Getty Images; E! Illustration
We’re a shade-obsessed society, and Taylor Swift is thriving in it.
For someone whose brand is perfectly imperfect perfection, dealing with antagonistic forces in her life has been a time-consuming endeavor for Swift—not even counting the boyfriends, who at least provided plenty of fodder for some of the best-selling albums in recent years and a pile of Grammy-winning songs.
Any road to superstardom is studded with a few potholes, some of the variety that just appear, while others are dug by the stars themselves. But if you take a step back and look at the course of Swift’s now 10-year-plus career, it’s eye-opening to see how often on her journey she’s had to ponder a bump in the road and negotiate the best way around it.
Not that she hasn’t fallen into the occasional pothole along the way, but overall… Here’s how Swift has dealt with the forces that have aimed to trip her up:
For starters, the elephant in any room occupied by Taylor Swift: Kanye West.
Not to say that he made her famous (he didn’t), but he did introduce the first twist in her otherwise very straightforward story—starring himself as the redeemable villain.
2009 wasn’t that long ago, but it was a different time. After West interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech for Female Video of the Year at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, she reacted without an ounce of guile, frankly telling E! News afterward, “I was standing onstage and I was really excited because I had just won an award, and then I was really excited because Kanye West was on the stage. And then, um, I wasn’t so excited anymore after that.”
Couldn’t you just weep for the lost innocence?!
Truly, things have never been quite so simple since. Kanye apologized, both to Taylor and to the slack-jawed world, and Swift undoubtedly emerged the victor, every interaction with Kanye from them on an example of her earnest magnanimity. She poked fun at the incident in her monologue on Saturday Night Live when making her hosting debut that December. When she returned to the VMAs in 2010, she performed “Innocent,” a song that not-so-subtly referenced West in which she thoughtfully offered, “Every one of us has messed up too / Minds change like the weather / I hope you remember / Today is never too late to be brand new.”
A photo op at the 2015 Grammys with both Kanye and his wife, Kim Kardashian, indicated this bad-blood swamp had been thoroughly drained, and both artists spoke glowingly of the respect they had for each other.
So, who better to present West with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the 2015 MTV VMAs, six years after their inauspicious first meeting, than Swift?
“I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but Kanye has had one of the greatest careers of all time!” she said in her introductory speech, the whole…thing coming full circle.
Or so we thought.
Their mutual admiration society splintered after Kanye (as we now know) asked Taylor about the “me and Taylor might still have sex” line of his TLOP song “Famous,” but not the part of the line where he raps, “I made that bitch famous.”
Swift let her brother, Austin, and various friends have the initial reaction to that lyric bombshell, saving her ammo for Grammys night. Serendipitously, Grammys night was saving itself for her as well.
“I want to say, to all the young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments, for your fame,” she said in her Album of the Year speech, when 1989 made her the first female artist to win twice in that category. “But if you just focus on the work, and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you, and the people who love you, who put you there, and that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”
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But somehow that wasn’t it.
In an interview given to GQ, sometime during the spring but not published until June, Kim Kardashian went to bat for her man and insisted Taylor had known about the song and was being ridiculous.
Silence on Taylor’s end, which more often than not is her go-to response when the fight just isn’t worth having.
Then on a day that will live in Snapchat infamy, July 17, 2016, Kim posted a video of Kanye talking to Taylor on speaker phone, discussing the “might still have sex” line.
Yet while the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty raged on Twitter amid the tea and receipt memes, Swift hadn’t exactly been discredited. In her Grammys speech, she talked about someone claiming credit for her fame. And that’s what she pointed out in her very lucid response to Kim’s reveal.
Later that night, this popped up on all of Taylor’s social media accounts:
And actually, while the rest of the Internet could not get over it (plus, this all occurred while Taylor was dating Tom Hiddleston, so attention was divided), this was the end of the story for Swift.
Kim has commented since that she didn’t mean any shade, she was just trying to defend her hubby, etc., but Taylor has zipped her lip on this one. Aside from hanging out with friends (and breaking up with Tom), the rest of her year has consisted of exactly one live performance and a surprise addition to the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack—”I Don’t Want to Live Forever,” a collaboration with Zayn Malik.
Which brings us to another instance, one of many, in which staying silent was an astute choice.
After Swift wrote an open letter to Apple Music objecting to the decision to not pay artists royalties for music streamed during the service’s free-trial period, noting that it didn’t affect her but could hurt the thousands of other artists who did count on those paychecks, Zayn retweeted a meme showing quotes from both Taylor and Miley Cyrus, in which Tay-Tay was talking about taking her music off of Spotify and Miley saying she didn’t care about selling albums for material purposes. “The difference is astounding,” whoever first tweeted the pic had written.
Cue Swift’s then-boyfriend Calvin Harris swooping in, tweeting, “If u don’t get what it means when a successful artist uses their celebrity to benefit every other musician and songwriter in the industry…” And, “You’ve made your money? Cool…f–k the 99% of musicians who depend on these services to survive right? Yeah f–k em.” To which Zayn replied, “@CalvinHarris ha you just made an absolute fool of yourself mate.”
