Updated August 2017
By fall 2015, many of us mistakenly believed that the longstanding feud between Kanye West and Taylor Swift had finally reached an end. The clash started at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009, when West leapt onstage to interrupt Swift’s acceptance speech. It seemed to have concluded on that same stage, when Taylor presented Kanye with Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the 2015 VMAs. Then, in February, came Kanye’s infamously nasty lines on “Famous” – “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ “Why? I made that bitch famous.” And in June, he unveiled a video for the song featuring a nude prosthetic replica of Taylor. Then Kim got involved and the gloves really came off. And then, in August 2017, Taylor ended her musical hiatus with a song (“Look What You Made Me Do”) that really, really seems like a Kanye diss track. We used to ask “How will this all end?” Now we just wonder, “Will it all end?”
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.” But that was hardly the end of the battle.
Watch Taylor Swift take digs at industry sexism and Kanye West at 2016 Grammy Awards:
February 17th, 2016: Kanye Calls Taylor “Fake Ass” in Leaked Saturday Night Live Rant
And the beef rages on. … Details about the source and the exact context are still sketchy, but two days after Swift’s Grammy win, Page Six posted audio of an enraged West apparently venting backstage at SNL on February 13th. The clip is essentially an extended “Do you know who I am?” tirade — in which the rapper likens himself to Stanley Kubrick, Pablo Picasso and other icons — but West can be heard throwing in a quick Swift diss as well, labeling the singer-songwriter “fake ass.”
June 16th, 2016: Kim Joins the Battle
The squabbling over “Famous” had largely died down until an incendiary quote appeared in a GQ profile of Kim Kardashian. According to Kim, Kanye not only called Taylor for approval of the line, but their call was captured on video – and Swift, Kardashian said, knew about this footage. (In response, a Swift representative stated, “Taylor cannot understand why Kanye West, and now Kim Kardashian, will not just leave her alone.”) It might have seemed like an offhand remark. But a celebrity as publicity savvy as Kim Kardashian does not make offhand remarks. …
June 24th, 2016: Kanye Releases “Famous” Video Featuring Nude Taylor Replica
No, Kim’s comment was just prepping us for the latest salvo from Kanye. On June 24th, West debuted a nine-minute video for “Famous” at an exclusive Tidal event at the L.A. Forum that featured Kanye and Kim in bed, surrounded by nude replicas of a number of celebrities. At the place of honor, to Ye’s right, was a fully undressed Taylor Swift facsimile. West insisted the video had nothing to say about the individuals represented, but was just “a comment on fame.” Then he tweeted: “Can somebody sue me already #I’llwait.” Yes, Kanye, we’ll all wait.
July 17th, 2016: Kim Snapchats Video of Taylor Approving Controversial “Famous” Lyric; Taylor Calls Move “Character Assasination”
Up to this point, the feud over Kanye’s crass “Famous” lyric – “For all my Southside ni–as that know me best/I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex” – has been a classic case of he-said-she-said. But late Sunday night, Kim Kardashian introduced a key, highly damning piece of evidence into the court of public opinion. After venting her frustration on Keeping Up With the Kardashians – “I’ve had it with people blatantly treating my husband a certain way and making him look a certain way; I’m gonna say how I feel.”– she took to Snapchat to reveal the smoking-gun video she teased in GQ, which clearly shows Swift approving the supposedly controversial lyric. “What’s dope about the line is it’s very tongue-in-cheek either way,” the pop star says after West reads her the line. “And I really appreciate you telling me about it, that’s really nice.”
After the video reveal, Swift quickly fired back, taking issue with being called a “bitch” in the song and indicating that West never played her the full track prior to release as he promised: “Being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story or played any part of the song is character assassination,” she wrote on Instagram. Almost seven years after “I’mma let you finish,” this epic beef has seemingly reached a new apex – or nadir.
August 24th, 2017: After a long hiatus, Swift releases “Look What You Made Me Do,” the feisty lead single off her forthcoming new album Reputation. With vengeful lyrics like “I don’t like your little games/ I don’t like your tilted stage,/ I don’t like you,” plus an effect that sounds as if she’s singing through a phone, the track seems to allude to her long, public feud with West.