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A Close Reading of Kim Kardashian West’s Latest Film: Kanye and Taylor’s Phone Call

Her best home movie to date

Getty/Ringer illustration
Getty/Ringer illustration

Did Taylor Swift give Kanye West her OK on “Famous”? In Kim Kardashian West’s GQ cover story, she claimed that the answer was a resounding “yes” — and that she had video proof to back it up. Since half of the world swears — but can’t prove — that Taylor is a liar, the prospect of a smoking gun was a tantalizing one. Finally, on Sunday night, Kim followed through on her tease: releasing, via her Snapchat account, the video of Kanye and Taylor’s infamous “Famous” phone call.

Alas, there was a catch. The video was highly edited.

And so, in a world where we have given pretty much everything (and literally everyone) else related to Kim Kardashian a close reading, it’s now time to add one more close read to the list: Kim Kardashian, filmmaker.

Taylor’s word vs. Kim’s snaps: Who won? Let’s go to the tape.

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Iconic opening scene. At first it’s tempting to wonder, “Why include this?” but I think it’s clear. The short exchange establishes a lot: Kanye and Taylor have known each other for a while now. Taylor has considered Kanye close enough that she would have given him her personal number. Said friendship was established a whole phone number ago.

In reality, “a whole phone number ago” could mean “two weeks before they spoke.” But from the perspective of Kim’s camera and edit, one assumes it’s been ages. In just six words, “You still got the Nashville number?” scopes us out a lifetime — or at least a lifetime of a friendship. Think of it as the dinosaur prologue in The Tree of Life of The Kardashian Snapchats.

There’s also an explicit metaphor within the exchange. In the Swift universe, “Nashville” has a lot of meanings — chief among them, her roots (they’re fake roots, but whatever). To many, fairly or not, Nashville represents the “real”/“country” Taylor, while New York represents a “contrived”/“pop” persona. In this context, when Kanye asks, “You still got the Nashville number?” he may as well be asking, “You still real?” That she still has a Nashville area code hardly matters; it’s the question itself that does the work, and stings the most.

Lastly, there’s a humanizing element here. Kim knows that cinema’s best villains are three-dimensional — and here she decides to give Swift some extra shading: “I had to change it,” says Taylor. Kim is acknowledging that Taylor’s life isn’t easy. Or at least: that her spotlight can be oppressive. (And that no one changes phone numbers because of anything good.) And maybe that’s one of the overlooked aspects of the Kim-Kanye-Taylor dynamic: They’re among the few people on earth who can actually understand what the other’s life must be like — what they must go through, daily, for better or worse. Which is to say that, like all great feuds, Kimye vs. Taylor is rooted in the most intense schism of all: understanding.

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There are two lines in “Famous” that have caused Taylor Swift–related controversy: the “sex” line and the “famous” line. Here, Kanye is shown unambiguously communicating one of those lines to Taylor. He slows down at the last portion considerably — with a sly, almost lawyered, “lest there be any confusion” cadence. Otherwise, this is a fairly literal scene, with a decisive cut: How Taylor reacted upon first hearing the line, we are never actually shown.

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It’s hard to know for sure why Kim includes the first part of this exchange, though it’s easy to guess: Worrying about overexposure arguably makes Taylor look self-conscious, and managed, and … like product. Worrying about exposure is, in theory, not the worry of a person who invites Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–ripoff tweens to her home in Rhode Island to bake cookies and listen to her new album about how she does or doesn’t hook up at Starbucks.

This anxiety also positions Taylor in direct contrast to the Kardashian ethos: We’ll hear Kim say, “I’m, like, this close to remembering who Kris Humphries is,” before we hear her say, “I’m, like, this close to overexposure.” Kim knows we know this, and knows it’s her signature advantage over Taylor: She has overexposure planned into her architecture; Taylor’s can’t allow it. Taylor’s aggravation is Kim’s reason for being.

Per Kim’s edit, Taylor’s “I mean, it’s like a compliment kind of” appears to be a direct response to Kanye’s line about Taylor and him having sex. It scans as approval, or at least as permission — though it’s unclear if it’s either.

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At this point it’s worth taking a second to note the only part of this video that feels actually indisputable: Kanye seems like a good dude. Like: a really, really, really good and sweet guy. The song is the song, and the fallout is the fallout, and the full truth is — let’s assume — ultimately unknowable. But my first thought after finishing this video was, “Kanye seems like a sweetheart.”

Not too bad an outcome, as far as “Snapchat controversies” go.

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All right, this one is tough to argue with. Here we have Taylor seeming to give Kanye both permission and approval — and it’s hard to imagine another conclusion being drawn.

However, while “tongue-in-cheek” appears to allude to the “sex” line, the cuts make it short of definitive: In theory, they could be discussing any line in any song that Kanye was working on at the time of the call.

And yet it seems all but certain. One of Kim’s best edits.

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Bragging about Instagram likes IRL is, on its own, approximately Worst Possible Look status. Knowing the number of likes offhand? Even worse. This is extremely dark shit, some truly bad magic, and Kim is a crazy genius for it. Another perfect edit.

