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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Daily Buzzkills: The Kanye West/Taylor Swift incident is a metaphor for racism, and other very important theories

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Making sense of tragedy takes time—a necessary distancing from an event’s forced perspective to draw your own conclusions, yes, but also time to read the opinions of other people forced to find a new angle on a story that’s already cold by the time it hits the Internet, and then use said opinions to synthesize your own. Now that we’ve had a full eight-hour workday to allow the Kanye West/Taylor Swift debacle to settle—and because everyone apparently had absolutely nothing else to think or talk about today—we can finally step back with the advantage of hindsight, and assess all the various “theories” as to why it happened, after which we can officially stop discussing this forever.

Theory: It was Kanye being “real”
Propagated by: Kanye West
You wouldn’t curse the clouds for bringing the rain, would you? You wouldn’t go up to a parakeet and say, “Hey parakeet, what’s with all the chirping?” Then you can’t blame Kanye for being “real”—which, he explained in a typically exclamation point-peppered blog post that has since been removed, is at the root of his need to express himself. After “sincerely” apologizing to Taylor Swift, her fans, her mom, his fans, and his “friends at MTV,” Kanye issues this wake-up call: “WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD!!!! EVERYBODY WANNA BOOOOO ME BUT I’M A FAN OF REAL POP CULTURE!!!… I’M NOT CRAZY YALL, I’M JUST REAL.” He has since replaced that with a baffling second apology in which he compares himself to Ben Stiller in Meet The Parents. (See? He told you he was a fan of real pop culture.) In this analogy, Robert De Niro is the VMA audience, we guess? The court of public opinion? The music industry? Does this mean that everyone will soften and forgive him when they realize Kanye is really in love with Taylor Swift?

Theory: It was Kanye being a douche—so what else is new?
Propagated by: Commenters everywhere. You, probably.
This is, after all, the same Kanye West who’s had enough “meltdowns” to merit an entire video compilation—such as the time he did this exact same thing at the MTV Europe Music Awards when his video for “Touch The Sky” (in which he sets fire to a million dollars by hiring Pamela Anderson and pretending to be Evel Knievel, for some reason)—and who gets 386,000 results when you Google “kanye west + rant.” (Add another 46, 700 for “kanye west + tirade.” Not surprisingly, “kanye west + douche” has a robust 135,000 hits as well.) So, the argument goes, who couldn’t have seen this coming? After all, Kanye is arguably more famous for being whiny and childish than any other entertainer out there—he’s like the Sean Young of hip-hop—and the odd thing is, his fans only seem to love him more for it.

Sure, everyone thinks it’s funny to WRITE IN ALL CAPS LIKE I AM TYPING SO HARD RIGHT NOW, and “Squid Brains” will probably never go away, but no matter how ridiculous or meme-unworthy it gets, Kanye’s brattiness is tolerated—maybe even loved. So really, what’s the story here? You may as well criticize Lady Gaga for covering up the fact that she’s basically the ’00s equivalent of Amber with costumes that make her look like an insufferable NYU student’s “pop deconstructionism” project. (This also loosely ties into a hypothesis outlined in a recent IM chat with A.V. Club writer Steve Hyden; and I quote, “Here’s my theory: Who gives a fuck?” Ha ha, thank you for your input, Steve, but this is easy for you to say, for you have no column to write. And besides, everyone knows that sort of uncurious apathy is exactly why the government will inevitably stage another 9/11! Look it up!)


Theory: It was Kanye being drunk
Propagated by: New York Post, Perez Hilton, The L.A. Times
Multiple photos of Kanye sipping from a bottle of cognac have popped up, leading to the gossip media drawing the same conclusion that it always seems to draw whenever alcohol is involved—because when it comes to alcohol, everyone on the Internet is five. Now there’s talk of entirely banning alcohol at the event, which probably won’t help anyone over 25 bear the hormonal shrieks of girls excited to see whichever effeminate, willowy boy is next year’s obsession. Unfortunately, in this case, Kanye set his own precedent by declaring he’d had a little “sippy sippy” before his MTV Europe outburst, true, but maybe we could stop pretending that consumption of alcohol in any amount automatically turns you into a raving loon, like we’re all Bible-and-hatchet-wielding Carrie Nations? If anything, Kanye is drunk on his own self-importance. Let’s leave the innocent Hennessy out of this.

Theory: It was racism, and somehow related to Joe Wilson.
Propagated by: The L.A. Times
In perhaps the most convoluted attempt to discern “what it all means,” respected L.A. Times columnist Ann Powers uses the incident as a jumping-off point to discuss the turbulent state of race relations in our country, evidence of which can be seen in all the outbursts of late that simply can’t be a coincidence, right?

