"Basically, I got really sick of the dynamic between he and I": Taylor shares her side of the turbulent relationship she's had with West since the infamous VMAs stage crash that started it all more than 10 years ago
It’s no secret that Taylor Swift and Kanye West‘s relationship can be described as volatile at best. The pair’s bad blood first became news when the rapper ambushed Swift’s acceptance speech for Video of the Year at the 2009 MTV VMAs – for which he later apologized. But after years of tension and a long-awaited reconciliation, Swift and West seem no closer to making up than they were following the rapper’s February 2016 release of “Famous” off his The Life of Pablo album (which made jabs at the “Paper Rings” crooner) and wife Kim Kardashian West‘s subsequent claims that Swift knew of West’s plans to release the track. (Swift’s rep told PEOPLE, “Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyrics, ‘I made that bitch famous.’ “)
In West’s explosive speech at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, he addressed the controversy – and expressed he only has love for everyone. “People come up to me like, ‘Man, that’s right. Take down Taylor.’ Bro, I love y’all. That’s why I called her,” he said.
While Kardashian West stated earlier this year that she was “over” their feud, Swift recently opened up about the ordeal in her most in-depth interview in years, for Rolling Stone’s October 2019 cover story, and offered some new insight into her side of the story.
More than 10 years after the night that started it all, we’re taking a look back at the drawn-out history of their drama, from the rapper’s now-infamous stage crash to Tay’s most recent comments.
The 2009 MTV Video Music Awards
The moment that started it all. When Swift was awarded the moon man for Best Female Video for “You Belong with Me” in 2009, West climbed the stairs to interrupt Swift’s acceptance speech with the now-infamous proclamation, “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!” Shortly after, a stunned Swift told reporters, “I was standing on stage and I was really excited because I’d just won the award and then I was really excited because Kanye West was on stage … And then I wasn’t excited anymore after that.”
Kanye Addresses the Incident on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
“I immediately knew in the situation that it was wrong and it was a spectacle,” West said, also attributing the outburst to a mixture of “sincerity and alcohol” on Ellen. “It’s actually someone’s emotions that I stepped on. It was very, it was rude, period. I’d like to be able to apologize to her in person.”
Kanye Eventually Apologizes to Swift
“Kanye did call me and he was very sincere in his apology, and I accepted that apology,” the “Blank Space” singer told ABC Radio in 2009. “The support I got from other artists and from the fans, and so many people sticking up for me, that’s what got me to the place where I could accept that apology. And I’m just very thankful that everyone showed me so much love.”
Taylor Releases a Song Inspired by West in 2010
Swift performed “Innocent” off her album Speak Now at the 2010 MTV VMAs. The song is said to be about the rapper: “It’s all right / Just wait and see / Your string of lights is still bright to me / Who you are is not where you’ve been / You’re still an innocent / … It’s okay / Life is a tough crowd / 32 and still growing up now.”
Kanye Takes Back the Apology in 2013
“I don’t have one regret. If anyone’s reading this waiting for some type of full-on, flat apology for anything, they should just stop reading right now,” he told the New York Times. “I have, as a human being, fallen to peer pressure.”
FROM COINAGE: VMAs by the Numbers
Kanye and Taylor Reunite at the 2015 Grammys
The pair were photographed together at the awards show, which sparked rumors of a potential collaboration that West was quick to humor in an interview with Ryan Seacrest. “She wants to get in the studio, and we’re definitely going to go in,” he said. “Any artist with an amazing point of view, perspective, fanbase, I’m down to get in the studio and work. I don’t discriminate.”
Taylor Addresses Her Friendship with Kanye in Vanity Fair
“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,” she said in the magazine’s August 2015 issue. “We haven’t planned [any collaboration] … But hey, I like him as a person. And that’s a really good, nice first step, a nice place for us to be.”
Taylor Presents Kanye with MTV’s Video Vanguard Award in 2015
“I first met Kanye West six years ago – at this show, actually!” she joked while introducing West. “It seemed like everyone in the world knew about our infamous encounter at the VMAs. But something that you may not know is that Kanye West’s album College Dropout was the very first album my brother and I bought on iTunes when I was 12 years old. I have been a fan of his for as long as I can remember because Kanye defines what it means to be a creative force in music, fashion and, well, life. So I guess I have to say to all the other winners tonight: I’m really happy for you, and I’mma let you finish, but Kanye West has had one of the greatest careers of all time!”