The gentlemen eventually made amends over the course of this back and forth, but Taylor didn’t intervene—and 18 months later, she and Harris are long since broken up and she and Zayn are making music!
Silence has also suited Taylor well in her ongoing beef with Katy Perry, a rift first opened when a few of Taylor’s backup dancers opted to work on Katy’s Prism World Tour over her Red World Tour.
The song “Bad Blood,” of course, was a rather noisy clapback at Katy, but Taylor has never named her fellow artist and former friend as the culprit, nor has she ever responded online to any of the pointed subtweets Katy has sent her way over the past two years.
Not even when Katy piled on after Nicki Minajcalled Taylor out for missing her point when Nicki tweeted about the 2015 MTV VMAs passing her over for a Video of the Year nomination in favor of a video that “celebrates women with very slim bodies.”
In a rare bit of Twitter engagement, Taylor replied to Nicki, writing, “@NICKIMINAJ I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot.”
“Huh? U must not be reading my tweets,” Minaj replied. “Didn’t say a word about u. I love u just as much. But u should speak on this. @TaylorSwift13.”
The next day, Perry tweeted, “Finding it ironic to parade the pit women against other women argument about as one unmeasurably capitalizes on the take down of a woman.”
But Taylor took Nicki’s point to heart and apologized for the misunderstanding, tweeting, “I thought I was being called out. I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke. I’m sorry, Nicki. @NICKIMINAJ.”
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images Images
Which is why, before presenting Kanye with his Vanguard Award, Taylor Swift opened the 2015 MTV VMAs with Nicki Minaj.
Reflecting on that experience later on that year (oh, how most celebs would love it if their biggest misstep of 2015 was an errant tweet), Swift told NME, “If there seems to be some kind of misunderstanding, I go to someone’s management, I get their number and I text them. It’s an important lesson for anyone to learn in 2015.”
So she isn’t too proud to say she’s sorry when need be.
And though she’s fanned a few flames herself by way of her music, Taylor is indeed very sensitive when it comes to the topic of women helping each other out—or doing the opposite. Which is, of course, why she would be motivated to translate her pain into song after feeling backstabbed by a friend in the first place.
Swift seemed to shrug off Amy Poehler and Tina Fey‘s riff on her love life at the 2013 Golden Globes, when the co-hosts debated whether or not Taylor should make a play for Michael J. Fox‘s 23-year-old son sitting nearby.
“I was just sort of like, ‘Oh well, you know, I can laugh at myself,'” she told Vanity Fair after the fact. However, on further reflection, she also told VF: “You know, Katie Couric is one of my favorite people. Because she said to me she had heard a quite that she loved, that said, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.'” (Couric seemingly heard that from Madeline Albright.)
“It’s just kind of ridiculous,” Taylor continued, “It’s why I have to avoid the tabloid part of our culture, because they turn you into a fictional character. For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated—a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way—that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.”
And as people mature, so does their sense of humor. At least, hopefully, because Tituss Burgess‘ character unleashed the “special place in hell” quote on the second season of Fey’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in April.
Comedians have long memories.
But if Swift learned anything from her unintentional feud with Nicki Minaj in 2015, it’s to not bother to engage unless it’s truly necessary—a practice she indeed implemented in 2016.
Amid all the Kanye-“Famous” business, he relationship with Calvin Harris ended, not long after the release of his single “This Is What You Came For,” featuring Rihanna. Truth enthusiasts realized that Taylor had sung on the track, and then it was determined that she had also written the track under a pseudonym.
After they had been broken up for about two months, Taylor’s rep released a simple statement in July confirming it was indeed Swift who had written the song. Or co-written, as it’s officially documented, with Harris under his real name, Adam Wiles.
But Calvin didn’t like that other reports were claiming how Taylor was so annoyed at him for shooting down the possibility of a collaboration between them, back when he was promoting the song, that it hastened their breakup.
So he embarked on an ill-advised Twitter rant that made him look like the petty one, even writing, “I know you’re off tour and you need someone new to try and bury like Katy ETC but I’m not that guy, sorry. I won’t allow it.” Katy Perry even tweeted her tacit approval with a pointed Hillary Clinton GIF.
All of which Taylor responded to with…silence.
And Calvin Harris has since been the one to rein it in, tweeting after “This Is What You Came For” was certified double platinum in the U.K. in November: “I am blessed to work with incredible artists @rihanna @taylorswift13 thank you!!!”
Civility should be the norm, at least in public, but since that isn’t always the case…bravo.
So while we can’t wait to hear what Taylor Swift has to say—both in interviews and musically—in the new year about what had to have been a transformative 2016, one can guess that she’s been spending her quiet time weighing her options, learning from past mistakes and figuring out how to build on the opportunity in front of her.
At this point, we know her all too well to expect anything less.