Best friends for life? Kanye West and Taylor Swift at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards last year. [Photo credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS]
“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that b***h famous”.
This gem is a line rapped by Kanye West in his new song ‘Famous’, taken from his brand new (and unexpectedly dropped) album The Life of Pablo. Since it reached our previously unperturbed ears, it has received widespread criticism from the likes of Ruby Rose, Gigi Hadid and more poignantly, in a video posted by Swift’s brother Austin.
Whether you like her or not, Swift is a superstar, and that is something no one can contest. She has amassed a horde of fans all over the world since transforming from a shy and meek country star to an animated force of pop stardom. Collectively, she has won 11 American Music Awards, 7 Grammy Awards, and 6 Country Music Association Awards, and was the first ever country singer to win Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009.
This year, she has been nominated for seven Grammy Awards, including Album of The Year as well as Best Pop Vocal Album for 1989. One of her singles ‘Blank Space’ is nominated for both Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year.
…and really, at this point, the list could go on.
So with that in mind, West’s lyrics seem unfounded, clumsy and exceptionally misogynistic. What they reflect is an otherwise talented musician and artist who has scraped the bottom of the barrel in order to find put-downs that will make him feel somewhat successful and well-received.
But I don’t think anybody’s received him well. I also don’t think that his lyrics are funny. If anything, it seems that West is helplessly clinging onto the one incident that defines his relationship with Swift – one in which he harangued and shamed her for winning the Best Female Video at the MTV VMAs, claiming that it should in fact have gone to Beyonce.
In these lyrics, talking about her as simply someone he could potentially have sex with diminishes any of her success and reduces her to the role that culture has assigned to women for centuries: a female who can sexually gratify. It suggests that West has some form of power over her – that he’s almost entitled to think that sex between the two and publicly rapping about it is okay, whether Swift agrees or not. Some may brush this off as musical creativity, but I’d say it’s an odd lyric for a married man and father of two to rap about. And it’s exactly this kind of sexual intention which, once unleashed into the public domain, reinforces how men in the music industry seem almost thrown off and emasculated by their female counterparts.
Not only this, but West strips Swift of her accolades and the triumph that she has at times had over him in the music industry. Through saying that the incident between West and Swift at the VMAs may have propelled Swift’s fame, he is taking ownership of a success and triumph that simply does not belong to him. Let’s not forget that Swift has achieved a lot before her encounter with West. And by referring to her as a ‘bitch’ is degrading enough, but also reeks of a desire to kick Swift to the curb and almost ‘show her what her place really is.’ We can all guess what West really wants to say here.
West has certainly not made Swift famous, and his inability to make the lyrics clear to Swift before the single was released suggests he knew it would be met with disdain. It’s this undercover nature that frames him as both a talented yet incompetent artist, unable to appreciate the music, stardom and success of another, and drowning in easy, misplaced put-downs designed to cause a quick stir and get his audiences laughing.
The joke is on you, Kanye.