They’re Really Not So Different
When it comes to the topic of narcissism, Kanye West has carved himself a special place in the finger-pointing purgatory of the American psyche. We’ve all seen the memes of Kanye kissing Kanye and heard the jokes about how Kanye would probably have dirty, dirty carnal relations with Kanye if it were possible. Kanye himself riffed on this perception at his YEEZY Season 3 presentation when he dropped the line, “I love you like Kanye loves Kanye.”
There’s also his stream-of-consciousness style approach to confronting life’s little (and big) mishaps. His Twitter rants, highly-publicized meltdowns, and demands for praise and recognition have made him a lightning rod for derision, to the point that lambasting him has almost become a matter of public sport. President Obama even called him a jackass at one point. In short, Kanye is a polarizing personality if ever there were one. That said, there will of course be the arguments that Kanye brings it all on himself, but that isn’t the point here.
The point is that the majority of West’s umbrage seems to stem from an unshakeable conviction in his own exceptionalness. Funnily enough, that’s actually not so different than a certain blonde pop star’s modus operandi.
The only real distinction? Image and perception.
Taylor Swift is positioned as the adorable, girl-next-door whose irrepressible spirit and charming awkwardness have helped her conquer the world while staying true to herself. She proudly shakes off the haters and marches to the beat of her own drum; she battles bullies with sugar-coated niceties, and has a supermodel, actress and entertainer-comprised “girl-squad” that has been heralded as the ultimate in #friendgoals. Though recently, the court of public opinion has been turning and more than a few publications have called Swift’s ever-growing collection of living doll-friends today’s answer to The Plastics, which I suppose isn’t completely fair unless you’ve been on the receiving end of a “you can’t sit with us” putdown.
As far as “pop-feminism” goes, to many, Swift’s, “girlfriends, yay!” brand of women’s empowerment is downright inspirational. Oh, and let’s not forget her slim build, flawless porcelain skin, and guileless blue eyes – a comfort to any parent raising a good, wholesome child who needs protection from all of the profanity-ridden, violence-celebrating musical genres out there.
And then there’s Kanye West: The swaggering, brash, seeming antithesis of Taylor Swift. For starters, Kanye is what one might call a bull in a china shop; he’s repeatedly proven he lacks a filter and he’s also made it clear he doesn’t feel that he needs one. Kanye also appears as a much more autonomous being than Swift. Most of us don’t picture a bevy of handlers carefully grooming his image and public persona. In fact, it might even be safe to say there is no one advising Mr. West on what he should and should not be tweeting, or even what he should or shouldn’t talk about in an interview. If there’s a machine behind Kanye West, he’s driving it. In the past this has been both his biggest triumph and biggest downfall. For Swift, on the other hand, we’re never really sure who’s in the driver’s seat of the glittering, unicorn-festooned girl-wagon.
These differences in presentation contribute to public perception. But they also only tell a surface story. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll see the two aren’t as dissimilar as first impressions might lead you to believe.
Swift has merely cultivated a friendlier image and mastered the art of the humble-brag while Kanye apparently can’t be bothered to package his self-celebration in a way the rest of the world might find more palatable. We’re still swallowing the same pill for both, Kanye’s merely appears more bitter.
Let’s take a look at some examples…
For YEEZY Season 3, it was widely reported that Kanye West slapped his 1,200-plus model extras with what many deemed a “ridiculous” non-disclosure agreement. According to TMZ, which claims to have reviewed the paperwork, the NDA prohibits models from talking about the collection or the Kardashian-Jenner family for ten years after Kanye’s death, or 50 years, whichever comes first. The penalty for breaching the contract starts at 10 million dollars, which is a strong deterrent for all of us average salary earners out there.
Perhaps that seems like the paranoid demands of a pre-meltdown megalomaniac, but it’s also not so different than the equally ridiculous amount of security that surrounds a Taylor Swift video shoot, which by the way, are all given bird code names like some secret Black-Ops mission…
“…A Swift shoot requires the kind of operational secrecy and logistical complexity rarely seen outside of a SEAL raid. Before Project Sparrow – the code name chosen by the video’s director, Mark Romanek – there was Project Cardinal, a multi-week mission where Swift’s social-media team scoured the Web for a representative group of fans to appear in the video. When one girl posted a photo of her invitation, she was quickly uninvited, then presumably renditioned to whatever CIA black site holds Swift’s enemies. (Jack Antonoff, of Bleachers and fun., who has recently co-written several songs with Swift, says that “just having her songs on my hard drive makes me feel like I have Russian secrets or something. It’s terrifying.)”
