Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian are two of the biggest celebrities on the planet -- they're also two of the greatest at manipulating today's communications landscape.
They have online armies. They've built empires off feuds, gossips and for Kardashian, even a sex tape. They're women who are both at the top of their respective careers: pop stardom and Internet stardom, respectively.
But as they say, there can only be one queen, and Kim Kardashian just stole the crown.
The recent feud between Swift and Kardashian may, on the surface, look like petty celebrity gossip (and as many have already pointed out, there are certainly more pressing, meaningful issues in the world today.) But it tells us more about our modern landscape, demonstrating a master class in controlling the narrative and tearing down your competitor, than almost any relevant MBA case study.
Here's the top five communications takeaways from the Kim K-T Swift feud that "broke the Internet."
Control the Release of Information
Withholding information can be more powerful than spilling it. TMZ has built an empire on this very concept. Kardashian, a long-time TMZ collaborator, has apparently taken a page from their book, releasing tapes of a conversation between Swift and Kardashian's husband Kanye West regarding his song Famous.
Remember, Famous was first released in February. It was in June that Kim's GQ article was published claiming the tapes existed. The amateur communications play would have to been release the tapes then, but Kim isn't an amateur. #Hiddleswift was sweeping the nation and Taylor was on the offence. So, Kim waited. She built her campaign and readied her attack.
Catch Opposition Off Guard
Late last week, Taylor was fresh off a victory against ex-boyfriend Calvin Harris. She not only shamed him into admitting she penned his biggest hit to date, she did so without her finger prints directly on it. Add in a whirlwind romance and #Hiddleswift fever and it leaves Taylor vulnerable. She left her flanks open and Kardashian seized the opportunity. Think the timing was coincidental? The July 17 episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians was pieced together with footage dating back to February. Kim, Kris and the marketing zeitgeist that is the Kardashian empire waited for Taylor to show weakness.
Play to Your Strengths
Kim and her entire family of Ks have long owned social media. Kylie Jenner pioneered Snapchat, while Kim has racked up more Instagram likes then almost all other celebrities combined. This is not to say Taylor doesn't have her strengths (search #teamtaylor to see the legion of fans), but Kim's entire celebrity and worth has virtually been built on self-publishing content. She is the modern Internet. She is the living embodiment of click bait. So, when she "showed us the receipts," where else could she go but to Snapchat (and Twitter).
She "broke Twitter," like she has before. Never mind she essentially dedicated an entire episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians to hype the release of the now viral Snapchat videos. Five years ago, you would release these tapes on Primetime TV. But now? Kim uses Primetime TV to hype a video platform where the videos will "disappear" in 24 hours. And in doing so, she probably gained another million or so followers (which she will take to the bank through endorsements).
Confirm an Existing Belief
Taylor's veneer has been cracked for a while now. What once seemed like effortless and innocent pop stardom and has become a more carefully constructed celebrity strategy. Taylor's backlash was real. Her relationship questioned, her "squad goals" mocked -- the American public was ready to turn. Kim's narrative didn't advance that Kanye West was likeable or in the right to call a young woman a "b**ch" -- a narrative she would never win with. Her narrative was built around Taylor. "Taylor is a liar. The public Taylor is just a fake veneer. Taylor is secretly a mean girl." These are all statements that are based on existing perceptions and ones the public can willingly believe.
Want proof? Just look at the headlines. Taylor isn't the victim -- she's now the pariah. And her statements on the matter haven't received nearly as much play as Kim's. Another master at this is Donald Trump. "Crooked Hillary. Lying Ted Cruz." These narratives stick because they encompass, in some form, a grain of truth.
Choose Your Spokesperson Carefully
It's important to note that Kim took on this feud and not Kanye. Kanye is not Kim. He is difficult. He is not likeable. He is not accessible. And he lacks the credibility to attack Taylor. Kim, on the other hand, is the perfect face for the campaign. She is a mother of two. A reformed reality star who has taken off from her role in a sex tape to building an empire for her family. Just last week, she was on the cover of Forbes. Kim has become an All-American Hero -- an archetype of the new American dream. Most importantly, she is a woman. A mother attacking a young starlet plays better to U.S. Weekly than Kanye West.
In the case of Kardashian vs Swift, Kim's communications strategy won the day. But as reports surface that West may have broken the law by recording the conversation, the couple may need to shift their attention to a legal strategy...
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It all began in 2009, when Kanye West made headlines all over the world by he interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV VMAs. S he was collecting a prize for her ‘You Belong With Me’ music video, but ‘Ye clearly thought Beyoncé’s ‘You Belong With Me’ was a more worthy winner. The worst of it is, he famously told her ‘Imma let you finish’, and then didn’t let her finish.
The backlash started almost immediately, with singer P!nk declaring he was the “biggest piece of shit on earth” and Katy Perry - who would later have her own beef with Taylor, and collaborate with Yeezy on the song ‘E.T.’ - tweeting simply “fuck Kanye”. The most surprising Taylor supporter, though, was Barack Obama, who called Kanye a “jackass” during an off-the-record moment, which raised eyebrows.
The worst part of the Kanye backlash was when Lady Gaga chose to cancel their scheduled joint world jaunt, the ‘Fame Kills’ tour, allegedly due to “creative differences”. Gaga later went on her highly successful ‘The Fame Monster’ world tour solo, while Kanye chose to take “a break”.
In the ensuing months, Kanye’s attitude towards the incident switched between apologetic and defiant, posting - and then deleting - a remorseful blog post on his website. However, he later suggested that Taylor had “ridden the wave” of publicity that he claimed to have created for her with his interruption, while not sticking up for him in any ensuing interview.
Far from sticking up for Kanye, a year after the incident she performed the song ‘Innocent’ at the VMAs, which alluded to the ‘Dark Fantasy’ rapper in a number of ways, a move that was praised by some critics, but branded “bitter” and “petty” by others.
In May 2011, Kanye and Taylor came face to face for the first time at a fashion show, where it was reported that they shared a casual high-five, seemingly putting the past behind them.
Indeed, by 2015, Taylor was on top of the world, following the release of her first purely pop album, ‘1989’, and happily posed for a photo with Kanye at the Grammys (where, at the same ceremony, he jokingly took to the stage when Beck was awarded Album Of The Year over - you guessed it! - Beyoncé).
Speaking about their reconciliation that summer, she explained: “I feel like I wasn’t ready to be friends with him until I felt like he had some sort of respect for me, and he wasn’t ready to be friends with me until he had some sort of respect for me - so it was the same issue, and we both reached the same place at the same time.”
On the sixth anniversary of Kanye’s infamous stage invasion, Taylor took to the stage to introduce him at the 2015 VMAs, where she alluded to the incident before he collected his Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.
What we weren’t expecting was for Kanye to then defend the incident, explaining: “I often think back to the first day I met you also. You know I think about when I’m in the grocery store with my daughter and I have a really great conversation about fresh juice… and at the end they say, ’Oh, you’re not that bad after all!’ And like I think about it sometimes. … It crosses my mind a little bit like when I go to a baseball game and 60,000 people boo me. Crosses my mind a little bit.”
Still, Taylor was adamant things between them hadn’t turned sour, sharing this snap of flowers that her “BFF” had sent her, along with the hashtag #KanTay2020, referencing Yeezy’s vow to run for the next presidential election
And then… things took an unfortunate turn, when in 2016, Kanye unveiled his song, ‘Famous’. Debuted at his ‘Yeezy Season 3’ fashion show, he’s heard rapping: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous, I made that bitch famous.”
Taylor initially kept schtum about his remarks, though her friends and family were quick to slam Kanye, including her brother, who uploaded a video of himself through his Yeezy trainers in the bin. Kanye, meanwhile, was adamant that he contacted Taylor about the lyrics, insisting she gave him the thumbs up.
However, a representative for the ‘Shake It Off’ singer was quick to dispel his claims, saying that she would never approve a “misogynist” rap such as Kanye’s.
Taylor eventually discussed the controversy herself during her acceptance speech at the 2016 Grammys, telling her young fans not to let any man take credit for their accomplishments or, more crucially, their “fame”.
Shortly afterwards, Page Six published leaked audio of Kanye backstage at ‘Saturday Night Live’, claiming that “fake ass” Taylor had left him feeling “bummed”. The feud rolls on...
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