Kanye Gifts Swift Flowers Post-VMAs
“Awwww Kanye sent me the coolest flowers!! #KanTay2020 #BFFs”, wrote the “Out of the Woods” singer on Instagram, poking fun at the rapper’s announcement that he’s planning on running for president in 2020 during his Video Vanguard Award acceptance speech.
Kanye Debuts “Famous” at His February 2016 Yeezy Show
West’s “Famous,” off his album The Life of Pablo includes the aforementioned dig at Swift. Following backlash, the rapper took to Twitter, claiming that he had gotten permission from Swift to name-drop her following an hour-long phone conversation with the star.
Taylor’s Squad Comes to the Pop Star’s Defense
Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss and Jaime King, among other members of Swift’s squad, took to social media to address West’s “Famous” lyric. The singer’s younger brother Austin even posted an Instagram video of himself “spring cleaning,” which showed the budding actor trashing his Yeezy 350 Boosts.
Taylor Responds During Her Grammys Acceptance Speech
The singer got the last word (for the moment) when it came to the “Famous” incident. Upon accepting her Grammy for album of the year in February 2016, Swift indirectly addressed West’s “Famous” lyric while simultaneously delivering a super-empowering speech. “[A]s the first woman to win album of the year at the Grammys twice,” Swift said, “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.” She continued, “If you just focus on the work, and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there, and that will be the greatest feeling in the world. Thank you for this moment.”
Kim Kardashian West Says Taylor Knew of the Infamous “Famous” Lyric All Along
“She totally approved that,” Mrs. West said in the July issue of GQ that year. “She totally knew that that was coming out. She wanted to all of a sudden act like she didn’t. I swear, my husband gets so much s— for things [when] he really was doing proper protocol and even called to get it approved.”
Taylor Releases a Statement Following Kim’s Claims
A spokesperson for the “New Romantics” crooner was quick to comment on the matter. “Taylor does not hold anything against Kim Kardashian as she recognizes the pressure Kim must be under and that she is only repeating what she has been told by Kanye West,” the statement started off. “However, that does not change the fact that much of what Kim is saying is incorrect. Kanye West and Taylor only spoke once on the phone while she was on vacation with her family in January of 2016 and they have never spoken since. Taylor has never denied that conversation took place. It was on that phone call that Kanye West also asked her to release the song on her Twitter account, which she declined to do.”
Kanye Releases the “Famous” Music Video
West released his NSFW music video for “Famous” – and, of course, it wasn’t without controversy.
The video also opened with a snippet of Swift and background audio from that fateful night at the MTV Video Music Awards. Then, inspired by Vincent Desiderio’s 2008 Sleep painting, naked sculptures resembling Swift, George W. Bush, Anna Wintour, Donald Trump, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Kanye, Kim Kardashian West, Ray J, Amber Rose, Caitlyn Jenner and Bill Cosby all lay naked, lumped together on a large bed with a singular bed sheet covering them.
Swift’s friend Lena Dunham slammed West for the video in a Facebook post. She wrote that while she has no beef with West personally, she strongly objected to the video and urged the rapper to avoid gender stereotypes and the objectification of women’s bodies. She called the music video “sickening” and “disturbing.”
Kim Explains Why She Talked About Taylor
On a July 2016 episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, the family discussed the longstanding feud between Kanye and Taylor in great detail, as well as Kanye’s controversial rant during his appearance on Saturday Night Live, where he was recorded backstage calling Taylor fake.
When West’s assistant called Kardashian West to let her know about the leaked audio recording from SNL, she got upset, though West didn’t seem too bothered. “My full-time job is your publicist,” she told her husband. “I care what people think.”
“Kanye says what he wants and he has no filter … and some people may not understand that,” Kardashian West added during her interview. “Usually I try to stay neutral and just give moral support.”
“I never talk s— about anyone publicly, especially in interviews. But I was just like, I had so had it,” she said “I wanted to defend him in it. She legitimately, quote, says, ‘As soon as I get on that Grammy red carpet I’m gonna tell all the press. Like I was in on it.’ “
“And then she just didn’t like the reaction?” Kourtney asked.
“Yeah, and you know just another way to play the victim,” Kardashian West answered. “It definitely got her a lot of attention the first time,” – referencing when Kanye jumped on VMA stage – “I just don’t think he should be punished for it still to this day.”
