July of 2016 has not been Taylor Swift's month. Even if you count the worlds-colliding phenomenon that is Hiddleswift as a win, these past few weeks have been the closest Swift's ever come to losing control of her meticulously calculated image.
First there was Calvin Harris, Swift's maybe-jilted ex-boyfriend who went on a passive aggressive Twitter rant following the revelation that she co-wrote his new hit "This Is What You Came For," accusing her of trying to make him look bad and "bury him, like you tried to bury Katy ETC." That accusation would be echoed just a week later, when Kim Kardashian released a recording of Taylor and her long-time frenemy Kanye West discussing his controversial song "Famous," and pop culture as we all know it imploded.
These dramas amplified each other (almost as though by design…) because they were so similar, drawing attention to a disconnect between Swift's relatable public persona and her shrewd private manipulations. But wait… "Katy ETC?" Who on earth could Calvin mean? Read on…
"Was I out of line? / Did I say something way too honest? / Made you run and hide / Like a scared little boy?"
A snippet there from "Forever and Always," Swift's wistful heartbreak track from second album Fearless. The song is about Joe Jonas, and specifically about the time he supposedly dumped Taylor in a 27-second phone call. "That's got to be a record," she ruefully told Ellen DeGeneres. But according to Joe, the call was only that brief because Taylor hung up on him: "Phone calls can only last as long as the person on the other end of the line is willing to talk."
In a Vulture profile some years later, Joe indirectly referenced the whole incident: "I'm not going to disparage anyone I was in a relationship with—only I might put it in my music a little bit, and hint at it…But I'm not going to openly say, 'Yeah, actually, this person is a bitch, and she did this to me.' I don't feel the need to do that to sell records."
But honestly, as feuds go this one is pretty tame and sweet-natured, and even has a happy ending. Taylor and Joe now seem to be on pretty good terms, judging by last year's surprise double date with respective new love interests Calvin Harris and Gigi Hadid.
"She's not a saint / And she's not what you think / She's an actress / She's better known / For the things that she does / On the mattress"
That's Taylor showing her claws in 2010's "Better Than Revenge," a diss track aimed not at her ex, Joe Jonas, but at the girl who supposedly stole him away, Camilla Belle.
Taylor has since acknowledged that the song was immature: "I was 17 when I wrote that. Then you grow up and realize no one takes someone from you if they don't want to leave." But all is most definitely not forgiven–when Katy Perry called Taylor a hypocrite for complaining about "pitting women against other women," Camilla pointedly agreed. More recently, she Instagrammed this damning response to the "Famous" video exposé:
You can just tell Camilla has been waiting six long years for a chance to deploy this response. A dish best served cold, etc.
"Dear John / I see it all, now it was wrong / Don't you think nineteen is too young / To be played by your dark twisted games / when I loved you so? / I should've known"
If you're even vaguely familiar with John Mayer and his reputation as "rock's biggest playboy," it won't come as a huge surprise that his brief fling with Taylor ended poorly back in 2010–when, for the record, she was 19 and he was 32. Nobody knows exactly what went down to end this May-December romance (okay, maybe more like March-September), but there are all kinds of fairly intense internet rumors out there which you can find with a cursory Google search. Suffice it to say, Mayer comes off well in none of them.
"It made me feel terrible," Mayer told Rolling Stone. "Because I didn't deserve it. I'm pretty good at taking accountability now, and I never did anything to deserve that. It was a really lousy thing for her to do." He also took issue with the song on a musical level, calling it "cheap songwriting" and "bulls**t."
He may or may not have taken it a step further by writing his own song in response–2013's "Paper Doll" is widely assumed to be about Taylor, featuring such patronizing lyrics as "You're like twenty-two girls in one / and none of them know what they're runnin' from / Was it just too far to fall? / For a little paper doll"
"Time turns flames to embers / You'll have new Septembers / Every one of us has messed up too / Minds change like the weather"
This seven-year-long beef isn't easy to summarize–here's a detailed timeline for anyone who needs a full debrief–but suffice it to say that it all began with Kanye interrupting Taylor's acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs. It was a weird, mean-spirited move that lead the President himself to call Kanye "a jackass," and at the following year's VMAs Taylor responded with the best punishment imaginable. Not a diss track, but a gooey forgiveness track named "Innocent," whose lyrics are quoted above.
Still, KanTay seemed to be getting along well for a few years after this, and there were even rumors of a collaboration, along with this weirdness:
And then "Famous" happened, a song in which Kanye says the following: "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous." Kanye also claimed that Taylor had given him approval for the lyrics beforehand, which her camp immediately denied as follows: "Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single "Famous" on her Twitter account. She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, 'I made that bitch famous.' "
To be continued…
"Now did you think it all through? / All these things will catch up to you / Time can heal but this won't / So if you're coming my way, just don't."
Though it's nowhere near as long-standing, the Taylor v Katy feud is almost as labyrinthine as Taylor v Kanye, so here's another detailed timeline because we basically need diagrams at this point.
Back in the "You Belong With Me" and "Teenage Dream" days, Taylor and Katy used to get along great. You might almost say that it was mad love, with plenty of adorable tweets going both ways. Although it's not clear exactly when things went sour, the general assumption is that it's around 2012, when Katy began dating John Mayer. Yup. That one. There was also a minor brouhaha where three dancers defected from Taylor's Red tour to join Katy's Prism tour.
And so, during the 1989 promo era, Taylor reveals that one of the songs on her new album is a diss track directed at a fellow female musician, a former friend turned "straight-up enemy." The song in question was "Bad Blood," and the artist in question was, of course, Katy Perry. Katy responded with this cryptic-yet-revealing tweet…
Though neither has ever named names, both Taylor and Katy have done their parts to keep the feud alive since "Bad Blood"– Katy mostly by weighing in on Taylor's various spats with other celebrities. Take for instance Calvin Harris's recent Twitter smackdown of Taylor (more on which below), to which Katy's response was both simple and gloriously shady…
Whoever's side you're on, you can't argue with that gif game.
Even Taylor isn't immune to tweeter's remorse, as this brief-but-memorable spat proved. After missing out on a nomination for her "Anaconda" video at the 2015 VMAs, Nicki Minaj bitterly tweeted: "If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year'–a clear reference to the nominated "Bad Blood" video featuring Taylor and her supermodel #squad. And Taylor did not take kindly to the slight.
Nicky seemed confused, responding: "Huh? U must not be reading my tweets. Didn't say a word about u." And while that's a little disingenuous (there's really no other video she could have been referring to), it was clear Taylor missed the wider point Nicki was making about representation at the VMAs.
Taylor fell silent at this point, while Nicki turned her attention to "white media and their tactics," and Katy Perry weighed in because obviously…
A day later, Taylor apologized ("I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke") and Nicki accepted with a heart emoji. Another happy ending!
Hell hath no fury like a DJ scorned. Taylor and Calvin's breakup seemed so charmingly amicable at first, didn't it? "A relationship came to an end and what remains is a huge amount of love and respect," tweeted Calvin, a sentiment Taylor echoed in a retweet. They were basically an inspiration to us all.
Yup. That didn't last long. Within a few hours of Taylor's romance with Tom Hiddleston being unveiled–via those suspiciously stagey beachside make-out pics–Calvin had deleted his sweet breakup tweet, along with every single reference to Taylor on his Twitter and Instagram. Taylor followed suit, wiping all evidence of Calvin's existence from her various feeds until barely a trace of the couple's heavily-Instagrammed courtship remained on social media.
Though he deleted his initial response tweet ("Oh boy it's about to go down"), Calvin just couldn't contain himself in the weeks that followed, responding to fan enquiries about the breakup with cryptic tidbits like "I cared too much and then I didn't care at all", and "She controlled the media and this situation, I had no idea what was going on. So that kind of makes it a lot worse from my perspective." (One source denied that Harris wrote the comments in question, but given what comes next we're taking that denial with a pinch of salt).
Running alongside all the breakup drama had been speculation that Taylor had a hand in Calvin Harris's recent Rihanna collaboration "This Is What You Came For," and on June 13 her rep confirmed that she wrote the song under the pseudonym Nils Sjoberg. Once again, Calvin's response started out on a positive note…
… But took a turn pretty quickly. Calvin emphasized that Taylor had only written the lyrics, and that she was the one who wanted her participation kept secret, in contrast to media rumors that Taylor was hurt by Calvin's refusal to publicly consider a collaboration with her.
"I figured if you're happy in your relationship you should focus on that instead of trying to tear your ex down for something to do," he continued, before ending with the real kicker…
Just in case you were in any doubt about the venom behind Calvin's words, he used both the upside-down smile emoji and the pensive chin-rest emoji, surely the two most passive-aggressive emojis of all. So much for #SwanGoals.
You already know how this went down. If you're made it this far into the article, you definitely followed the #KimExposedTaylorParty with the kind of rapt attention usually reserved for Netflix binges. But let's recap in brief:
- In June, Kim Kardashian gave an interview to GQ in which she claimed Taylor knew all about those 'Famous' lyrics in advance, and gave her blessing to Kanye in a phone call. This echoes what Kanye said on Twitter at the time of the song's release. She also claimed to have footage of said phone call, which Taylor's lawyers demanded she destroy.
- Just a month later, Kim releases the footage on Snapchat, confirming that Taylor did approve significant parts of the lyrics, including the "might still have sex" line and the general concept that Kanye "made her famous".
- Nothing in the video refutes what Taylor or her rep claimed–that she didn't know about the "bitch" lyric–and it's clear that Kanye wasn't as upfront with her as he claims about the song's content. But it does make her Grammys speech, in which she slammed Kanye for taking credit for her fame, look disingenuous as hell.
- The video also doesn't show Taylor "cautioning Kanye about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message" – in fact, she calls his lyrics "a compliment, kind of".
- Taylor responds with an iPhone Notes statement, reiterating that the "bitch" lyric is crucial and changes the tone of what she thought she was agreeing to. "You don't get to control someone's emotional response to being called 'that bitch' in front of the entire world… I wanted to believe Kanye when he told me that I would love the song, I wanted us to have a friendly relationship."
- There's speculation that Kim and Kanye could be sued for recording the conversation, because California is a two-party consent state and it's therefore a felony to record a confidential communication without the agreement of everyone involved. But since Taylor was on speakerphone and may have been aware there were other people in the room, it's unclear whether this definition applies.