September 13th, 2009. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was a mere 13 years old, sitting on the floor in my TV room, watching the MTV Video Music Awards. When the winner of the VMA for Best Female Video was announced, I was surprised that Queen Beyoncé Knowles had not won for her iconic black and white “Single Ladies” video, but happy for relative newcomer Taylor Swift, as she won for the almost equally iconic “You Belong With Me.” However, TSwift’s thunder was infamously stolen by Kanye West jumping on stage, grabbing her mic, and saying the award should have gone to Beyoncé. This incident would turn into one of the biggest celebrity and social media scandals of our time. Between fans’ rampant tweeting, resulting trending topics, public figures giving their opinions, TSwift and Yeezy themselves making statements, and the eventual takedown of Taylor by Mrs. West herself in 2016, the infamous mic grab would have enormous implications for social media for years to come.
Why You Gotta Be So Mean?
The morning after the incident, when Twitter had 18 million users, “Taylor Swift” “VMAs” “Kanye” and “Beyoncé” were the top 4 trending topics on the site. Other celebrities like Pink, Perez Hilton, and Joel Madden used the platform to weigh in. Katy Perry, of all people, tweeted, “F— U KANYE. IT’S LIKE U STEPPED ON A KITTEN.” (This is interesting for reasons I’ll get to later.) Naturally, like with all major pop culture moments, memes sprung up all over social media – some favoring Taylor, others Kanye. The saga would continue over the next several years, with social media playing a role every step of the way. In September 2010, one year after the incident, Kanye tweeted an apology to Taylor, and even thanked Twitter’s creators for giving him the platform to do so. However, just days later at that year’s VMAs, Taylor Swift began a performance of the song “Innocent” by replaying a video of Kanye’s famous interruption. The song and performance were widely regarded as a veiled insult masquerading as forgiveness. In several following interviews, Kanye rescinded his apology. Clearly, the saga wasn’t over.
I Was Enchanted To Tweet You
All was relatively quiet on the Taylor vs. Kanye warfront until February 2015, when photos of the two looking friendly at the Grammy Awards surfaced. Rumors of their peacemaking were confirmed in August 2015, when Taylor actually presented Kanye with his Video Vanguard Award at, yes, the VMAs. This time, Instagram was the social network of choice to demonstrate a (short) reconciliation between the two – Taylor posted a shot of flowers that Kanye had sent her, featuring a hashtag #BFFs, that received almost 3 million likes. It seemed that the greatest celebrity feud of our generation had finally been resolved.
All of the Fights
Flash forward to February 2016. Kanye debuts a new song, “Famous,” that features lyrics in which he refers to Taylor as a bitch, implies sexual relations between the two, and claims that he made her famous. Taylor immediately released a statement rejecting the lyrics and claiming that Kanye never asked for her approval before writing them. Although she remained silent on social media, she used her Album of the Year award acceptance speech at the Grammys to speak out against people who had tried to “undercut” her success. The Queen of Social Media herself, and Kanye’s wife, Kim Kardashian-West, didn’t take this lightly. In a GQ Magazine interview, she accused Swift of lying and portraying herself as the victim. Kim claimed that not only did Kanye call Taylor and get her approval before writing the lyrics, there was a taped recording of the phone call.
How Could You Be So Heartless?
In both a brilliant and calculating PR move, following an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians in which she decries Swift’s treatment of her husband, Kim Kardashian-West took to yet another platform for the most important social media moment of the entire saga. On her Snapchat story, Kim posted the recording of Kanye on the phone with Swift, in which Swift approves of the lyric and thanks Kanye for calling her. By this time, Twitter’s user base had grown to a whopping 313 million users, and their reactions blazed across the site. Immediately, #KimExposedTaylorParty and #RIPTaylor Swift were international trending topics, each being mentioned hundreds of thousands of times. Memes about Swift’s career being ended at the hands of Kim K spread across the internet. Other celebrities, from both sides of the conflict, responded: for example, Taylor’s best friend Selena Gomez tweeted, “why can’t people use their voice for something that matters?” More notably, stars with a history of feuding with Swift, like Camila Belle and Katy Perry, who had previously been a friend to her, tweeted input of their own; Katy’s being simply a GIF of Hillary Clinton raising her eyebrows and shrugging. Just when it seemed like social media might explode, Ms. Swift weighed in herself, posting a defense on Instagram and Twitter. Overall, posts about the video’s release garnered several million impressions.
No One Snap Should Have All That Power (But It Does)
What does this all mean for the future of celebrity feuding and social media? If it’s not obvious, it can be summed up in one sentence: be careful. In the digital age, celebrities, especially ones with hundreds of millions of fans like Taylor, Kanye and Kim, need to meticulously craft their image, both on and off social media, to remain in good favor with fans and critics. If they don’t, in the case of Taylor Swift, their brand could be damaged by the whole world throwing a “party” on social media to celebrate the end of their career. If nothing else, the Taylor Swift vs. Kimye saga illustrates how pivotal pop culture moments of the 21st century will almost certainly play out across the massively influential world of social media, and should be planned for accordingly.
Social Media Reacts to Kim Kardashian West, Taylor Swift Drama