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What really happened between Taylor Swift and Kanye West?

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Every possible scenario, ranging from 'reasonable' to 'insane'

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The internet has been totally devoured by the latest chapter in the long-running feud between Taylor Swift and Kanye West, an interpersonal conflict that stretches back all the way to the halcyon days of 2009. When West’s wife Kim Kardashian posted a series of Snapchat videos capturing a recorded conversation between Swift and West about his controversial song "Famous," it spawned more questions than any piece of video this side of the Game of Thrones finale. Is there any part of the conversation between Swift and West we’re not seeing? How much did she know about the song before it was released? When did she find out the recording existed? Is this all just a sham designed to boost ratings, Snapchat follower counts, and album sales?

Here’s what we know for sure: West called Swift to earn her consent regarding the line "For all my Southside niggas that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex," consent she gave in the taped conversation Kardashian posted on Snapchat. When the song was officially released in mid-February, the line above ended with the phrase, "I made that bitch famous." A representative for Swift released a statement claiming she had no idea about the "bitch" portion of the lyrics, and that she’d "cautioned him against releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message." West denied Swift’s contention that she was entirely unaware. When Swift appeared on stage at the Grammys a few days later, she condemned "people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame," a jab widely interpreted as referencing West.

When Kardashian appeared on the cover of GQ last month, she claimed that West and Swift’s conversation had been recorded as part of standard filming West conducts for posterity while recording new music. She also noted that Swift’s attorney had sent a letter demanding the footage of their conversation be destroyed. When GQ contacted Swift for clarification, a spokesperson supplied a lengthy statement in which Swift asserted she’d never heard the "bitch" phrase or the song in full before its release, and that she "cannot understand why Kanye West, and now Kim Kardashian, will not just leave her alone."

Here’s the evidence we’re working with, listed in roughly chronological order:

It may never be clear exactly what happened between Swift and West in the months between the composition of "Famous" and Kardashian’s Snapchat reveal, but that hasn’t kept people from speculating about the precise chain of events that led to last night’s conflagration. Here are three theories about this year’s most complicated celebrity beef.

Swift was shocked. This is the version of events that hews closest to public knowledge. West told Swift about part of the line, but didn’t include the "I made that bitch famous" section, and he didn’t play the song for her before its release. When Swift hears the song for the first time, she has a visceral reaction to the line and a change of heart regarding the song itself. She issues a statement condemning the song without clarifying how much she knew about the writing process, and she takes a moment to subtly slam West at the Grammys.

Swift's response could've been emotional and genuine

When she finds out that West has a recording of their conversation, she threatens him with legal action and attempts to bury it because it complicates her initial response. She starts to steel herself for its eventual release when Kardashian mentions it in GQ, preparing a statement and making it clearer that her response to the "bitch" portion of her song was emotional and genuine. She probably could’ve made it clearer that West had attempted to earn her consent, but you can’t begrudge her being affected by a word used to degrade women that was sprung on her without notice.

Swift knew something. If you believe Swift is a little Machiavellian but was ultimately outflanked by West, Kardashian, and momager nonpareil Kris Jenner, this is the story for you. It presumes Swift had enough of a handle on "Famous" to render its ultimate form unsurprising; she might not have cleared the "bitch" line or heard the song in advance, but she understood the sentiment. When the song is released, Swift decides to position herself as the innocent party being victimized by West’s uncouth stylings, a position she reinforces with her speech at the Grammys. When she finds out that West has a recording of their conversation, she attempts to bury the footage so it doesn’t undermine her public response to the song. And when Kardashian talks about the recording in GQ, she prepares a statement that focuses on technicalities and frames her as exhausted by the entire ordeal.

They’re all in this together. This one’s for all of the pop culture conspiracy theorists out there. You can choose your own adventure up until the point at which Swift learns about West’s recording of their conversation — it doesn’t matter whether she’s genuinely aggrieved or caught in a power play. When everyone knows about the conversation’s existence, they construct a plan that gives all parties plausible deniability and promotes their respective projects.

This is getting more and more unlikely by the minute

West gets to prove he asked and received some form of approval from Swift regarding "Famous," and Swift gets to hinge her defense on a part of the song that went undetailed in their conversation. Kardashian uses the footage to promote both her GQ interview and an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians built around the whole saga. "Famous" gets an attention bump that could turn it into the hit single The Life of Pablo hasn’t yet generated. And Swift gets a bulletproof narrative that, when coupled with her nascent relationship with Tom Hiddleston, carries her right into a single and album being prepared for release in the fall. (It’s an even year, after all.)

This is getting more and more unlikely by the minute, of course. It’d be impossible to predict how the public — let alone Swift and West’s friends and associates, many of whom have weighed in on Twitter — would react; there’d be a ton of moving parts to coordinate and keep secret; it’s unlikely that Swift would threaten legal action contingent on California’s consent laws just for the sake of maintaining the charade. Look back at the list of evidence provided before the theories. How could three people and their massive teams possibly keep all of those discrete items in sync and under wraps?

With that said, this is a feud that’s dependent on how you evaluate the "authenticity" and media savvy of its participants. There’s a telling moment in Swift’s phone call with West where Swift sounds hesitant about the line West is reading out to her. Her objection doesn’t have anything to do with the subject matter, though — she’s worried because she’s "this close to overexposure." When you’re captured thinking about your career and image with that kind of intelligence and self-awareness, people will start to believe almost anything.


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