A brief history of pop-culture feuds: From John Keats and Lord Byron to Nicki Minaj and Cardi B

Romantic poets, Hollywood rivals, bickering novelists and angry rappers all feature among finest cuts of beef this side of an upmarket steakhouse

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 31 October 2018 13:48
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Cher says Madonna acts like 'C-word' in 1991 interview

“Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much.”

Oscar Wilde’s advice was expertly deployed by Cardi B this week when she gained the upper hand in her long-running feud with Nicki Minaj by suggesting a ceasefire following a vicious exchange of hostilities on social media.

With 50 Cent trolling Ja Rule by buying up 200 gig tickets to ensure empty seats, we appear to be living in a new golden age of the pop-culture beef.

Here’s a selection of some of the juiciest feuds and rivalries from the history of the genre.

John Keats vs Lord Byron

“He describes what he sees – I describe what I imagine – Mine is the hardest task,” Keats wrote of Byron in a letter to his brother George in September 1819, attributing the aristocrat’s fame to his scandalous reputation rather than the quality of his verse.

For his part, Byron - an unapologetic snob - took a dim view of “that little dirty blackguard KEATES” in a letter to his friend John Murray.

When Keats's “Endymion” was savaged in The Quarterly Review by John Wilson Croker, a criticism that was blamed for hastening the consumptive poet’s death in Rome aged just 25, Byron responded in “Don Juan” (1824): “John Keats, who was killed off by one critique... ‘Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle, Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article.”

Bette Davis vs Joan Crawford

The Hollywood actors famously loathed one another and used the mutual dislike to their advantage in Robert Aldrich’s superb California Gothic melodrama What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).

Pranks on set included Davis insisting on having a Coca-Cola machine at her disposal to satirise Crawford’s marriage to a Pepsi executive, the former actually kicking her co-star in the head for real during a stunt and Crawford lining her pockets with weights when she knew Davis would have to carry her for a scene.

Davis was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar that year ahead of her rival but Crawford contrived to accept the award on behalf of the eventual winner, Anne Bancroft.

Norman Mailer vs Gore Vidal

One of the more recent literary spats of note concerned the great American novelists, the latter offending Mailer with a damning criticism of his book The Prisoner of Sex (1971), which earned him a headbutt in the green room of The Dick Cavett Show.

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Mailer attacked Vidal again at a party in 1977 but it was worth it for the brilliance of the line the writer uttered as he hit the deck: “As usual, words fail him.”

Bill Murray vs Chevy Chase

When Chase suddenly resigned from the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1976, a young Bill Murray was brought in to replace him. Chase returned as host in 1978 and was confronted by his resentful former colleagues, causing a fight to break out in the studio.

After the pair were separated by fellow cast members, Murray delivered a brilliant put-down: "Medium talent!"

Murray recounted the incident to Empire in 2012: “It was really a Hollywood fight, a ‘Don’t touch my face!’ kind of thing. Chevy is a big man, I’m not a small guy, and we were separated by my brother Brian [Doyle-Murray], who comes up to my chest. So it was kind of a non-event. It was just the significance of it. It was an Oedipal thing, a rupture. Because we all felt mad he had left us, and somehow I was the anointed avenging angel, who had to speak for everyone. But Chevy and I are friends now. It’s all fine.”

Salman Rushdie vs John Le Carre

When Ayatollah Khomeni issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to execute Salman Rushdie over his “blasphemous” book The Satanic Verses (1988), spy novelist John Le Carre criticised the reaction of the British press.

Salman Rushdie (AFP/Getty)

“My purpose was not to justify the persecution of Rushdie... but to sound a less arrogant, less colonialist and less self-righteous note than we were hearing from the safety of his admirers’ camp,” he wrote in The Guardian.

“I’m grateful to John Le Carre for refreshing all our memories about exactly how pompous an ass he can be,” Rushdie seethed.

Frank Sinatra vs Sinead O’Connor

The Chairman of the Board was always a cantankerous proposition, never more so than at the end of his life. New Jersey’s most famous son took exception to the Irish singer when her tour brought her to his home state in 1990 and she refused to allow the American national anthem to be played before her performance at the Garden State Arts Center.

“I’d like to kick her in the ass,” Ol’ Blue Eyes said, prompting the frustrated response in Esquire a year later that she couldn’t have retaliated because the crooner was 78 and the blow “would probably kill him”.

That same year, Sinatra also told Donald Trump to “go f*** himself” after the future president questioned the singer’s fee to perform at the opening of his Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City.

