Taylor Swift was never really cancelled, but she likes to pretend she was
No one wants nice songs anymore. They want a persona they can emulate, a life they can fantasize about living within, and most of all, they want a redemption story. The story of Taylor Swift, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian’s social media altercation played out in real-time. Fans and haters alike (is there much difference between the two?) were able to have a very, virtual impact on the perception and fall out between the three celebs. Swift suffered the most hate, but her emergence from “cancel culture” gives fans exactly what they want.
Taylor Swift had a rough time back in 2016. She went through that very 21st-century experience that so many of us have gone through, that of being cancelled. In Swift’s case, it was the result of pop culture faction warfare. She went up against the phenomenon then known as Kimye—Kanye West and Kim Kardashian—and lost. Their fans against her fans, he said she said, a war over who knew what when about what Kanye was going to sing in his song “Famous.” In the track, he references Swift, muses on the likelihood of them ever having sex, and also calls her a bitch.
The issue wasn’t whether or not West should have so poetically pontificated on the possibility of potential procreation with Swift, because Swift knew about that, and had given her consent to the lyric, in friendship. What she wasn’t cool with was the B-word, and she made that plain on social media. Kimye balked, said she knew about it, and in general this whole beef is old news. Except that in the fallout, Swift took some serious fire from fans. She opened up about what it meant to her to get so much social media hate in a recent issue with Vogue:
“When you’re going through loss or embarrassment or shame, it’s a grieving process with so many micro emotions in a day. One of the reasons why I didn’t do interviews for Reputation was that I couldn’t figure out how I felt hour to hour. Sometimes I felt like: All these things taught me something that I never could have learned in a way that didn’t hurt as much. Five minutes later, I’d feel like: That was horrible. Why did that have to happen? What am I supposed to take from this other than mass amounts of humiliation? And then five minutes later I’d think: I think I might be happier than I’ve ever been.”
These are brave, wise words from an artist who went up against a coupled pop icon and lost. As anyone who has been cancelled can tell you, the emotions can get a little crazy. Sometimes you wonder if there’s a way to reverse the whole thing, other times you know there isn’t and you feel villainized, other times justified, and still at other points you want to crawl under a rock and live out your days eating blind beetles. Swift, at least, has a loft in Tribeca from which to contemplate her fate.
She lost face, but in real terms, she didn’t lose that much. Her career is intact, her fans still love her, and she’s making a bigger splash than before in terms of speaking her mind on political and social issues. Whereas she wouldn’t come out in support of Hillary Clinton, she is now loudly advocating for LGBTQ rights with both voice and dollar. She is open about her open-mindedness and is determined not to shy away from verbalizing her views.
What happened between Kim K, Kanye, and Taylor Swift is almost mind-numbingly stupid. The lyric in question was uninspired, and the insult banal and kind of impersonal given how much the B-word is tossed around in popular music. Despite all this, the disagreement over whether or not Swift was made hip to the lyric was enough to cause some controversy and ire. The result of this attack on Swift was that after a period of confusion and uncertainty, she’s back with a new record, and more willing than ever to speak up for what she believes in.
There’s only one little snag, and that’s that Taylor Swift was never really cancelled. Keeping your agent and your record deal and your fan base isn’t what cancellation looks like. No doubt she was mobbed, she was harassed, she got heaps of hate. But she wasn’t cancelled. What happens when you are cancelled is that you lose everything, whether through a fault of your own, a false allegation, or your own unwillingness to shut up about your controversial opinions.
Swift’s fans kept with her, even as her haters slid under her fingernails like so many toothpicks pointed for torture. But in a real way, this whole thing provided some drama for a nail-biting audience. Fans want more than cheap tunes and scintillating thrills, more than auto-tune and illicit B words. They want a story that plays out between celebs. They want to see the beef so they know that even the big shots got more problems, that’s what comes with more money, after all.
This cancellation is part of Swift’s redemption narrative, and it doesn’t matter if it was real or concocted, or who was right. The story of her innocence now has a classic fall-from-grace element, and she has been able to transform from little girl pop star into serious, adult artist, and she didn’t even have to twerk at the VMA’s like Miley Cyrus, either. This narrative worked for her, and being pitted against the force that is Kim K and Kanye was effective in her emergence from the chrysalis of girlhood.
Despite songs about her relationships and her experiences, Swift was perceived as somewhat of a good girl. Once Kanye called her a bitch, and talked about their potential affair, that persona was done away with. Swift’s was not a cancellation, but a tweaking of her narrative, a reimagining of her brand, and an opportunity for a second chance without really having to admit to having been at fault for anything. Swift gives the appearance of having walked through hell, when really she was just on an afternoon bus tour.