“I feel like I’ve had it with people blatantly treating my husband a certain way and making him look a certain way, and I’m gonna say how I feel,” Kardashian West said during her interview. “Kanye is always so honest and speaks his mind. And you know, when we were first dating, people would always talk s— and he always had my back. At this point, I really don’t give a f— so I’ll do whatever to protect my husband.”
She then went on to add that Swift even helped West rewrite the lyrics within the song.
“I’m so glad that you said the truth,” Kourtney told her sister. “Yeah, I’m just speaking the truth,” Kardashian West replied.
At the end of the episode, Kardashian West sat down with momager Kris Jenner to discuss the controversial interview and issues surrounded it. Jenner tried to play peacemaker, asking, “What would happen if you just called Taylor up and say ‘What happened? How did this go so south?’ I guess I don’t understand the motivation to flip … maybe she took it the wrong way. My advice would be to give Taylor Swift a call.”
“Thank you for your lovely advice,” Kardashian West told her mother, “but I’m not going to take it.”
Kim Releases Video Footage of the Phone Call
Immediately following that episode of KUWTK, Kardashian West took to Snapchat to provide the proof, sharing a series of videos of that phone call between West and Swift, discussing the “Famous” lyrics – as well as their history.
“It’s like a compliment,” Swift is heard saying in the video after West reads the lyrics to her (which include, “For all my Southside n—– that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex”).
“What I give a f— is you as a person, and as a friend, I want things that make you feel good,” Kanye said, and thanked Swift “for being like, so cool about it” after she told him she appreciates the “heads up” on the lyrics.
“I never would’ve expected you to like tell me about a line in your song,” Swift said. “I mean, I don’t think anybody would listen to that and be like, ‘Oh, that’s a real diss.’ You gotta tell the story that way that it happened to you and the way you experienced it.”
She went on to add, “If people ask me about it, look, I think it would be great for me to be like, ‘He called me and told me before it came out … Joke’s on you, guys. We’re fine.’ “
If you’re wondering why Kardashian West felt the need to jump in, “Kim is super loyal to Kanye and will always do anything to have his back,” a source tells PEOPLE. “She is even more protective of him than she is of herself. She thinks he’s misunderstood and couldn’t stand that people thought he was a liar.”
Swift’s rep told PEOPLE, “Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyrics, ‘I made that bitch famous.'”
The Internet immediately seemed to side with the reality star, and #KimExposedTaylorParty started trending.
Taylor Has Officially Had Enough
Swift wasn’t about to sit back and watch all this happen – she quickly responded to the videos with a post on Instagram.
“Where is the video of Kanye telling me he was going to call me ‘that bitch’ in his song? It doesn’t exist because it never happened. You don’t get to control someone’s emotional response to being called ‘that bitch’ in front of the entire world,” she wrote in a note.
“Of course I wanted to like the song. I wanted to believe Kanye when he told me that I would love the song. I wanted us to have a friendly relationship. He promised to play the song for me, but he never did. While I wanted to be supportive of Kanye on the phone call, you cannot ‘approve’ a song you haven’t heard. Being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story or played any part of the song is character assassination.”
“I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never asked to be a part of, since 2009,” Swift continued. She captioned the post, “That moment when Kanye West secretly records your phone call, then Kim posts it on the Internet.”
The Squad Steps in – Again
Luckily, Swift has backup in the form of her A-list squad, who jumped in to defend her.
Selena Gomez tweeted, “There are more important things to talk about… Why can’t people use their voice for something that f—ing matters? Truth is last thing we need right now is hate, in any form.”
Then, Ruby Rose, another member of Swift’s squad, chimed in with: “Yo Khloe I thought you were rad when I met you but this is awful and this is a 19 year old girl. Nobody likes being bullied or made to feel worthless.. Yet so many people will go above and beyond to make others feel that way.”
Martha Hunt also tweeted, “It’s pathetic how quick our culture is to sensationalize a fabricated story.. Take interest in the real problems going on. Spread love.”
Kanye Claims Victory in the Feud
“I’m so glad my wife has Snapchat, ’cause now y’all can know the truth,” West told the crowd at a Drake concert he crashed. After the duo performed their collaboration “Pop Style,” West couldn’t resist bringing up the infamous #KimExposedTaylorParty snaps.
“And can’t nobody talk s––– about Ye no more!” he said before launching into his “Famous” verse about Swift.
Kanye Appears to Move On … Sort Of
It seems like West is tired of the whole feud. In his 2016 VMAs speech, he rejected the idea that he was trying to “take down Taylor.” West said that he has nothing but love: “That’s why I called her.”
The day after the awards, he tweeted a photo of someone wearing a shirt that showed half of Swift’s 1989 cover and half of his own My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy cover.
An Earlier — More Controversial — Version of “Famous” Leaks
The song that started it all could have potentially started a lot more if it was released the way it was initially recorded.
In early October, an earlier recording of the song surfaced online, and the controversial lyric that targets Swift sounds even more controversial: “I feel like Taylor Swift still owe me sex / I made that bitch famous,” he raps. He then repeats part of the verse but subs in his ex Amber Rose’s name. “I feel like Amber Rose still owe me sex / Why? I made that bitch famous / Not really, but somewhat famous,” he continues.
A source close to the situation tells PEOPLE exclusively the demo is revealing. “Now you know why Kim only posted an edited three minutes of video footage to Snapchat and not the hour-long conversation that they had,” says the source.
Taylor’s Got a Reputation
Almost a year after Kardashian West exposed those secretly recorded phone calls on her Snapchat, Swift announced she is releasing her sixth studio album, Reputation. The Grammy winner teased the news with a series of mysterious Instagram videos depicting a serpent. This appears to be her way of saying she’s reclaiming the snake emoji, which found a home on her Instagram comments section following the release of Kardashian West’s Snapchat clips.
Taylor Slams Kanye in ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’
Sure, Swift alludes to her ongoing feud with West in her first single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” off her sixth studio album, Reputation (and even appears to reference it in the song’s video, above) but the Grammy winner seemed to dedicate an entire track to the rapper in “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” While her first Yeezy-inspired track (2010’s “Innocent”) was a heartfelt, understated ballad, her 2017 offering is extra AF — but probably just as heartfelt.
“There I was giving you a second chance / If only you weren’t so shady / But you stabbed me in the back while shaking my hand / And therein lies the issue / Friends don’t try to trick you / Get you on phone and mind-twist you,” she coyly quips over sirens and bumping bass on the theatrical bop.
“Forgiveness is a nice thing to do,” she adds in her best holier-than-thou voice before bursting into a cackle. “I can’t even say it with a straight face.”
Kim Says There’s No More “Bad Blood”
In January 2019, Kardashian West cleared the air during an appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, during the show’s “Squash That Beef!” segment. When asked about if her feud with Taylor over the leaked phone calls was still ongoing, she said she was “over it.”
“I feel like we’d all moved on,” Kardashian West added of the tension between them. Later in the show, she also added that she’d rather be stuck in an elevator with Swift than Drake — another star who’s had a complicated history with her husband.
But Then She Brings Back the Snakes
Just three months after announcing she’d moved past her drama with Swift, the reality star seemingly shaded the “Look What You Made Me Do” singer on her Instagram Story. At the same time as Swift released her highly anticipated single “ME!,” the makeup mogul posted a collection of snake jewelry, which fans took to be a not-so-subtle dig at the Grammy winner due to the association of the snake emoji with the fan response to the Snapchat video of several years ago.
Taylor Laughs it Off
In a candid cover story interview with Elle released weeks before Kim’s post, Swift alluded to her rocky relationship with the Wests and spoke out about how she learned to triumph over bullies.
“I learned that disarming someone’s petty bullying can be as simple as learning to laugh,” Swift — whose Reputation era was dominated by the snake imagery — wrote in Elle. “In my experience, I’ve come to see that bullies want to be feared and taken seriously. A few years ago, someone started an online hate campaign by calling me a snake on the internet.”
The singer wrote that the “hate campaign” affected her deeply, but repurposing the symbol her haters used to bully her helped her “Shake it Off.”
“I can’t tell you how hard I had to keep from laughing every time my 63-foot inflatable cobra named Karyn appeared onstage in front of 60,000 screaming fans,” she wrote. “It’s the Stadium Tour equivalent of responding to a troll’s hateful Instagram comment with ‘lol.’”
“It would be nice if we could get an apology from people who bully us,” Swift continued, “but maybe all I’ll ever get is the satisfaction of knowing I could survive it, and thrive in spite of it.”
Taylor Calls Kanye’s ‘Famous’ Music Video ‘Revenge Porn’
At the core of her battle with Scooter Braun over his June 2019 purchase of Big Machine Records, which effectively gave him ownership over Swift’s masters, was his affiliation with the Wests and participation in their feud.
After she learned the Braun had acquired her musical catalogue, she opened up about her emotional response in a lengthy Tumblr post.
“All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years,” she continued. “Like when Kim Kardashian orchestrated an illegally recorded snippet of a phone call to be leaked and then Scooter got his two clients together to bully me online about it.”
She included a screenshot taken from Justin Bieber’s Instagram account of an August 2016 post, in which the “Sorry” singer shared a Facetime call between himself and Braun — who is alongside on-and-off client West, whom Braun was not managing at the time. “Taylor swift what up,” Bieber captioned the post.
Swift then called out West’s infamous “Famous” music video directly. “Or when his client, Kanye West, organized a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked,” the singer said. “Now Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy. Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.”
Taylor Finds a Silver Lining
In her September 2019 Vogue cover interview, Swift addressed her decision to air her grievances with West in the way she knows best — by writing a song about it.
“I knew immediately I needed to make music about it because I knew it was the only way I could survive it,” she said of her Reputation track “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” “It was the only way I could preserve my mental health and also tell the story of what it’s like to go through something so humiliating.”
Swift recalled feeling like she was going through “a grieving process” that involved “so many micro emotions in a day” — something she knows is normal “when you’re going through loss or embarrassment or shame.”
“One of the reasons why I didn’t do interviews for Reputation was that I couldn’t figure out how I felt hour to hour,” she said, explaining that she alternated between feeling grateful for the opportunity to grow and resentful of just how much it took. “Sometimes I felt like: All these things taught me something that I never could have learned in a way that didn’t hurt as much.”
“Five minutes later, I’d feel like: ‘That was horrible. Why did that have to happen? What am I supposed to take from this other than mass amounts of humiliation?’” Swift continued. “And then five minutes later I’d think: ‘I think I might be happier than I’ve ever been.’”
The “You Need to Calm Down” hitmaker, who released her seventh studio album Lover on Aug. 23, told the magazine that the prolonged ordeal with the Wests has ultimately helped her to break free of her image “as this always smiling, always happy ‘America’s sweetheart’ thing.”
“And then having that taken away and realizing that it’s actually a great thing that it was taken away, because that’s extremely limiting,” Swift continued.
And while she’s grateful for what she’s learned and gained from the experience, the Wests shouldn’t expect an olive branch anytime soon. “We’re not going to go straight to gratitude with it. Ever. But we’re going to find positive aspects to it. We’re never going to write a thank you note.”
She Brings It Full Circle
She may not be writing a thank you note, but she is sharing some other writing: A 2009 diary entry from the week of the initial incident, which she revealed in extras from her Lover release. “Ahh… the things that can change in a week,” she wrote. “If you had told me that one of the biggest stars in music was going to jump on stage and announce that he thought I shouldn’t have won on live television, I would’ve said, ‘That stuff doesn’t really happen in real life.’ Well … apparently …. It does.”
Taylor Shares Her Side of the Story
In her most in-depth and candid interview in years, Swift opened up to Rolling Stone in September 2019 about the time surrounding her infamous phone call with West. She offered new details about various “events that led up” to the call, adding that they were what caused her “to be pissed off when [West] called me a b—-.”
She explained that she grew “really sick of the dynamic between he and I,” adding that he reached out to reconnect in private on several occasions only to act differently in public, which she continued to look past “because all I ever wanted my whole career after that thing happened in 2009 was for him to respect me.” She continued, “I hate that about myself … but that’s where I was.” She revealed they’d “go to dinner and stuff” and he “would say really nice things” about her music at the time, and she alleged that West even called her ahead of the 2015 VMAs to ask her to present the Video Vanguard Award to him as a public display of their reconciliation. “I was so stoked that he asked me that,” Swift said.
But when West got on stage and made a comment about MTV using his and Swift’s interaction to boost ratings, “I realized he is so two-faced,” she said. “That he wants to be nice to me behind the scenes, but then he wants to look cool, get up in front of everyone and talk s—.”
By the time “Famous” came out, Taylor was done with the ups and downs of their drama. “When I heard the song, I was like, ‘I’m done with this. If you want to be on bad terms, let’s be on bad terms, but just be real about it.’ “