Madonna vs Cher

The American media and the record companies were keen to play up Madonna’s rivalry with fellow “divas” like Cyndi Lauper in the 1980s but it was her relationship with Cher that really caught fire.

While the pop stars had initially spoken respectfully about one another, Cher unexpectedly admitted during an interview with CBS in 1991 that she disliked Madonna’s ruthlessness and suggested: “She could be a little bit more magnanimous and a little bit less of a c***.”

Cher and Madonna attend a 1998 Vanity Fair party in Los Angeles

Cher clearly relished the controversy and played up to it on chat shows, masterly serving up backhanded compliments, such as: “I think she does a lot with the talent that she has.”

Asked on Twitter in 2012 how she had observed Madonna’s birthday, Cher replied: “I got a colonic.”

The pair these days appear to be on friendly terms but Madonna has found herself at odds with everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Mariah Carey, Elton John and Lady Gaga.

Biggie Smalls vs Tupac Shakur

Perhaps the most famous rivalry in show business, the beef between the East and West Coast rappers ended in tragedy when both artists were shot dead within six months of one another, neither murder ever solved.

The feud between New York’s Bad Boy Records and LA’s Death Row came to a head in November 1994 when Tupac accused Biggie and Sean “P Diddy” Combs of orchestrating his shooting at a Manhattan recording studio, exacerbated when Biggie’s track “Who Shot Ya?” was interpreted as a diss.

Tupac Shakur (Getty)

Tupac responded the following year with “Hit ‘Em Up”, warning “you ‘bout to feel the wrath of a menace nigga”. His death in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas in September 1996 prompted Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakhan to intervene by organising a peace summit, which, tragically, failed to prevent Biggie meeting the same fate.

Eminem – who has had his own share of feuds with everyone from Insane Clown Posse to Nick Cannon and Machine Gun Kelly – revived the matter earlier this year with a reference to Combs and Shakur in “Killshot”.

NWA vs Ice Cube

Another famous hip-hop feud erupted when Ice Cube left NWA to go solo following a dispute over royalties.

NWA’s album 100 Miles and Runnin’ (1990) contained a number of lines attacking their former bandmate, comparing him to Benedict Arnold on “Real Niggaz”.

Ice Cube responded by attacking Eazy-E for attending a Republican Party lunch in the company of George HW Bush on “No Vaseline”, a diss track from Death Certificate (1991).

Jim Carrey vs Tommy Lee Jones

The ill-matched actors appeared together as villains The Riddler and Two-Face in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever in 1995 and struggled to connect behind the scenes.

As Carrey revealed to DJ Howard Stern in 2014, the pair happened to meet in a restaurant the night before shooting a big scene together and Jones was mortified: “The blood drained from his face in such a way that I realised that I had become the face of his pain or something.

“And he got up, kind of shaking, and hugged me and said, ‘I hate you. I really don’t like you.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, OK, what’s going on, man?’ And he said, ‘I cannot sanction your buffoonery.’”

Kanye West vs Taylor Swift

The rift between these two future presidential candidates began in 2009 when Kanye leapt on stage to express his outrage at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) in 2009 at Swift winning the Best Female Video gong ahead of Beyonce.

The rapper subsequently apologised for the humiliation on Twitter before the hatchet was buried when Swift presented him with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the 2015 VMAs – only for West to then reignite the blaze with his track “Famous” from The Life of Pablo (2016): “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/“Why? I made that bitch famous.”

Taylor Swift and Kanye West feud: A brief history of the pair's relationship

She responded by apparently calling out Kanye during a rousing speech at the Grammys and releasing the track “Look What You Made Me Do”, widely interpreted as a diss.

West – increasingly erratic – has also fallen out with Jay-Z, his former collaborator on Watch the Throne (2011).

Nicki Minaj vs Cardi B

In an era when the unholy alliance between social media and the 24-hour news cycle has inflated the importance of many an imagined snub, incautious tweet and misconstrued joke, this must count as the greatest hatred since Salieri first took exception to Mozart.

Nicki Minaj and Cardi B have been at each other’s throats online for months, their complicated rivalry almost boiling over into an actual brawl at the Harper’s Bazaar Icon party during New York Fashion Week in September.

In late October, remarks by Minaj on her “Queen Radio” show on Beats 1 provoked an angry series of Instagram rebuttals from B before the pair unexpectedly agreed to a temporary truce, pledging to “keep it positive and keep it pushing”.

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