For just one second, forget the sordid details of the Taylor Swift-Kanye West-Kim Kardashian Snapchat incident of 2016: Secretly recording a phone call and releasing it on the Internet without the other person’s consent is a pretty gross invasion of privacy. At best, it’s just not cool. At worst, it’s illegal.
On the call, Swift sounded cordial and joked about the line — which was certainly not the impression she gave months ago when her publicist said Swift, when talking with West about the song, had condemned the rapper for his “misogynistic” message. This enraged Kardashian, who claimed there was video proof that West (as he said from the beginning) had asked Swift’s permission to use the lyrics and that she approved. So Kardashian released the footage.
It did not matter that the video of the call was choppy and heavily edited and that there was no record of West’s warning Swift that he was going to use the b-word. The narrative was out there: Taylor Swift is a liar! Within hours, #KimExposedTaylorParty was the No. 1 worldwide trending topic on Twitter, and the overwhelming reaction into the next day was downright gleeful:
@KimKardashian honestly I thank God for your existence #KimExposedTaylorParty— kaitlyn (@canyonmoonkai) July 18, 2016
RIP whose going to the ceremony? #KimExposedTaylorParty pic.twitter.com/E2P4QSBVWI— William S 📲 (@willsshowem) July 18, 2016
When you take away the drama, the widespread joyous reaction of Swift’s “fall from grace” sounds callous — although if you have been paying attention to Swift’s career, especially over the past year, it’s not surprising at all. In addition to giving Swift haters the ammunition they crave (so she really IS as fake as she seems!) the incident comes at a time when Swift’s reputation is spiraling.
At the heart of the reaction is the cliche that the higher you climb, the more people want to tear you down. When Swift emerged as a teenage country-music prodigy in the mid-2000s, it seemed impossible to knock her off her game. (The closest anyone came, ironically, was when West grabbed her microphone at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards — but that earned her more sympathy than anything.) Uber-talented and always humble, with a special knack for connecting with fans, she was the classic golden girl. A 2009 Rolling Stone cover story touted “The Very Pink, Very Perfect Life of Taylor Swift,” which summed her up perfectly.
But that’s nothing compared with her “1989” era, starting in late 2014, which stunned the industry when her album sold more than 1 million copies in a week and catapulted her to the most successful phase of her career. She officially left the cozy confines of Nashville and was launched into the pop stratosphere. Every time it seemed as if she were at the height of her power, selling out stadiums all over the world, Mick Jagger would casually agree to duet at one of her shows and you’d realize she had barely scratched the surface.
So part of the excitement over catching her in a “lie” is the whole fall-from-grace factor: She’s not so perfect now, is she?! As an added bonus, it was courtesy of Kardashian, perhaps the one celebrity savvier than Swift at controlling a public story. In the GQ article last month in which she exposed the existence of the video, Kardashian complained that Swift was “playing the victim” when she directed a pointed Grammy speech at West.
Swift often presents herself as the wronged party, especially in her songs about her exes or enemies, but she has run out of goodwill with that narrative. Over the past couple of years, Swift has made some public missteps with this perspective, most notably her feud with rapper Nicki Minaj in August before the 2015 VMAs. As Minaj expressed her frustration about the double standard of her song “Anaconda” not being nominated for video of the year, Swift immediately assumed it was a dig at her and shot out a tweet in response.
As Minaj pointed out, she was not talking about Swift — she was making a larger point about black artists not getting credit for their work. Spectators mocked Swift for making everything about her; Swift eventually apologized, and the two made up on-air at the VMAs. But the damage was done.
And finally, the timing hurts her as well: Swift’s image has taken a turn recently with her unexpectedly revealing breakup with DJ Calvin Harris and rebound relationship with actor Tom Hiddleston. Although Swift has always been in the spotlight, it’s rare that she seeks it out — yet two weeks after she and Harris broke up, she and Hiddleston embarked on a very public tour of PDA around the world, kicking off their relationship by getting “caught” by paparazzi as they made out on a beach in Rhode Island. The mockery was at an all-time high around Swift’s typically extravagant July 4 bash, when Hiddleston wore an “I [Heart] T.S.” tank top.
So Swift is at Peak Ridicule, and viewers of the video are delighted to see a successful, extraordinarily wealthy celebrity brought down to earth. Swift has made her career about singing songs about other famous people, so some are thrilled to see her get a taste of her own medicine.