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A word on Rick Rubin, hip-hop Svengali and Kanye studio whisperer, who is the object of a closeup during the above exchange, and intermittently present throughout the snap story: RICK RUBIN DOES NOT GIVE ONE SINGLE SOLITARY ATOMIZED PARTICLE OF EXPERIMENTAL INVISIBLE PREEXISTENT SHIT about … any of this. Like, really, let’s just take a moment here — because I’m afraid that, in all of the news spinning out from this, we’re in danger of losing sight of the real meaning of it all. And one of the truest meanings of Kim’s Snapchat story is undoubtedly the following: Rick Rubin does not care.

Rick Rubin does not care about which line Kanye uses in “Famous.” Rick Rubin does not care about whether or not Taylor Swift cares about which line Kanye uses in “Famous.” Rick Rubin does not care about the phone call about whether or not Taylor Swift cares about which line Kanye uses in “Famous.” Rick Rubin does not care about the video of the phone call about whether or not Taylor Swift cares about which line Kanye uses in “Famous.” Rick Rubin does not care about Kim’s Snapchat story of the video of the phone call about whether or not Taylor Swift cares about which line Kanye uses in “Famous.” Rick Rubin does not care about Taylor’s Instagram about Kim’s Snapchat story of the video of the phone call about whether or not Taylor Swift cares about which line Kanye uses in “Famous.” Rick Rubin does not care about your tweet about Taylor’s Instagram about Kim’s Snapchat story of the video of the phone call about whether or not Taylor Swift cares about which line Kanye uses in “Famous.” Rick Rubin does not care about the god that created the universe that perpetuates the solar system that creates the inhabitable conditions for the planet that physically actualizes the country that enacted the Constitution that laid the groundwork for the laws that legalize the internet that allows for the website that hosts the blog post that features your tweet about Taylor’s Instagram about Kim’s Snapchat story of the video of the phone call about whether or not Taylor Swift cares about which line Kanye uses in “Famous.”

Rick Rubin just wants to lie on his couch, and think about Rick Rubin things, and have a Rick Rubin beard, and make some Rick Rubin music, and maybe, just maybe — if it’s not too terrible an inconvenience for you — motherfucking relax.

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This is the turn of the screw if there is one — and here’s where I’m at on it: It’s hard to listen to the above and not think that Taylor is talking about the line, “I made that bitch famous.” I’m sorry; it’s just hard. It genuinely does feel like a smoking gun. If you didn’t even know the song “Famous” existed, I think you would listen to this part and conclude the following: Person A is on the line … rationalizing, and then permitting, Person B’s perspective … on how Person B deserves credit for Person A’s success. Not agreeing with it — just permitting it.

That’s how it plays.

How is it, really? Inconclusive, of course.

One point against: There is no explicit mention of the line in the video. Kim included the other (“sex”) line in question — and so it stands to reason that, if there was a more explicit discussion of the “famous” line between Kanye and Taylor on the call, she would have included it here as well. And yet she didn’t.

And then another point: Taylor has gone on the record as saying that her main criticism of the song is its use of the word “bitch.” It’s right there in her statement: “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.” It’s a compelling argument: Kim and Kanye are saying that Taylor OK’d the song, and their proof is that Taylor OK’d part of the song. Taylor is saying that she never OK’d the only part that bothers her. And there’s no proof one way or the other.

But it finally doesn’t matter — and that’s because all Taylor finally has on her side is logic. Kim has her Snapchat story — which is to say that Kim has art. And logic bows to art, every time.

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Would anyone* (*don’t answer that) be mad if Kim Kardashian West got nominated for Best Director at the Oscars this year? Because, after watching Kim’s Snapchat story, I can’t think of a good reason it shouldn’t happen.

What Kim accomplished with this Snapchat story simply can’t be overstated: She gave Taylor Swift her first L. That might be bold to say, fewer than 12 hours removed from its release — but I think it’s true. From this day forward, Taylor Swift is the 2007 Patriots. She is the 2016 Warriors. She is an all-timer. She is one of the greats. But she is not unbeatable. She’s not undefeated.

To grasp the magnitude of this moment, consider how many have tried to pin an L on Swift over the past decade and come up short: Diplo (public reconciliation), Nicki Minaj (public reconciliation), Lorde (friendship), the Kennedys (presumably a retributive long game that involves Taylor becoming president in 2036 and swapping out JFK’s portrait for a Haim vacation photo), Jake Gyllenhaal (Red), John Mayer (“Dear John,” John Mayer’s career), Harry Styles (1989, Zayn’s career), Katy Perry (sorry, be honest — “Bad Blood” bangs), Jared Leto (public apology), Tori Kelly (I’m unclear on how this ended, which means Taylor won), Calvin Harris (car accident; Hiddleston’d; Sjöberg’d), and, of course, Kanye himself.

But Kim Kardashian West won. Where everyone else played Taylor Swift to a loss or a draw … Kim Kardashian West won. How? Well, I think it’s obvious. She won by being herself.

In other words, Kim did what she’s done a thousand times before: Bullshit happened, and she made pop out of it. Pop happened, and she made life out of it. Life happened, and Kim Kardashian West — what else?

She made a movie.