Seasoned beef spotters knew there was trouble brewing when they heard Kanye West’s “Famous” at last week’s Yeezy Season 3 launch. “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex,” Kanye West raps on that track, from his new album, The Life of Pablo. “Why? I made that bitch famous.” Before that, it seemed like an end might finally have come to the longstanding feud that had simmered between Kanye West and Taylor Swift since 2009, when he leapt onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards to interrupt her acceptance speech. Without naming names, Swift issued a fierce retort last night when accepting her Grammy for Album of the Year. We might be just getting started.
September 13th, 2009: Kanye Interrupts Taylor’s VMAs Speech
In 2009 Taylor Swift was a 19-year-old country star whose latest album, Fearless, was also a hit with mainstream pop fans. Her video for “You Belong With Me” beat out Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” for Best Female Video, and she went to the stage to accept the award. So far, so good. Then Kanye, as we all remember, jumped onstage, grabbed the mic, and said, “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!” Kanye was booed, and celebrities quickly rallied behind Swift, including the President of the United States himself (“He’s a jackass,” Obama shrugged) and Beyoncé herself, who invited Swift onstage with her when accepting her Video of the Year award later that night.
West wrote an apologetic blog post, which he yanked, then wrote another, then finally express his regret on The Jay Leno Show, saying he was ashamed. He later contacted Swift to apologize by phone. But by this point, “interrupting Kanye” and his “I’mma let you finish” were internet memes and the incident had become one of the most parodied awards show moments, as Kanye might say, of all time. Of all time.
September 2010: Kanye Apologizes on Twitter, Taylor Debuts “Innocent”
A year later, Kanye fired off a lengthy, apologetic tweet storm, saying he’d written her a song that he’d record himself if she didn’t want it, and he concluded with a simple “I’m sorry Taylor.” But Swift had a song of her own that seemed to address the controversy, “Innocent,” which she premiered at that year’s VMAs. That ballad, which walked a fine line between forgiving and condescending, would also appear on Swift’s album, Speak Now. (Cynics might note that this feud flares up when there’s an award show on the horizon, or one of the artists in question has a new album to promote.)
November 5th, 2010: Kanye Backtracks on Apology
The controversy seemed to have died down after that, but in an interview with Access Hollywood in October 2010, West listed Swift’s Fearless among recent albums that should not have won the Grammy for Album of the Year. And as interviewers kept mentioning the VMA incident, West struggled to explain and sometimes defend it. On Minnesota radio station KDWB in November, he claimed his actions were not “arrogant” but “selfless.” He also claimed that the event benefitted Swift, saying that he helped her “have 100 magazine covers and sell a million [her] first week.”
August 30th, 2015: Taylor Presents Kanye With Video Vanguard Award at VMAs
In May 2011, Kanye West and Taylor Swift met on the red carpet at the Costume Institute Gala — without incident. The two exchanged a down-low hand slap. The hatchet seemed permanently buried when Swift was tapped to present the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award to West at the 2015 VMAs. Her speech concluded, “All the other winners, I’m really happy for you, I’m going to let you finish, but Kanye West has had one of the greatest careers of all time.” West’s acceptance was heartfelt but rambling, suggesting his issues with awards shows were far from settled.
February 11th, 2016: Kanye Mentions Taylor in New Song “Famous”
To premiere his latest album, The Life of Pablo, West took over Madison Square Garden and livesteamed a lavish event dubbed Yeezy Season 3. The spectacle received a wide range of responses, but everyone shook their head at one set of lyrics: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous/Goddamn, I made that bitch famous.” Kanye later said he’d gotten Taylor’s permission to drop that line, but a statement from Swift’s PR people disputed that: “Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account. She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous.'” Kanye took to Twitter, as he does, where he stuck to his story that Swift approved of the lines.
February 15th, 2016: Taylor Shades Kanye During Grammys Speech
The ball was in Swift’s court, then, when 1989 won the Grammy for Album of the Year. Her response was impassioned and as clearly directed at West as it could be without mentioning his name: “As the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, 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 or your fame.” Kanye West, undoubtedly, will have something to say about that.