The Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj Twitter Feud: An Explanation

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Taylor Swift (left) and Nicki Minaj, in happier times. Specifically, 2011.
Taylor Swift (left) and Nicki Minaj, in happier times. Specifically, 2011. Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Late Tuesday afternoon, acclaimed pop star Taylor Swift sent an emotionally wounded retort to fellow acclaimed pop star Nicki Minaj. Swift was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Video, while Minaj was not.

Swift thought Minaj was unfairly directing blame for the snub at her, when Minaj should really be blaming one of the men nominated for said award.

Naturally, since this is 2015, Swift launched her reply on Twitter, where everybody could see it.

It was just the latest development in a long, unfolding saga that ended up involving people with very, very carefully sculpted images behaving like, well, human beings on social media, and learning a lesson all parents should tell their children when tucking them in at night: No matter what it is, never tweet.

Minaj is upset she wasn’t nominated for Video of the Year at the VMAs

The MTV Video Music Awards are now primarily known in the public consciousness as a platform for unusually bananas musical performances.

(It’s where, for instance, Miley Cyrus twerked and launched a million think pieces.) But like music’s other big awards — the Grammys — those performances are just there so you’ll watch while awards are handed out, and even if the audience doesn’t particularly care who wins, the artists very much do.

Minaj’s video for “Anaconda,” a riotous, gleeful celebration (and satirization) of female sexuality, was by far one of the biggest videos of the year. Essentially everything Swift touches nowadays turns to gold. It made sense to assume they would both be nominated.

Except that Minaj — who did receive three other VMA nominations in lower ballot categories — was passed over, while Swift was nominated for the overstuffed, overhyped “Bad Blood” video, filled with celebrity cameos and a far cry from essentially any other music video she released in the past year:

Here were the five nominees MTV arrived at:

Beyoncé – “7/11″
Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud”
Taylor Swift ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood”
Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk”
Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”

In terms of sheer artistic impact, this is a pretty weak crop. (Arguably, “Uptown Funk” is the one that’s had the most cultural reach, and that’s a pretty bland video.) It’s hard to see why “Anaconda” doesn’t belong on the list, and Minaj felt similarly.

It’s those last two tweets Swift took umbrage at.

Swift felt unfairly maligned; Minaj says the tweet was never about Swift in the first place

Part of the problem with discussing these things on Twitter is that Twitter’s very format invites misinterpretation. Limited character counts lend themselves to people getting the wrong idea.

So it’s easy to see why Swift assumed Minaj’s tweet referred to her — “Bad Blood” is, after all, the video by a woman in that category that broke records and impacted culture.

It also prominently features a number of women with “very slim bodies”: not just Swift but Selena Gomez, Karlie Kloss, Cara Delevingne, and Jessica Alba, to name a few.

But Minaj frequently discusses the ways that white culture appropriates and homogenizes black culture in the course of making it “popular.”

She could have just as easily been talking about, say, her longtime target Iggy Azalea, whose “Fancy” was a nominee last year. Her target, under this argument, is the VMAs and MTV as institutions.

For her part, Minaj said Swift wasn’t on her mind at all:

She also said she would be on stage to accept her award for video of the year — which, given that she wasn’t nominated, could plausibly be read as a promise to imitate Kanye West and go up on stage after an inferior video won.

Swift’s last words on the subject (so far) were to invite Minaj to join her should she win:

Minaj’s good point has been lost in coverage of the tweetstorm

The Swift kerfuffle distracts from Minaj’s larger point, which is that the artistic achievements of black people — particularly black women — are frequently co-opted and commodified by white culture, which is then celebrated for being edgy or groundbreaking.

When you view Minaj’s tweets in this context, it seems much more likely that she simply wasn’t even thinking about Swift when she wrote her tweets.

But by trying to shift the conversation from racism to sexism, Swift misses Minaj’s point as well.

What we’re talking about here is something called “intersectionality,” which is the idea that everybody carries some form of privilege with them, even if they lack privilege in other areas.

The most obvious example of this usually involves flare-ups between white women and women of color, who all experience society’s ingrained sexism as women but don’t all experience society’s ingrained racism.

And because of the former, white women often fail, from the perspective of women of color, to grasp the latter.

This is not to say that Swift is wrong, per se — indeed, both her point and Minaj’s are hugely valid. But Swift utterly misses the larger discussion Minaj was trying to kick off.

A day after the original Twitter brouhaha, Minaj followed up with an excerpt from this Guardian article, which she suggested proved her larger point:

The controversy is also deeply ironic when it comes to Swift

To be sure, Swift’s remarks are particularly rich, considering she’s nominated for a video for a song widely rumored to be about her apparent blood feud with fellow pop singer Katy Perry. (The rumor goes that the two fell out over backup dancers, of all things.)

Perry herself seemingly responded to this aspect of the situation, if obliquely, a day later.

But it’s also interesting to see Swift — normally such a controlled presence on social media, to the degree that even her personal moments feel carefully vetted — have such a human response to something she saw as a personal attack.

It’s hard to say what Swift will gather from the whole thing — but one lesson she’ll almost certainly learn is to think twice before hitting the tweet button.

Taylor Swift apologizes

On Thursday morning, two days after this kerfuffle began, Taylor Swift apologized for misunderstanding the tweet. She tweeted out a public apology to Minaj saying she misspoke:

Minaj responded in kind:

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