In 2014, several publications such as The Mirror took hearty digs at Kanye’s paranoid fear that an unmanned paparazzi drone would crash-land in his backyard pool and electrocute his daughter, North West. This fear was revealed after TMZ got its hands on text from a deposition that stemmed from a lawsuit filed by a photographer who Kanye was involved in an altercation with.
Drone invasion – sounds crazy, right?
It might be less far-fetched if Miley Cyrus hadn’t taken a picture of a paparazzi drone circling her home that same year, or if one hadn’t crashed Anne Hathaway’s wedding, or if “Horrific Drone Accident Destroys Toddler’s Eyeball” wasn’t an actual news headline in 2015. Interestingly enough, in 2014, Kanye’s should-be pal Taylor Swift shared a similar strain of technophobia surrounding paparazzi spies, except she wasn’t mocked…
“‘Don’t even get me started on wiretaps,’ Swift says seriously. ‘It’s not a good thing for me to talk about socially. I freak out.’ As for who might bug a Van Nuys production office on the off chance that Swift is inside: ‘The janitor,’ she says, as if naming one candidate among hundreds. ‘The janitor who’s being paid by TMZ.’
Swift was also suspicious of speakers and cell phones…
““Speakers put sound out . . . so can’t they take sound in? Or” – she holds up her cell phone – “they can turn this on, right? I’m just saying. We don’t even know.””
One could easily say that these anxieties are merely byproducts of fame, but the precautions both entertainers take to insulate themselves are arguably extreme. For instance, Swift purchased a five million dollar apartment directly across from her 15 million dollar condo chiefly for her security to live in. She also employs an ex-NYPD officer to stand guard outside of her door.
Even where music is concerned, the two draw parallels; the biggest being their shared sense of victimhood. It’s an established trend with both that if a relationship ends badly or a friend proves disloyal there will be an unflattering song written about said person. The only difference is Kanye’s gripes tend to run more toward lewd than wounded sad-girl à la Taylor Swift. Take the below skit from his “My Dark Twisted Fantasy” album; it’s widely speculated to be a dig at Amber Rose…
My Dark Twisted Fantasy
“I’ve never even seen this part of pussy town before! It’s like you got this shit re-upholstered or some shit. What the fuck happened? Who, who the fuck got your pussy all re-upholstered? (Yeezy re-upholstered my pussy)”
Taylor takes a decidedly more G-Rated but equally petty approach in her song Dear John, which is allegedly about John Mayer, who also happens to be the shared ex of another of her supposed arch-nemeses, Katy Perry. The song Bad Blood is also said to be about Perry. So.Many.Beefs…
“You are an expert at sorry /And keeping the lines blurry/ Never impressed by me acing your tests/ All the girls that you’ve run dry/ Have tired, lifeless eyes/ ‘Cause you burned them out/ But I took your matches before fire could catch me/ So don’t look now, I’m shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town”
I won’t list any more examples of Kanye and Taylor’s decimations of enemies through song, but I will say that Google is your friend. Have fun. Proving the pen is mightier than the sword isn’t the end of the victimhood narrative for Kanye or Swift, though. Both have jumped the gun and pointed the finger of blame at innocent parties who were engaging in general commentary that was somehow misconstrued as a personal attack. One of Swift’s big faux pas came after she misinterpreted Nicki Minaj’s VMA inequity gripe as “pitting women against women” rather than commentary on what Minaj perceived as potential race-based favoritism.
There was also a side of shade from supposed “bad blood” starter, Katy Perry…
Kanye, on the other hand, famously lost his temper on radio host Sway Calloway after the latter asked why Kanye didn’t fund his own clothing line if he felt the fashion industry refused to take him seriously…
In each moment neither was able to separate the non-malicious thoughts and feelings of others from the idea that they were being snubbed for something they inherently deserved. For Swift, who ended her feud with Minaj with the sentiment that the rapper was invited on any stage she was on, it was a watershed moment in public perception. For many, it suddenly seemed that for all of Swift’s pro-girl rah-rah-ing, standing as one only mattered if it benefitted Taylor Swift.
For Kanye, who has made it clear that he is serious about being considered a fashion designer, the idea that CEOs of major fashion houses would not deign to meet with him was automatically rooted in the flawed structure of the fashion community and potential racism. It seemingly never occurred to him that they simply might not think he’s a great designer or a good fit for their brand. Either could be true; it could even be a bit of both. Kanye would know more than anyone else where that’s concerned.
We all know Kanye loves himself and his lifestyle. This can be ascertained from lines such as…
“Top 5 MCs you ain’t gotta remind me / Top 5 MCs you gotta rewind me / I’m high up on the line, you can get behind me / But my head’s so big you can’t sit behind me.”
