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Taylor Swift, Kanye West, and "Karma": Checking in on their 13-year feud

While Taylor Swift is singing about having karma on her side, Kanye is self destructing. Maybe it's time to finally put this thing to bed.

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Checking in on Taylor Swift's feud with Kanye West 13 years later
Kanye West and Taylor Swift during the infamous interruption in 2009
Photo: Christopher Polk (Getty Images)

It’s been more than a decade since the bad blood began between Kanye West and Taylor Swift—13 years, to be precise, the holiest number in Swiftie lore—a feud that was borne of Kanye’s ill-conceived interruption at the 2009 Video Music Awards. While the pendulum of public opinion has swung back and forth over the years, the stars have remained inextricably entwined.

But after the latest round in this cosmic boxing match, it may be time for both artists to unlace their gloves and head to their respective corners for good. Their long-running feud has become so unbalanced that it’s no longer interesting—and in some ways it’s become downright disturbing.

Much of that stems from West’s recent, dramatic and self-inflicted fall from grace. His behavior reached its most alarming nadir just as Swift released another pop album to near-universal acclaim, smashing records. Midnights makes clear that Swift delights in succeeding while her enemy crashes and burns. But when that crash and burn is accompanied by a heavy helping of white supremacist rhetoric, it leaves a distinctly unpleasant taste.


“Imma let you finish”

To recap: Ye infamously interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech for “Best Female Video” at the 2009 MTV VMAs. “Imma let you finish,” he said, “but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” Queen Bey was just as stunned as everyone else. Ye and Swift had years of nemesis-ship before they tentatively mended fences in 2015.

Their brief friendship (punctuated by Swift introducing Ye’s Video Vanguard Award at that year’s VMAs, where he first announced his 2020 presidential campaign) fell apart after the release of “Famous,” the track on which Ye rapped “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ I made that bitch famous” (accompanied by a video of Swift and other celebrities as lifeless, nude wax figures). Swift called him out at the Grammys; Ye’s then-wife Kim Kardashian called Swift out on Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and later released video footage of Swift seemingly approving the lyric on “National Snake Day.”

Swift embraces Ye at the 2015 VMAs
Swift embraces Ye at the 2015 VMAs
Photo: Kevork Djansezian (Getty Images)

Swift’s response was to post that she “would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never asked to be part of.” Yet she’s revisited that narrative time and again since, fleshing out a full genre of Kanye-related work, almost enough to rival the songs written she’s about supposed ex-paramours. The Reputation era, with its snakes and spite, was a direct response to the situation, but it didn’t end there. On Lover, she opened the album with the ironic proclamation that she forgot all about the person throwing shade her way. Spoiler: she did not.


Bowing out of “the narrative?”

In early 2020, a full video of the “Famous” phone call leaked that seemed to vindicate Swift’s side of the story, marking the pendulum shift back to her side. This was another natural opportunity to bow out of “the narrative,” yet nevertheless, she persisted. folklore was more circumspect in its references to the feud, but it was clear Swift did not forget that Kanye existed. In the lyric video for her song “peace,” she pointedly capitalized the line “Robbers to the east, clowns to the West.”

The same month folklore was released, Ye’s long-promised presidential campaign imploded as he publicly broke down explaining his anti-abortion stance in relation to his own daughter. As his personal life began to fall apart, evermore dropped, which saw an uncharacteristically zen Swift advise her past self “not to get lost in these petty things / Your nemeses / will defeat themselves before you get a chance to swing.” The next month, it was reported that a divorce between Kardashian and Ye was imminent.

Taylor Swift - long story short (Official Lyric Video)

While Swift celebrated the successful releases of multiple re-records, Ye’s downward spiral became more troubling. He had a rocky, delayed release for one new album (Donda) that spotlighted Marilyn Manson and DaBaby, two artists embroiled in their own disturbing public controversies at the time. He started to post threatening tirades about his ex-wife’s new boyfriend. And his contentious support of Donald Trump evolved into full-blown white supremacist ideology, which saw Kanye recently professing he would go “death con 3 on Jewish people,” among many other upsetting sentiments. His erratic antisemitism has since cost him numerous lucrative partnerships and sponsors.


An odd juxtaposition

Knowing that her nemesis was doing a fine job defeating himself, Swift could have chosen to finally lay down her weapons. Instead, she released Midnights, a return to her previous pop eras—particularly in its fixation on her enemies getting what they deserve. On “Vigilante Shit,” she sings about being the instrument of her adversary’s downfall. “Karma,” meanwhile, is a catchy little nursery rhyme about villains getting their due. But it’s clear she’s still lost in these petty things, and enjoying herself quite a bit, thank you very much.

(The songs could just as easily apply to her other target, Scooter Braun, but thematic similarities to past songs and quotes about Ye make it clear he’s still in the mix. Braun is also closely tied to Ye: Swift shared a picture of them together to denounce the sale of her masters. In 2020, Ye tweeted that he’d help her get the masters back from “family friend” Braun; in 2022, he complained that “Just like Taylor Swift,” his publishing was being put up for sale.)


It’s an odd juxtaposition to hear Swift blithely singing that “Karma is my boyfriend” when the karma currently being dished out is her rival’s exposure as a virulent antisemite. If she had taken her own advice (on “Daylight,” she promises to be “defined by the things that I love, not the things that I hate”), Swift could have put the feud to rest rather than shamelessly gloating.

Taylor Swift - Karma (Official Lyric Video)

The optics of this feud have often been just as important as the actual actions. In 2009, a grown man with more fame and social power stepped on the moment of a teenager whose star was still on the rise. By 2017, the racial dynamics became more clear: Swift, at the peak of her power, became an icon of white woman victimhood, antagonizing a mentally ill Black man on music’s biggest stage.


A tiny bit of schadenfreude

In 2022, not much of that dynamic has materially changed. It’s just that Ye’s target has widened beyond bullying on a personal, individual level to espousing an ideology that’s dangerous on a global scale. If being against Ye means being for Swift, then it’s never been easier to be on Swift’s side—and who among us was above feeling a tiny bit of schadenfreude when Ye got kicked off the billionaire list? Still, it feels gauche, to say the least, to celebrate his downfall under these circumstances.

Perhaps because of that fateful moment in 2009, Swift has long positioned herself as an underdog, despite being one of pop culture’s biggest winners. It’s a myth her fans have bought into, leading to such confusing dynamics as a Twitter dogpile over a largely positive review.


The pettiness trickles from the top down, which is why it would be wise to finally drop this feud for real—the last thing this situation needs is a cultural conversation on antisemitism becoming a fandom battle. Continuing to circle the drain with Ye can lead to nothing good (seriously: her feud songs aren’t even close to her best). It may be time for Swift to finally bury the hatchet and the maps to where she put them, and let this long story play out without her input.