Maybe he was miffed that this young black pop queen's heels were being nipped at by a blond Ivory Girl whose fans tend to look quite a bit like her… Is that reading too much into the situation? It's been a banner week for widely broadcast outbursts, from Congressman Joe Wilson hectoring Obama during his healthcare speech to Serena Williams seriously losing her cool at the U.S. Open to this latest kerfuffle, and in every case, racial conflict has been an undercurrent. Beyoncé and Swift, quick to join hands and squelch any rumors of a feud, stood up for pop as a crossover art in which artists of all kinds can celebrate each other, but the tensions hinted at in this silly conflict are real, and relevant within America right now.


It’s the black diva upstaged by the corn-fed white girl—and who better to be pop music’s Malcolm X than Kanye West, a black man who himself has yet to be “given a chance” (except for all those millions of dollars in album sales and concert receipts, constant TV exposure, and acres of column inches, etc.—which are probably just meted out to keep him just happy enough that he knows his place)? And maybe it was all part of the percolating tensions sparked by Joe Wilson’s own upstaging of the President, which many people felt to be kinda, sorta racist? In which case, Kanye being forced to apologize for standing up for a deserving black artist is so racist in itself, Alex Haley should be resurrected so he can write a whole new chapter of Roots about it. (That Serena Williams decision was kind of bullshit, however.)

Theory: It was the Devil.
Propagated by: Heidi Montag
Always one to put things in a perspective limited to, in order, God, dancing, how much she enjoys pizza and/or sushi, and her husband, Heidi Montag knows evil when she encounters it: “I saw the devil in action when kanye west stole your mic!” she Tweeted to Taylor Swift last night, followed by a recap in which she declared, “What a satanic VMAs. Jack Black is disgusting for even joking about praying to the devil!! NOT funny! I almost threw up.” Scoff at Heidi if you must, but perhaps you won’t be laughing when Judgment Day comes and Jesus returns to rescue the righteous and condemn the sinful, and Kanye rushes His cloud to argue with Him about the whole “pride” thing. (“I WROTE A SONG ABOUT YOU!!!!!!!”)


Theory: It was a ploy by NBC to promote his Leno appearance.
Propagated by: CNN, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly
In another cosmic coincidence, West’s outburst occurred the night before he was supposed to appear on the debut of Jay Leno’s new talk show. Now many outlets are commenting on how West could be another “Hugh Grant” for Leno, i.e. a ratings-grabbing, career-saving apology that helps ensure his high-stakes show is a hit from the start. Of course, that particular theory presupposes the incredibly improbable collusion of West, MTV, and NBC, which is a Wag The Dog-esque scenario even we can’t get behind.

Theory: It was staged by MTV because they knew the VMAs sucked this year.
Propagated by: Idolator, Gawker, other cynics.
In keeping with the preceding theory, some point to the foreshadowing of Beyoncé’s interview on the red carpet—where she mentioned how much she wanted to see Swift “get her moment”—and Swift’s turning up in a perfectly matched red dress to accept Beyoncé’s offer of a second chance at her acceptance speech as evidence that the whole thing was planned from the start. Most likely, this argument goes, it was because MTV realized the VMAs lineup was pretty lackluster and Russell Brand is only funny when he's insulting virgins, and since no one cares about Michael Jackson anymore—at least, not enough to tune in for yet another sad-faced but also somewhat exploitative tribute—they needed something to make the news. If you take it far enough, this theory actually lines up nicely with those atrocious West Side Story promos of Taylor Swift singing “Tonight.” In this storyline, of course, Swift is Maria, her chance to thank her agent and fans (or whatever inconsequential dribble she actually said) is her “Tony,” and Kanye is… um, Chino? Puerto Ricans? More racism? Does this scenario make Kelly Clarkson Officer Krupke?


Theory: It allowed for a necessary reminder that Pink is tough.
Propagated by: Pink
Because arriving at Radio City Music Hall in a fire truck, having a stage show apparently choreographed by Renny Harlin, and employing her trademark toothy sneer in every photo isn’t enough to properly convey that Pink is “fierce,” the singer made sure to let everyone on this morning’s Today Show know that, just in case they were wondering, she would have gladly engaged Kanye in a little assault with a concealed weapon by ripping out the brass knuckles from her “amazing Alexander McQueen purse.” Hasn’t anyone told Pink that girls are only meant to look pretty and not do the sort of things that boys do? She’s really pushing the boundaries of gender identity with this sort of tough talk, and frankly it makes us insecure, small-penis-having males uncomfortable.

Theory: It was an altruistic attempt to give celebrities something to weigh in on besides Michael Jackson
Propagated by: Anyone who’s read People, TMZ, or any other media outlet in the “let’s find the 10 people we know who will provide a sound bite on anything” school of reporting.
It’s been far too long since we’ve had reason to randomly call upon Donald Trump for a completely irrelevant opinion—and lord knows nobody wants to talk about health care. This also dovetails with the larger, all-encompassing theory that Kanye knew exactly what he was doing by seeking out negative attention, ensuring that everyone would be writing about him the next day—and also writing about how many people are writing about him. Obviously, the man’s a genius.