Why Taylor Swift Hasn’t Moved On From Her Kim Kardashian Beef

Kevin Mazur/MTV1415/WireImage
Kevin Mazur/MTV1415/WireImage

Eight years ago, Taylor Swift and Kanye West shared a phone call that would later go down in infamy. Somehow, we still haven’t heard the end of it, and at this rate, we probably never will. Ask five people who’s in the wrong in this scenario, and you’re liable to come back with five different answers.

Now, thanks to two pointed tracks on Swift’s newly released The Tortured Poets Department, the drama is being revived—despite nearly a decade having passed since it first started—and West's ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, is at the center. Swifties are passionately divided in their reaction to the star bringing up the whole ordeal again after it had seemingly simmered. The discourse has evolved into one of the most talked about aspects of TTPD’s release, raising the question: What was the point behind Taylor Swift resurfacing the Kim Kardashian drama all over again?

First, a refresher: During the now-curséd 2016 call, Swift and Kanye discussed the rapper’s then-forthcoming song, “Famous.” From here, the narratives completely diverge. Swift’s camp initially claimed after the song’s release that West had not called her for approval and that she had “cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message, adding: “Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous.’”

Then, West’s now ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, released snippets of the conversation as purported proof that Swift had actually given her approval—including a moment when she seemed to laugh off West’s idea to suggest in his song that she might owe him sex.

We all remember what happened from there: snake emojis suddenly flooded social media, #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty was trending, and Swift skeptics were energized by the belief that she’d been caught in a lie.

Swift swiped at Kimye with her 2017 album Reputation, and in 2020, Netflix’s documentary Miss Americana captured her retreat from the public eye after the controversy. Months later, in March of that year, a recording of the full Swift-Kanye call came out in 2020 and helped bolster Swift’s version of events, including that she was never made aware of the “that bitch” lyric despite having told him during the call that she’d worried he might refer to her that way. Sadly for her, we were all knee-deep in the early throes of a pandemic, and the energy around the controversy had already faded. Evidently, she feels we gave her vindication short shrift.

On her new album, The Tortured Poets Department, Swift seems to dedicate not one but two songs to the drama that many of us are probably ready to forget. First, there’s the unsubtly titled “thanK you aIMee,” with its conspicuously capitalized letters spelling “KIM,”and then there’s “Cassandra”—named for the Trojan priestess whom Apollo blessed with the gift of prophecy and then pettily cursed to never be believed.

The ‘Tortured Poets’ Leak Is Tearing Swifties Apart

“When it's ‘burn the bitch,’ they’re shrieking,” Swift sings on “Cassandra,” but “when the truth comes out, it’s quiet.”

Unsurprisingly, Kardashian is reportedly ready to stop talking about this. As a source told People on Tuesday, “She’s over it and thinks Taylor should move on.” The reality TV star “doesn’t get why [Swift] keeps harping on it,” the source added. “It’s been literally years.”

As self-serving as Kardashian’s desire to move on might be, the sentiment actually falls in line with a lot of listeners’ responses. The general vibe among the detractors seems to be, as one Reddit comment put it, “is this middle school?” Meanwhile, a quick search on Twitter reveals that to plenty of others, this song is a big, triumphant win.

Those more generous to Swift point out that Kardashian has never apologized for the damage the snake parade caused Swift in 2016, while others maintain that the singer might consider her record-breaking career afterward a decent consolation prize. We, as a society, could probably talk about this in circles for at least another decade without making any progress toward actually closing the book on it once and for all.

As with any celebrity squabble, this fight has two dimensions: the emotional and the capitalistic. In other words, there are the real feelings of both women involved, and then there’s the broader fight for America’s heart (and money). While Kardashian hails from the world of reality television, where conflict and kayfabe are king, Swift has extensive experience mining her rivals and detractors for musical fodder. (See: Katy Perry, who inspired both “Bad Blood” and a truly cutthroat Spotify maneuver, and whichever music critic prompted Swift to write her classic kiss-off anthem, “Mean.”)

It would be disingenuous for anyone but Swift and Kardashian to claim they know which of these dimensions has done more to keep this conflict alive and equally absurd to pretend they don’t each play some role. In Swift’s case, however, the emotions are far closer to the surface.

There’s something puzzling about “thanK you aIMee,” in which Swift claims to have changed her subject’s name while also seemingly writing it out in capital letters. Is she being disingenuous, or is she actually using her feud with Kardashian to mask a conflict with someone else—perhaps someone less famous? Regardless of which it is, she clearly wants us to remember that Kardashian hurt her.

The song is among the more stripped-down entries in Tortured Poets, and its lyrics are pretty direct: “All that time you were throwin’ punches,/ I was building somethin’/ And I can’t forgive the way you made me feel/ Screamed, ‘Fuck you, Aimee’ to the night sky as the blood was gushin’/ But I can’t forget the way you made me heal.”

The “fuck you” might eventually turn into a “thank you,” but taken together, it’s hard to tell how much of Swift has actually healed. Clearly, some part of her still feels that wound. Consider the shuddery, synth-heavy “Cassandra,” in which Swift compares her period of public cancellation to murder: “So, they killed/Cassandra first ’cause she feared the worst/ And tried to tell the town/ So they set my life in flames, I regret to say/ Do you believe me now?”

In both songs, Swift plays with perspective, likening the international public forum in which she and Kardashian both play to a small town. In “aimee,” it’s her “hometown,” where she sings that she pictures “a bronze, spray-tanned statue of you/ And a plaque underneath it/ That threatens to push me down the stairs at our school.” (Like “Mean,” “aimee” leans into imagery that might make one think of a high school bully.) In Cassandra, meanwhile, the “town” in question would presumably be Troy.

By shrinking this Herculean battle of the A-listers to small-town dynamics, one might argue that Swift is trying to make an incomprehensible, publicist-aided reputational battle feel more relatable. At the same time, she might lose some people when she claims in “Cassandra” to have “lost it all” during this moment of treachery—a narrative that doesn’t quite square with the record-breaking ascent she’s seen since, all while seeming to at least hint at this conflict on multiple albums. From Reputation, which was directly inspired by Swift’s momentary fall from grace, to subsequent albums including Lover and Evermore, fans have drawn lines between the lyrics and the Kimye drama.

If You Yell at Alexa, Taylor Swift Will Explain Her ‘Tortured Poets’ Songs

It would be ridiculous to assume that the 2016 incident, in which Swift says she was recorded without her knowledge and framed before the world as a liar, did not leave a scar—especially considering the whole 2009 VMA’s scandal backstory that underpinned it. At the same time, we also cannot escape the reality that for Swift, reminding us of that event has historically been very good for business. If Kardashian really wants all of this to go away, a public apology would probably be a good place to start, but at this point, it’s also clear that there’s a lot more at stake here than emotions alone.

If we take Swift at her Instagrammed word, Tortured Poets Department is a cleansing act—one that might end her public musings on the subject for good. “This period of the author’s life is now over, the chapter closed and boarded up,” she wrote while releasing the album. “There is nothing to avenge, no scores to settle once wounds have healed. And upon further reflection, a good number of them turned out to be self-inflicted. This writer is of the firm belief that our tears become holy in the form of ink on a page. Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it. And then all that’s left behind is the tortured poetry.”

Then again, haven’t we heard something like this before? In the foreword for the behind-the-scenes magazines she released to accompany Reputation, the singer wrote, “We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them they have chosen to show us. There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation.”

All of this to say, we might never be done with scores and explanations. Not while there are still reality TV shows to promote and albums to sell. But be honest: Are we all not entertained?

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.