By Sophie Fennelly
A twenty-five-minute video has been making the rounds on Twitter which shows the full footage of Kanye West and Taylor Swift’s 2016 phone conversation regarding his song ‘Famous’. This video notoriously divided people when the song was released, and Taylor claimed she did not approve the lyrics about her, and Kim released footage of their phone conversation saying she approved. However, this video has shown that the video that Kim released has been edited. If it was not questionable enough that this video, which was illegally recorded, it was then doctored. The narrative that it created led to the #TaylorSwiftIsCancelledParty, which prompted the year Swift spent hidden from the public eye leading to her being branded as a snake. A symbol which Swift decided to claim as her own in her 2017 comeback in the Look What You Made Me Do video.
Since Swift was shown to be telling the truth, she has been celebrated, not only by Twitter users but even by magazines such as Teen Vogue. However, as Swift was cancelled for ‘lying’, surely in the light of this footage, we would expect Kanye to be cancelled. But this has not been the case. In fact, Kanye doesn’t seem to have received any backlash at all as a resulting from this. It seems like this could be a product of the image that Kanye has curated throughout his career as an unpredictable and outrageous character. As cancel culture goes, the most unexpected acts have the most traction. In this way, it seems that there is another level to which cancel culture favours those who are perhaps the most controversial, such as Donald Trump or Piers Morgan: by making this ‘bad behaviour’ appear ‘typical’ of their character, these people almost become uncancellable. By contrast, those who try their best to make the ‘right’ decisions suffer more when they slip up as their actions are seen as more shocking.
However, there also seems to be a gender factor at play here. On Monday Kim Kardashian took to Twitter to address the video but ended up digging herself into an even deeper hole, claiming that she ‘never edited the footage’ and stated that Swift ‘manipulated the truth of their actual conversation in her statement’. This led to #KimKardashianIsOverParty trending on Twitter. While I doubt that this will have the same effect on Kim that it did on Taylor, simply because the Kardashians are much more well acquainted with criticism. It is interesting that Twitter has so quickly cancelled Kim, despite her also being a controversial character. Therefore, cancel culture seems to apply a lot more deeply to women than it does men. But why is this? Is it that we hold women to a higher standard than men, or is it merely that we are looking for women to make mistakes? Many would argue that #MeToo shows that we are just as keen to cancel men as we are women. But, there seems to be a trend: male celebrities do not appear to be immune to cancel culture, but they do seem to have to have committed a worse ‘crime’ for them to fit this bill and receive the same punishment as women. Sure, we are happy to cancel men because they have committed sexual assault, but we do this with the same level of enthusiasm as women are cancelled for lying.
The video has also brought to light the more problematic lyrics that were drafted in the process of writing the song. Kanye tells Taylor that the lyric he has written is ‘Taylor Swift might owe me sex’, and while he is tentative about using it, it is not because he has any qualms about the idea of ‘owing sex’ and the way that this plays into rape culture, it is because he thinks the feminists will come for him and this might make his song less successful. It is clear throughout that Kanye was only ever interested in the success he could have. In fact, the whole purpose of the phone call was not to ask for Taylor’s approval but to ask her to tweet about his song when it is released because she has an ‘army’ of followers. This whole idea leads us to question why Kanye needs this help? Surely if he ‘made that bitch famous’ her audience should not be any different or bigger than his? This lyric is a reference to the 2009 VMA awards when Kanye got up on stage, taking the microphone from Taylor who had just won Best Female Video for ‘You Belong With Me’, an event which has become infamous. Taylor says herself in the video that while from his point of view he is responsible for her fame, but her album Fearless had already sold 7 million copies and has just won a VMA, prior to his intervention.
The main controversy in 2016 was specifically centred around the use of the term ‘bitch’ which Taylor argued she never agreed to. This was evident even in the doctored footage shared by Kim where we witness Kanye say ‘I made her famous’, yet Kanye tweeted at the time that this was her idea. The full video shows Kanye’s ability to manipulate the truth in a new light: we hear Taylor say ‘I’m glad it’s not mean though it doesn’t feel mean um but like the build-up you gave it I thought it was gonna be like that stupid dumb bitch’. Perhaps this was the first time Kanye thought of referring to her in this way, so you could say that she inspired him for the lyric, but it was definitely stretching the truth to say it was her idea.
While the source of the leak has not been confirmed, many suspect that it has originated from Kris Jenner, supposedly as an attempt to reclaim headlines amid the COVID-19 pandemic. If so, this suggests that for the Kardashians the focus is not good press, but merely any press, highlighting that their empire is fuelled by toxicity and drama. But regardless of whether Kris Jenner is the source of the leak or not, the timing of this is extremely interesting. This event occurred in the summer of 2016 when Swift was still riding the wave of 1989’s success, but even she shows awareness in the video that her downfall is imminent. If the source has possessed the full footage all along then leaking it in 2010 would have saved Taylor a lot of bullying and death threats, but it is unlikely that it would have had the same impact as the public was looking for reasons to shame her. Its release appears very calculated, as four years later Swift is starting to regain popularity after the success of her Netflix documentary ‘Miss Americana, therefore suggesting that whoever leaked the video intended on it having a lot of traction. While we do not know for sure that it was Kris Jenner, she is the mastermind behind the Kardashian-Jenner empire.