In theory, the feud between rapper Azealia Banks and tech titan Elon Musk should be fantastic summer drama. Earlier this month, Banks spun a tale of a weekend spent stranded at Musk’s house, where instead of collaborating with his girlfriend (at the time, and maybe still—it’s unclear), the musician Grimes, as Banks had planned, she was trapped in what she called a real-world version of Get Out, complete with tales of Musk regretting tweeting while on acid (she alleged) and making freaked-out phone calls to financers (she also alleged). After a few days’ respite, Banks is back to spilling details of her travails with Grusk: This week she revealed some texts between herself and Grimes where the two contemplate getting pregnant at the same time, and Banks declares herself “a very fierce protector of children [who] can see them in the invisible world.” She has also now accused Musk of stealing her phone. There’s more; it’s a very involved saga.
But a few things are keeping us, as a society, from enjoying this as much as we could. (None of them, to be clear, is the sense that this is none of our business. These are very interesting people!) One factor, certainly, is the news. It is very unfortunate that the world is exploding with criminal convictions of Trump cronies at the same time such a weird confluence of famous people have become entangled. Sadly that can’t really be helped. Another thing that’s holding us back from taking the fullest possible pleasure in this narrative, however, is the medium where it’s unfolding: Instagram Stories.
A knock-off of Snapchat’s exploding posts, Instagram Stories are posts within Instagram that disappear after 24 hours. This expiration date makes them a natural fit for airing drama because, well, the evidence disappears. Recall that when Kim Kardashian released her famous “receipts” about Taylor Swift, they took the form of videos posted to Snapchat. Stories have become an outlet where even celebrities, whose social media accounts are watched by millions, feel like they can reveal information without fully committing to the consequences of permanence.
Stories aren’t as accessible to the average casual gossip consumer as an Us Weekly or Page Six article—by the time such a person seeks them out, they may be expired or deleted. Also, this is assuming everyone is well-versed in using Instagram Stories at a high level to begin with, but really, it’s a format with a high bar for entry. Even some people who write about the internet for a living (hello!) would rather read a summary of Banks’ Stories—or, like, a good old-fashioned Instagram caption or tweet—than try to decipher them on our own. (Seventeen tiny videos in a row? Uh, no thanks!) It would all be infinitely easier to follow if Banks could just make one well-edited video, or if an article from a news source laid out all the drama for us in chronological order. (Is that what this is supposed to be?) This, of course, is a moot point, a bit of 21st-century wishful thinking, and we will continue to take the crumbs of information from celebs however they deign to drop them.
There’s also no real hope of moving Azealia Banks to another format. She is no mere dabbler in Instagram Stories: She posts them like it’s her job. That may in fact be more true for her than it is for noncelebrities, but there is no way she’s getting paid enough for the ferocity with which she attacks the feature. Her flurry of narratively incoherent videos stands in sharp contrast to the discipline on display with her normal Instagram photo grid. They’ve also been the main primary source throughout this contretemps, though she has also traded DMs with publications like Business Insider further detailing what happened with Musk and Grimes.
For his part, Musk has sent a few statements through publicists and spoken to the press, also via DM, but he recently deleted his Instagram and hasn’t addressed Banks’ claims on his other social media accounts (even his Twitter, where he’s so fast and loose he recently ignited an SEC investigation). After making some noise on social media earlier this summer, Grimes has been conspicuously silent. This leaves Banks as both the driver of the narrative but also, by virtue of her medium of choice, her own discreditor.
The strange thing about Stories is that even though they provide firsthand video of the events at hand, they still seem somehow less trustworthy than almost any means of communicating, including speaking through a representative. That may be because Stories themselves are considered unserious, a place for petty drama and self-indulgence—again, their rise to prominence has been practically inextricable from the Kardashian family. Even the amount of Stories Banks is posting works against her: There’s a commonly held perception that people who post too many Stories are breaking an unwritten rule of Instagram and overdoing it. The habit transforms the horizontal line at the top of the story into a grotesque anxiety-inducing series of dashes, or worse, dots. As far as we can tell, that bar has no name, but when it indicates too many entries within a story, viewers’ hackles are raised; that many Stories is the mark of an overzealous poster, aka someone not to be trusted.
Needless to say, Azealia Banks’ Instagram Stories line is very frequently a dotted one. Musk, by posting no Stories, somehow ends up looking like the mature one—and this is the same man who baselessly accused a critic of being a “pedo” earlier this month on Twitter.
Why does it seem so undignified, so beneath them when gossip about stars plays out on their own social media? It’s hard to say, exactly. The medium has frankly started to rewrite the rules of celebrity gossip. Maybe, somehow, having more intimate access to famous people makes the information seem more curated or tailored, instead of more realistic. Or maybe it’s the acknowledgment that they are in fact seeking out attention, and the raw thirst on display makes us uneasy—their efforts to control the narrative and paint themselves as victims can be seen more clearly than ever. But there’s also the strange frisson of watching a rich and famous person engaging with an app on his or her phone, just like the rest of us. Maybe in a few years, we’ll be used to celebrity drama playing out this way, but for now it makes for an odd defanging of what should be an endlessly fascinating story.