You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Is Taylor Swift a hypocrite or just a really savvy songwriter?

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 21/07/2016 Emily Yahr

For the last three days, speculation surrounding the Taylor Swift-Kanye West-Kim Kardashian feud shows no signs of slowing down, and that’s partly because it touches on so many divisive topics: Celebrity. Reality television. Social-media etiquette. Race. Gender. The California penal code. But it also encapsulates one theme that is making people on the Internet particularly angry: hypocrisy.

This saga stems from the fact that West mentioned Swift in his song “Famous” with the lyric, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that b—- famous.”

Swift, who at first gave the impression that she condemned the song, is now heard in a phone call with West (one that went viral when Kardashian leaked it on Snapchat Sunday) telling the rapper she knows he’s being “tongue-in-cheek” and that she appreciated him giving her a heads-up. “I never would have expected you to tell me about a line in one of your songs,” she said. “It’s a really cool thing to do — and a really good show of friendship.”

Replay Video
It is a rare thing for an artist to do. As everyone knows, Swift’s empire was fueled by her extremely successful songs that are — in part — so popular because she hints that they’re written about real-life people, which generally sparks a media frenzy and more publicity. Yet there’s no indication that she’s given a warning to these subjects. So is Swift a hypocrite? Or is she just a really savvy songwriter who knows the best way to help sell millions of albums is to get fans invested in your personal life?

Though the latter is certainly true, the yells of “hypocrite!” started as soon as Swift responded to Kardashian’s Snapchat. While Swift heard some of the lyrics from Kanye on the call, she noted nothing on the video showed West telling her his plan to call her a “b—-.” “You don’t get to control someone’s emotional response to being called ‘that b—-‘ in front of the entire world,” Swift wrote on Instagram. “Being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story or played any part of the song is character assassination.”

Immediately, people took Swift to task for making that “character assassination” claim while she’s penned unflattering songs about her exes and enemies:

The key difference is while West explicitly said “Taylor,” Swift has made it a rule to rarely reveal the subjects of her songs. However, Swift critics don’t think that distinction matters, because she strongly implies their real identities to the point where there’s no question about who she’s writing about. Not only does she give clues in interviews, but Swift famously leaves hidden messages in her liner notes for fans to decode, keeping some letters in the lyrics in all-caps to spell out a phrase.

Taylor Swift presents the Video Vanguard Award to Kanye West at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards. © REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni Taylor Swift presents the Video Vanguard Award to Kanye West at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards. When she was starting her career in Nashville, Swift was more open, as she called out crushes like “Drew” in “Teardrops on My Guitar,” and “Stephen” in “Hey Stephen,” revealed to be Stephen Barker Liles of country duo Love & Theft when the liner notes hint was “LOVE AND THEFT.” After her first two albums, the codes got a bit harder. For example, “The Story of Us” code was just “CMT AWARDS,” and John Mayer performed at the awards show. The “All Too Well” clue was “MAPLE LATTES,” which Swift detectives realized was probably Jake Gyllenhaal because they were often photographed carrying coffee.

This week, Swift’s “character assassination” cry is rankling those who remember the album track “Better Than Revenge,” widely thought to be about actress Camilla Belle, who dated Joe Jonas right after he dumped Swift. In the song, Swift sings, “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.” Burn. While the song still only remains “allegedly” about Belle, the actress clearly has no love lost toward Swift; after Kardashian’s Snapchat bomb, Belle Instagrammed a smug quote about karma starting with the phrase “No need for revenge.”

Plus, Jonas spent years being asked about Swift on talk shows. Swift was unusually candid about that breakup in 2008, telling Ellen DeGeneres that she wrote “Forever and Always” about Jonas after he dumped her in a 25-second phone call. Swift also mocked him in a video, holding up a Joe Jonas doll and saying, “This one even comes with a phone, see, so he can break up with other dolls.”

Other songs include the scathing “Dear John,” which left Mayer “humiliated” after people assumed he was the John who shattered Swift’s heart when she was only 19 years old; “The Moment I Knew,” apparently about Gyllenhaal failing to show up to her 21st birthday party; “Style,” covering the pitfalls of dating One Direction star Harry Styles; and the infamous “Bad Blood,” which centers on a female artist who tried to “sabotage” her arena tour, as Swift told Rolling Stone. Immediately, online detectives deduced she was talking about Katy Perry, who hired some backup dancers away from Swift. The song was followed up by a celebrity-packed music video taking down an enemy. (Obviously, Perry can barely contain her glee as Swift’s reputation has taken a hit this week.)

Taylor Swift arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills on February 28, 2016. © REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File photo Taylor Swift arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills on February 28, 2016. Many would argue that West is doing the same thing as Swift — singing about someone who has had an impact on his life — but he actually asked her about it first. Swift doesn’t see it that way, especially considering the content of the lyrics, and something tells us her legion of devoted fans don’t, either.

But it will be interesting to see how this situation impacts her future songs. Her identity is so intertwined with autobiographical music that it’s hard to imagine any other course — it’s what makes her a successful songwriter. And in one memorable 2010 track called “Innocent,” she forgave a certain rapper for crashing her VMAs performance: With the lyrics “32 and still growing up now” — referring to West’s age at the time of the award show — there was no question about the subject of that one.

More from The Washington Post

The Washington Post
The Washington Post
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon