When Taylor Swift called out Kanye West at the Grammys, it was one self-obsessed PR genius against another

Swift addressed "all the young girls out there" - but is this singer, so naive on the issues of diversity, really qualified to speak to them?

Morwenna Jones@MorwennaJones
Tuesday 16 February 2016 18:42
Taylor Swift addressing a misogynistic lyric written about her by Kanye West at the Grammys
Taylor Swift addressing a misogynistic lyric written about her by Kanye West at the Grammys

In case you haven’t heard the news from the Twittersphere, Taylor Swift called out Kanye West at the Grammys last night. Alluding to the song ‘Famous’ on West’s new album that features the crude line “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that bitch famous”, in her acceptance speech for best album, Taylor fought back.

“There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” she told an audience that included several members of her internationally recognised #girlsquad. “But… some day when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there and that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”

As well as delivering the rousing speech, dedicated “to all the young women out there”, Swift also became the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, took home awards for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Music Video for Bad Bloo” (in which the entirety of aforementioned #girlsquad also features) and opened the 58th annual ceremony with a life performance of Out of the Woods.

But of course, none of those achievements matter because they’ve all been overshadowed by praise for Swift’s bold response to the big bad Yeezy.

Granted, if you take one look at West’s Twitter account, you have a unique insight into the mind of a bonafide egomaniac. As well as recently thinking it would be a good idea to ask Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to invest “1 billion dollars into Kanye West ideas” rather than opening schools in Africa, he has also proclaimed “I will have over 100 Grammys before I die” and announced that he wouldn’t attend the ceremony “unless they promise me the Album of the Year” (he didn’t attend).

And that’s without mentioning the numerous other forms of media, from music and technology to his bi-annual ready-to-wear fashion collection, that he has at his disposal. Brand Kanye is huge – and intimidating.

But why are we pretending that Swift is any different? For one thing, she allowed a landmark achievement for female musicians to pale into insignificance against the background of her feud with West. And unlike West, whose overt attention-seeking is played out through social media and other channels, “brand Taylor” repeatedly targets “all the young women out there”, begging them to comply with the star’s apparent feminism – and therefore everything she says.

Given that Swift took to the stage with an entirely male team of producers and contributors, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m sceptical. #GirlSquad they were not. But, then again, the requirements for the squad are pretty strict – the main requirement, naturally, being significant career success and media visibility (enter Gigi Hadid and Cara Delevigne).

But what about the other requirements? Maybe I’m cynical but when I personally take a look at Swift’s #GirlSquad, a pattern begins to emerge. Lena Dunham is the only member whose body doesn’t meet the requirements of a Victoria’s Secrets casting director - and Zendaya and Selena Gomez are the only members who bring any racial diversity to the group. Remembering Swift’s clueless spat with Nicki Minaj on Twitter last year, I can’t help but feel that Swift really, really doesn’t have the credentials to speak to “all the young girls out there” at all.

Blinded by her own white privilege, she infamously failed to recognise that Minaj’s tweets about a lack of recognition of diversity in music videos at the VMAs had absolutely nothing to do with her, and a lot to do with Hollywood’s racial inequality - of which her own “squad” is just one example.

Now, Swift is leading the fight against Yeezy. Having once said that he “had to take thirty showers before I got with Kim”, referring to his ex-girlfriend Amber Rose, Kanye has hardly endeared himself to the feminist cause. And it goes without saying that Swift has every right to call out the man who did his best to try make her feel small.

However, once again Swift’s messages of empowerment and, perhaps most importantly, her achievements as a female artist have been obscured by Twitter rants, celebrity in-fighting and the overpowering glow of “Brand Taylor” with the #girlsquad as her backdrop. Perhaps that’s what she wanted all along.

After all, you can say what you like about Taylor Swift, but she’s a PR genius.

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