Last week during Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo public listening party, the world gasped in unison during the preview of the song “Famous,” when it came to a lyric about Taylor Swift (to put it lightly) being in his debt for making her successful. Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard it enough and it’s embedded in your memory for the rest of your life, but if for some strange reason you haven’t, it’s vulgar, misogynistic, and completely uncalled for. Not only is the claim painfully sexist, but it’s also untrue. If what Kanye is referring to in his lyrics is the 2009 “Imma let you finish” incident at the VMA, Swift was already well on her way to becoming one of the world’s most powerful celebrities and her fame has nothing to do with him.
It didn’t take long for the word to spread, and by the time The Grammy Awards aired a few days later, everyone had something to say about the subject, including Swift herself, who took the opportunity to set the record straight during her acceptance speech for her second all time Album of The Year award.
First and foremost, something has to be said about misogyny. It’s never okay for a man to say a woman owes him sex for anything, much less while insisting that he is responsible for her good fortune. With that said, why do people care so much? Everyone can’t stop talking about this beef. Millions of tweets, Facebook posts, news segments, and gossip articles. Your grandmother, your niece, random people on the street, your cat probably, there is no denying that has been the topic of the week and just about everyone you know (and don’t know) has a hot take on it.
Is it the misogyny? Secular music is notorious for lyrically degrading women. Last year alone has seen it’s share of controversies regarding sexism and double standards. It’s clearly not the first time a celebrity said something sexist to or about another celebrity and certainly won’t be the last. If that’s the case, since when did Swift become the face of feminism? What exactly has she done for the movement, other than being successful? The only time she even brings up hints of feminism, is when it strengthens her brand. Even in her Grammy clap-back, she included the very generic”I wanna say to all the young women out there..” line before talking indirectly about herself.
Another aspect of that argument is the fact, the lyric is about Swift and not women in general. Sure, that doesn’t make it right or any less disgusting, and I’m quite sure there’s many other Kanye songs that do speak ill of women in general, but the media has ignored Kanye’s misogynistic lyrics until this particular song. Why is it the media is now automatically offended because Swift is offended?
Then there’s the Kanye element. This isn’t the first time he has said something rude and obnoxious. By the time it takes you to read this article, he has probably offended about 20 people on his city block. The people who are so offended by his misogyny, have no business listening to a Kanye record to begin with. It’s like a pastor of a church attending a Ghost concert and being offended because he saw an inverted cross. Again, that doesn’t justify bad behavior but what do these people really expect?
Kanye is a fantastic producer, song writer, and performer who has pushed the boundaries of what can be done with mainstream hip-hop, but after being in the spotlight for over a decade, he needs the push of shock value to maintain his stardom. General reviews for The Life Of Pablo have been pretty mild, with most people (not all) feeling like it’s not his best work. He knew insulting a media darling, whom he has a media history with, would bring listeners. Not unlike his recent tweets about Bill Cosby being innocent in his rape charges, he knows controversial takes are what get people talking.
What’s interesting about this fiasco is how fans react to each other as the story develops. Some refuse to give Kanye the satisfaction of even listening to The Life Of Pablo, while others shrug it off as simple media marketing and listen to the album they’ve been waiting for. The fans of both parties have been so passionate about it, some feel a sense of shame they even listened to the album. What kind of fandom driven world do we live in, when people have to throw disclaimers up before admitting they enjoy a certain album. I get sad to hear someone say something like “I know he is a scumbag and I’m sick of hearing about him, but I kinda sorta like the new Kanye album….but I swear I’m not sexist!”.
At the same time there are some Kanye fans who applaud his misogynistic behavior as heroic. As if they are living vicariously without repercussion by looking up to his megalomaniac behavior. In some ways, it says a lot about what some deem acceptable in society by praising these individuals.
Sexism and misogyny in music, media, workplace, school, church, and anywhere else, is not okay. It’s never okay. There is nothing that can be said that justifies these things coming from any person. Even though celebrities can use their fame as a nice platform to further a positive cause, it should never be the end all be all element of any movement. There are plenty of pop stars and celebrities who are doing wonderful things for all sorts of positive movements, but there’s also non-celebrities doing those wonderful things too, and even more we aren’t even aware of it! Celebrate those people and focus less on which celebrity is offended this week.
On a personal note, I despise Swift. Her music is generic and vanilla, and her public persona makes me want to vomit, however, that doesn’t mean that I agree with Kanye’s remarks. This feud has been all but one-sided with little to no retaliation on Swift’s part. I think Kanye sees what kind of millage he can get out of controversies and for the most part, Swift has been an easy target. She’s an artist who’s reliance on controversy is limited to who she is dating and and eventually breaking up with.
In some way, Kanye and Swift are the yin and yang of the music industry. Kanye brands himself as an outspoken, unapologetic genius, and Swift brands herself as a do-no-wrong voice for the underdog. Both have made a substantial amount of money exploiting those characteristics. I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but it sure seems coincidental when thinking of the benefits both parties have experienced during these well publicized feuds. Swift solidifies her core fan-base by looking as if she successfully stands up to adversity, while Kanye earns mass media coverage the same weekend his less-than-perfect album sees a release. Could this whole thing be a ruse to build even more hype? At the end of the day, who really loses in this situation?
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.