. But here we are in the age of the personal brand, where people like Swift, West, and Kim Kardashian have popularized the notion of popular culture—and maybe all of life—as a tangle of managed storylines that may or may not be rooted in fact. There are political and personal and social readings to be made of the ongoing spat between these three celebrities. Yet Swift has presented her current problem as purely meta: She’s mad, explicitly, at not being in control of this narrative.
The loss of control indeed began in 2009 with rather on-the-nose symbolism when West grabbed the mic from Swift at the MTV VMAs to protest her winning an award. This last August, she’d given the appearance of brokering peace—and regaining subjectivity in this particular story—by presenting West with a lifetime achievement award at the 2015 VMAs. But the feud reignited with this year’s Kanye West song “Famous,” which features the lines, “For all my Southside niggas that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous.” After furor at the song erupted, West tweeted that Swift had pre-approved the lyrics during an hourlong phone conversation with him, but Swift’s rep denied that was the case:
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.”
Now, Kim Kardashian has thrown herself into what she has described as her full-time job: being her husband’s publicist. In GQ last month, she told a reporter that there was footage of Swift giving West permission for “Famous,” and last night’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians devoted itself to the controversy. When the episode finished, Kardashian’s Snapchat followers received an edited version of the much-hyped West/Swift exchange. In it, Swift says she’s very thankful he checked with her about the line “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex,” and that it’s true West felt like he’d made her famous at the 2009 VMAs: “You honestly didn’t know who I was before that. It doesn't matter that I sold 7 million of that album before you did.” (A glorious diss and brag, no?) They appear to be discussing two possible versions of the lyrics, and Swift says, “Go with whatever line you think is better. It's obviously very tongue-in-cheek either way.”