His almost defiant self-congratulation is a constant irritant to many. Despite that, there are arguments that braggadocio is an inherent part of hip-hop and Kanye is merely performing a role. There’s also the thought that race plays a factor in public’s general distaste for his self-assurance, meaning Kanye’s confidence is merely construed as egomania because he is an outspoken person of color. Some might even argue that Kanye has to love himself as ferociously as he does because if prejudice is indeed a factor in his perception, then he cannot rely on mainstream media to adulate him in the same manner as someone like Taylor Swift.
Whatever you believe, it still doesn’t detract from the fact that Taylor Swift also loves herself and her life. It merely comes across less obnoxiously because of her saccharine packaging. As BuzzFeed pointed out back in 2012, her trademark “surprised face”, even then, seemed a little facetious given she was already 130-plus awards deep. Nevertheless, in 2016, Swift continues to display confounding sense of surprise when confronted with praise and adoration. All in all, it does pair quite well with her masterful talent for humble-bragging.
Every once in awhile, though, Swift indulges in a moment that straddles the fence between, “I’m just sharing my fab pop star life” and, “LOOK WHAT I HAVE.” The below tweet, for instance, is basically the equivalent of Kanye hopping on a track and letting us know he just copped a custom mink to wear to a party that we’ll never be invited to.
The only difference is Swift has disguised her couture-flex with a cute little anecdote about her adorable, fluffy cat…
Or this… Just switch out the Grammy trophies for some Jesus pieces and this could be an early Kanye flex picture…
Or even this…Chinese food and Law & Order suddenly become infinitely less plebeian when you’re cradling your newly-won award, and maybe still wearing your custom couture gown…
And then there’s that moment you turn 25 and Beyonce just shows up to your birthday party but it’s NBD…
Even Swift’s Grammy speech took the opportunity to let it be known that she totally deserved “Album of the Year” (better luck next time, Kendrick). She also made sure to point out that her accomplishments were hers alone despite what anyone (Kanye West) might have to say about it.
Does it get more Kanye than that?
While it’s not quite the same as inspiring a few thousand people to chant “fuck Nike” at your fashion week presentation, it still indicates an impressive ability to hold a grudge against anyone who doubts her exceptionalness.
Swift and West both have shrewd legal teams and a huge appetite for profit, which they often disguise as an obsession with “true artistry.” Swift, for instance, was widely praised when she pulled her 1989 album from Apple Music because the platform wasn’t paying artists for three months, among a slew of other issues. She did the same with Spotify, whose free music streaming she believed contributed to a culture of “piracy, file sharing and streaming,” that “shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically.”
Swift also went on to say that she didn’t want herself or other artists to undermine the quality of their own work by thinking being paid less than their due was acceptable. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, she is after all working hard to create chart-smashing, bubblegum pop hits. However, it’s ironic that when Kanye complains about similar restrictions, he’s labeled a diva.
Swift has also moved to trademark the phrases “Swiftmas”, “Blank Space,” “And I’ll Write Your Name,” “A Girl Named Girl”, “1989,” “Shake it Off”, “This Sick Beat”, and “Party Like It’s 1989”. So far she’s succeeded with “This Sick Beat,” which lead to a lot of Etsy lawsuits. Unfortunately, many of the sued parties happened to be genuine Swift-ites selling DIY fan merch. Her team is also currently in the process of mounting legal action against her old guitar teacher for buying the domain “ITaughtTaylorSwift.com.”
In 2014, Kanye’s legal team reacted with similar swiftness (no pun intended) when would-be cryptocurrency company Coinye used the rapper’s name and likeness. Thanks to his lawyers, the company started with a bang and ended with a whimper before it could even properly launch.
And even though West has admitted to being $53 million in personal debt, he still sits at the head of a record company, has closed lucrative partnership deals with adidas and A.P.C., and also owns KW Foods LLC — a holding company that owns and operates the Fatburger chain. His 2013 Yeezus tour grossed a staggering $25 million – numbers that were only topped by Sir Paul McCartney. So while he may be blowing through gwap on personal projects, Kanye may not actually be as inept of a businessman as many believe. He can, after all, still buy his family the important things like furs and houses…
Despite this, much like his phrase-trademarking foe, Taylor Swift, he wants more money and he wants your money, specifically. But only to “bring more beautiful ideas into the world”…
With so many commonalities and so much self-love to share, these two might as well just agree they made each other famous and be Real Friends.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not reflect the views of Highsnobiety as a whole.
- Cover Image: Kevin Winter / MTV