Yesterday, MTV announced their 2016 Video Music Award nominations: two for Kanye West, two for Calvin Harris, 11 for Beyoncé, and none for Taylor Swift. Sad! Throw on your largest “Formation”-inspired sun hat, pull over a full coverage beach umbrella, and let’s get into this shade.
Many people have categorized the 2016 presidential election as a referendum on the very soul of America. But I would argue that nothing has illustrated the eternal, nationwide battle between good and evil quite like Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s seven-year beef. Starting at the 2009 VMAs, this celebrity feud has pitted brothers against sisters, Khloes against Chloës, millennials who know what Snapchat is against parents who don’t. As we approach the seven-year anniversary of Taylor Swift taking home an award that was rightfully Bey’s, the stakes have never been higher, as every man, woman, and child, must decide for themselves—are you a Becky, or a Beyoncé?
To understand the aforementioned very rare beef, we’ve got to take it all the way back to 2009. Swift had just taken the stage to accept her Best Female Video VMA for “You Belong With Me,” an inspirational ballad about a girl who gets laid even though she wears Converse. Taytay was competing against Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” a cultural treasure that brought hand dancing to the masses. Of course, it’s not Swift’s fault that she won. But the infamously outspoken Kanye West interpreted this triumph of white mediocrity over black excellence as an unconscionable injustice. In a now iconic interruption, West crashed Swift’s acceptance speech, interjecting, “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you and Imma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!” America was all like, “Oh, so that’s Taylor Swift’s surprised face.”
West quickly learned the public price for upsetting a white girl on television. Swift, who accepted Kanye’s post-facto apology, was seen as a benevolent victim. Meanwhile, even Barack Obama called the rapper a “jackass.” It was the kind of faux pas that celebrities never recover from, which makes this year’s cultural corrective all the more meaningful. It’s not just that Kanye’s career has bounced back, with two major nominations for his Swift-dissing track, “Famous.” It’s also the fact that the VMAs has, a full seven years later, all but endorsed his incendiary interjection. Determined not to make the same mistake twice, MTV has feted Beyoncé with a career-best 11 nominations for Lemonade. Meanwhile, Swift has taken on Kanye’s post-2009 leper status. Despite having released three music videos in the past year, the VMAs gave her a colder reception than Katy Perry would have had on the set of “Bad Blood.”
Swift’s latest humiliation is poignantly linked to Beyoncé’s unchallenged pop world supremacy. As Bey is set to rake in awards for Lemonade, Swift can attribute her plummeting popularity to a real-life Lemonade of her own making. Ever since Kim Kardashian outed America’s Becky on Snapchat, we’ve all been obsessed with the story of how Taylor approved Kanye West’s “Famous,” before twisting the narrative to make herself look like a blindsided victim. If Taylor Swift’s history at the VMAs has contained one consistent trope, it’s this performance of victimization. The 2009 chapter was Taylor-as-victim at its best; last year’s installment was the tired cliché at its very worst.
In 2015, Swift was at the height of her popularity, celebrating "Bad Blood’s" nomination for Video of the Year. Meanwhile Nicki Minaj, who elevated phallic imagery and grinding on Drake to an art form in “Anaconda,” was rightfully pissed that her music video didn’t make the cut. Minaj tweeted out, “If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year. I’m not always confident. Just tired. Black women influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it.” Taylor Swift was so desperate to be publicly wronged that she impulsively spoke over a black woman’s vital commentary on pop culture appropriation. For all of Michelle Obama’s insistence on Twitter’s inability to capture complexity, Swift somehow managed to fit patronization, ignorance, white privilege and a whole lot of hypocrisy into just 140 characters: “@NICKIMINAJ I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.” In a rare instance of the internet getting it right, Swift was promptly dragged for her white feminist nonsense, and forced to acknowledge that she had totally missed the point. Then Miley Cyrus got involved and everything was whack again, but that’s a whole different story.
Just one year later, Taylor Swift is paying for her cultural crimes. Less than a month ago, Taytay was cavorting with her squad on July 4th, celebrating life, liberty, and the pursuit of Hiddleswift tabloid covers. Post Snapchat-gate, it’s as if Swift’s entire life has been fed through a dark filter of betrayal. Her ex Calvin Harris is nominated for a song that they co-wrote when they were together (RIP Nils Sjoberg), and has found a new woman to pose for paparazzi pictures with outside of Nobu. Adding insult to injury, Harris was Instagrammed posing with Swift’s nemesis, Kim Kardashian, at a party that Taylor Swift wasn’t invited to. It’s the kind of shade we’ve come to expect from Calvin Harris, who is living his truth as Taylor Swift’s Yeezy-shod, revenge bod boasting, relentlessly petty ex-boyfriend. Say what you will about Harris’ musical talent (negligible), Twitter presence (douchey), and accent (not as hot as Hiddleston’s)—the boy knows how to hit Taytay where it hurts.
According to one report, Harris might go so far as to join Kanye on stage at the VMAs to put his ex on blast. The source says that Kanye is “very interested” in teaming up with Harris for a live performance of “Famous”: “As we all know, [Kanye] is bound to say anything when the mic is in his hand and he is ready to make many statements about many things including any stuff about Taylor.” Given all of Kanye’s talk of fucking Taylor, this is probably the closest he’ll ever get to bringing his “Famous” fantasy to fruition. Putting aside the brutal prospect of a Kanye-Harris collaboration, which is a tad too cruel for comfort, Swift’s snubbing is a brand of pop culture justice that we can get behind. In the Year of Celebrity Receipts, Lemonade’s triumph on the heels of Swift’s social media takedown is both serendipitous and downright poetic. Seven years later, Kanye West might still be a jackass, but he also happens to be right—and we have the Snapchat footage and groundbreaking visual album to prove it. And somewhere out there, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, and Kimye are toasting Taylor’s comeuppance over four cold glasses of lemonade.