I don’t really bother with celebrity gossip. I can see the appeal of the escapism aspect of it, but I prefer to escape the realities of our world in other ways. Yet I surprisingly found myself having discussions with people about the Taylor Swift – Kanye West feud over and over again. Probably because I’m a loud and proud fan of both Taylor and Kanye. I remember secretly dancing to Taylor Swift’s first album, back when she was still that obnoxiously innocent, curly haired America’s country sweetheart (secretly cause I was still young and stupid with my weird music snobbery). And Kanye West was a huge part of my ‘hip hop awakening’, a time in my life when I realized that first of all, not all hip hop is about violence, money and women, and second of all, that me, a person who loves language, poetry and wordplay should absolutely be listening to hip hop!
So, as has been established, I love both artists fiercely. I believe they have both made significant contributions to their respective genres and music in general. Taylor Swift is one of the most successful female artist of not just our time but in the history of modern music. As a young female artist, she has broken more class ceilings than I can count. Kanye West re-shaped hip hop in the early 2000’s and has continued to be not only one of the most influential hip hop artists of our generation, but also unstoppable creative force in his other endeavors.
Then, here’s the question I get asked again and again; Whose side are you on? The answer is neither, or both. Actually, I don’t think the actual feud is the most interesting thing about this conflict. But the short answer to the question is, I understand both sides. I honestly think this has been a case of hurt feelings and miscommunication (add a hint of ego and you got a feud). What’s interesting to me is the conversation around this situation and what it might mean on a deeper level.
Kim Kardashian West herself said that the reason why she wanted to release those videos was the fact that her husband Kanye gets so much shit thrown at his way all the time, that when this one time she had proof that he was in the right, she decided to defend him. Understandable. And that’s the thing, Kanye West is enormously hated (as is Taylor Swift, but we’ll get to that). Part of it is definitely just the fact that the more successful and well-known you are, more people will not just like you but also dislike you. But there seems to be some special permission to hate Kanye West. Sure, he is kind of obnoxious and acts like a jackass, but so do a lot of people (especially celebrities) and they don’t get nearly as much hate as Kanye does. I think that for some there is just something inherently uncomfortable about a black man who is unashamedly proud, little egotistical and who speaks his mind. We have plenty of egotistical artists that people don’t hate in the way they hate Kanye, but the thing is, most of these people are white. Us white people are seen as complex beings, if we are arrogant we also get to be humble. As a black person one has to embody humility. The way Kanye West is hated for being self-important and proud just embodies out society’s view on people of color in a larger context. Just look at the cases of police brutality, where humility is a defense mechanism (yet it doesn’t guarantee one’s safety. Anything short from it is viewed as a threat and used as an excuse to justify the unnecessary force.
Just like the discussion surrounding Kanye West can be seen representing a larger societal context, and systematic racism, the discussion surrounding Taylor Swift then can be looked at from a feminist point of view. First of all, I would point out how interestingly Kanye West is egotistical yet women rarely are spoken about in that same tone. Women presumably don’t have egos. Oh, but we do, and Taylor Swift’s ego is just as real as Kanye’s. Furthermore, just as Kanye’s self-assurance makes people uncomfortable, so does Taylor’s success. A woman’s success is a threat to patriarchy, just as black confidence is a threat to white supremacy. Similarly, I found it kind of funny that #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty trended on Twitter. As I pointed out before, white men get to do far worse things than lie, or be arrogant. We have celebrities who have prominent careers in music, film etc. who have knowingly been violent towards women, who have made extremely racist remarks and so on. Yet no one’s celebrating their careers being over. In fact, most white men get to keep their careers despite the scandals.
Now I’m not saying that disliking Kanye or Taylor is automatically racist or sexist. You get to feel whatever you want, but the larger conversation surrounding celebrities is definitely a mirror of our society’s values. If we always react with discomfort towards self-assured black men and successful women, then we better look back at ourselves and ask the question why does this make me uncomfortable. By looking at the larger context and seeking to understand our initial reactions to issues we can not only find the reasons but maybe find answers to how to change those reactions. Maybe we get to learn how to see all people as complex beings. If we need to stay as celebrity obsessed society, maybe we need to start viewing these celebrities as fully human. And more importantly, as a society we need to accept and value the humanity and complexity of all races and genders.
Now, about the actually feud and picking sides, I’d say Taylor could learn something from Kanye’s unabashed honesty. And maybe Kanye could use his influence to affect the overall issue of sexism within hip hop, starting with himself and his lyrics referring to women as “that bitch”.