In a Snapchat story heard ‘round the world on Sunday night, Kim Kardashian posted a series of short videos that appear to show Taylor Swift cheerfully approving a controversial lyric in Kanye West’s recent song “Famous”: For all my Southside niggas that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. The Snapchats capture West talking on the phone to Swift about his plans for the song. “It’s like a compliment, kind of,” she says when he reads her the lyric. “I really appreciate you telling me about it, that’s really nice.”
By now, the internet has bloomed with a thousand Talmudic readings of the contretemps. The amount of primary source material is irresistible! There’s “Famous” itself; Swift’s injured reaction to the track, particularly another lyric, “I made that bitch famous”; Kardashian’s June GQ cover story in which she mentioned having the footage calling that reaction into question; the footage itself; other celebrities who have hopped in to take sides; and Swift’s Instagram essay posted late Sunday night, which sleuths have speculated was composed in advance.
At the very last, Kardashian’s Snapchat volley seems to undercut Swift’s public performance of woundedness. Indeed, the overwhelming consensus online was that the current Forbes cover model dealt a death blow to Swift’s innocent act by revealing her “receipts.” The hashtag #KimExposedTaylorParty collected cascades of gleeful reactions to the supposed slaying:
But wait. Isn’t someone missing from this whole discussion? Over the last few months, Kanye West has quietly become a bit player in the drama he produced and directed. It was West who stormed onstage to interrupt Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. It was West who commissioned a wax statue of a naked Swift for a music video. It was West who called the singer a “bitch” in a hit single—and who, despite Kardashian’s Snapchat showoff, still has not proved Swift was OK with it.
The old Kanye vs. Taylor dynamic was in many ways an advantageous one for the latter. At the VMAs, West was 32 to Swift’s 19, grown man to her teen girl. She was a rising country-pop singer, and he was an established megastar. In terms of the “Famous” episode of the feud, it’s also worth noting that she is white and he is black—putting her in the loaded historical role of a white woman perhaps falsely accusing a black man of “having sex” with her without consent.
Of course, as the beef aged through the years after the initial VMA incident, Swift became West’s equal in fame; but the essential optics were always in her favor. This was a story about a powerful man picking a fight with a woman, insulting and belittling her in interviews and in his work, then repeatedly apologizing and dragging her back into the story. Until recently, Swift’s public pose had been one of a woman who had magnanimously moved on. As recently as last fall, she told GQ that she and West respected each other and called his VMA interruption “the most happenstance thing to ever happen in my career.”
But in the latest scuffle, West has evanesced into the background and let his wife take a turn in the ring. Kardashian’s canny GQ interview and her Snapchat bombshell scrambled the narrative, mostly in West’s favor. This is no longer a fight between a woman and a man about whether it’s acceptable for him to call her a bitch. Now it’s a fight between two women about which one of them is a liar. That makes it easier for observers to simply pick which woman they find more believable—or, more to the point, which one they like more. It was a strategic masterstroke by Kimye: The couple rejiggered the gender balance of the equation and invited the public to a good old-fashioned catfight. Coming at a moment where Swift is widely perceived as a disingenuous control freak, it’s no surprise who’s winning.