Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Supplemental Post: Kanye and Tay Tay

I was infuriated and perplexed after reading an article titled "Why Kanye West and Taylor Swift are Just As Bad As Each Other." As the title suggests, the article, written by Stephanie Smith-Strickland, argues there are commonalities between Taylor Swift and Kanye, specifically in their extreme presentations of stardom and self-celebration. Here is the general claim that this article makes: "Swift has merely cultivated a friendlier image and mastered the art of the humble-brag while Kanye apparently can’t be bothered to package his self-celebration in a way the rest of the world might find more palatable. We’re still swallowing the same pill for both, Kanye’s merely appears more bitter."

To give this discourse a little more context, we could start with Taylor's acceptance speech at the Grammy's for her Album of the Year Award just a couple of weeks ago, which is interpreted by many as an implied attack on Kanye's new song, "Famous." "As the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, I wanna say to all the young women out there: there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame..." So how is this an attack on Kanye's new song? Well, there is this one line in his song: "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? Cuz I made that bitch famous," with the second line being a reference to when Kanye interrupted Taylor's acceptance speech at the VMAs in 2009.

Reading about the controversy at the Grammy's, I had nothing but utmost respect for Taylor's daring comment, which extends beyond her own strife with Kanye to an inspirational note to young female artists. To top it off, she attacked Kanye without even mentioning his name. Kanye, on the other hand, uses Taylor's name (not to mention without getting permission) in his song in a misogynistic manner and overtly takes credit for "making her famous." I can hardly imagine a sensible person who would agree that's true to any extent. So as you can imagine, it was hard for me to follow the article's logic.

To start it off, the article discusses the two stars' similar paranoia over paparazzi: Kanye fears "an unmanned paparazzi drone would crash-land in his backyard pool and electrocute his daughter, North West"; while Taylor "freaks out" about wire-taps and suspects a janitor is paid by TMZ to bug her production. Smith-Strickland argues that although their paranoia can be understood as byproducts of fame, the measures they take to quell that fear are both extreme. Sure, she's got a point here. She's basically saying that they are both enormous stars who are constantly fearful of paparazzi, which is absolutely correct. But does it warrant the claim that they are just as "bad" as each other?

Second, the article talks about how the two similarly engage in "decimation of enemies through song" and misconstruing general commentary as personal attacks. Examples include Taylor's Dear John (which was interpreted as an attack on her ex John Mayer) and Kanye's skit from "My Dark Twisted Fantasy," which was supposedly a "dig" on Amber Rose. The point is that these two stars have both been publicly hostile to other members of the entertainment industry and made similar mistakes when they misconstrued people's comments. To be fair, Smith Strickland's claim comes from the concern that Taylor seemingly gets away with it more than Kanye does because of the packaging of her comments and social media presence, which is nothing but the truth. But again, I had to ask, does it mean Taylor is just as "bad" as Kanye? Why does Taylor not get credit for managing her public image? It is only natural to curtail one's hostility or downplay one's mistakes in public when it goes overboard.

The article goes on to talk about the two stars' self-celebration in social media, their narcissism, and "shrewd legal teams and a huge appetite for profit." I won't go into detail about the validity of the examples, because they all share the theme that although Taylor has a lot of the same negative qualities as Kanye, she is the more embraced and respected one in popular culture.

It is an interesting argument and it makes some insightful points, but at the end of the day, this claim completely takes away the merit of star image control/construction that Taylor and her PR team excel in. I am not saying that Kanye should be more careful with his star image, because it is obvious that he chooses his route, and he is free to do whatever he wants to. I am merely saying that it is a star's responsibility to manage, control and construct his/her star image if he/she cares about it, and he/she should be at least acknowledged in doing a good job.

This article also carefully avoids discussing Kanye's overtly misogynistic overtones in his new song, "Famous," which is a quality that Taylor clearly does not possess. And if you think about it, Taylor would never go up on stage and interrupt Kanye's acceptance speech either, even if she felt that there was any injustice in the award. So, are there commonalities between the two stars? Of course there are; but is Taylor as "bad" as Kanye? Heck, no. One can defend Kanye's artistry, ambition, creativity and passion for art as much as he/she wants, but one can never defend his explicit misogyny.

Here is the article: http://www.highsnobiety.com/2016/02/22/kanye-west-taylor-swift-beef/?utm_campaign=SF+Highsnobiety+Post&utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social

P.S. To be honest, I was disappointed when Taylor won Album of the Year, because Kendrick Lamar had an undoubtedly superior album, "To Pimp a Butterfly," than her "1989." But it's the Grammy's, so we kind of had to expect that. It's not Taylor's fault for winning the award, and now I'm glad that she won, because she called out Kanye perfectly.

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