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Who Will Win the Taylor Swift–Katy Perry Feud?

The long-simmering beef is finally coming to a head

(AP Images/Ringer illustration)
(AP Images/Ringer illustration)

All great pop-cultural feuds must end. But first, they must come to a head. That’s what seems to be happening in the Great Taylor Swift–Katy Perry Feud of 2013–17, which kicked off when Perry may or may not have poached a few of Swift’s backup dancers. It’s simmered on and off since then: Swift let it drop that 2014’s “Bad Blood” was about another female pop star (presumed to be Perry), and Perry just last month released “Swish Swish,” which — well, you sound it out. In late May Perry finally said it loud and clear during an episode of “Carpool Karaoke” with James Corden: “Honestly, it’s really like, she started it, and it’s time for her to finish it.”

Swift went weeks without a response. And then Thursday, on the eve of Perry’s new album, Witness, an announcement: Taylor Swift’s full catalog would be returning to all streaming services — on the same day as Witness’s release. The feud is back on, so we have gathered here to answer the important question: Who will win the cold war between Taylor Swift and Katy Perry? Here, Ringer staffers pick sides.

Team Taylor

Amanda Dobbins: Taylor Swift has more or less been in hiding since the end of 2016, which is solid evidence that she (a) has read your blog posts and (b) is aware that she lost her once-savvy media touch. (Not totally, though; the streaming-services upstage is a petty masterstroke.) The longer she’s gone, the more powerful she gets, I think. But also, please consider these words:

“Well that’s not my question to answer — if it’s about me. I think [my new album is] a very empowered record. There is no one thing that’s calling out any one person. One thing to note is: You can’t mistake kindness for weakness and don’t come for me. Anyone. Anyone. Anyone. Anyone. And that’s not to any one person and don’t quote me that it is, because it’s not. It’s not about that. Honestly, when women come together and they decide to unite, this world is going to be a better place. Period end of story. But, let me say this: Everything has a reaction or a consequence so don’t forget about that, OK, honey. [Laughs] We got to keep it real, honey. This record is not about anyone else! This record is about me being seen and heard so that I can see and hear everyone else! It’s not even about me! It’s about everything that I see out there that I digest. I think there’s a healing in it for me and vulnerability. If people want to connect and be healed and feel vulnerable and feel empowered and strong, God bless and here it is.” — Katy Perry, May 8, 2017

LOL, good luck, sister. Taylor Swift is going to digest you for lunch.

Rob Harvilla: The single word that should scare Katy Perry the most right now is Artpop. Lady Gaga’s 2013 flop wasn’t a career-killer, exactly, but it sure sent her scrambling; she broke the glass on 12 different alarms triggering 12 different exit strategies. Creepy TV star! Tony Bennett duet partner! Professional deliverer of award-show tribute montages! Normcore anti-diva! Say what you will about Gaga, but she’s got range, if not the range. Any pop star can handle success. It’s how you react to your first brush with true failure — true and inevitable failure, on a long enough timeline — that determines your durability or lack thereof.

Witness is better than I feared — “I miss you more than I loved you” is a better line than anything on, just to pick a random example, 1989 — but it may well flop hard anyway. (The album cover’s explicit echo of Christina Aguilera’s Bionic, another infamous pop-star catastrophe, ain’t helping.) The singles thus far are bizarre: ”Chained to the Rhythm” is too clunky and pedantic to take flight, and “Bon Appétit” is a food-porn farce only a preposterous person could love. That Katy’s already got an American Idol judgeship lined up suggests she knows the score. But her lack of versatility is worrisome. She knows how to be a triumphant pop star. She may not know how to be a struggling one.

Forget Taylor; Katy might not even manage to prevail against herself. “Bad Blood” was a bad song, conceived in bad faith, with bad optics and a bad video featuring an ultra-rare bad Kendrick Lamar feature, and it still sent Katy into a yearslong tailspin. In that loopy EW interview a few weeks back, the mere mention of that fiasco compels Katy to spontaneously toss a half-subtweet, half-Zen-koan, half-empty-threat word salad. Even now, she still sounds shook, in the parlance of pop-star-approved cultural appropriation. Swift’s decision to regift her catalog to streaming services on Friday of all days is both petty and savage: This is not a fair fight. Like, it’s approaching Drake vs. Meek Mill or 2017 Warriors vs. Cavs levels of lopsidedness.

Pray for Katy. She’s still prayin’. It ain’t workin’. I am on her side, but her side is losing. She hasn’t had an objectively great song (think “Teenage Dream”) in years. (Witness’s “Miss You More” is lovely, but it’s nowhere near that level.) But what’s more concerning is that her true strength — dumb songs that are pretty good anyway — may have abandoned her as well. (Think “Hot N Cold,” “E.T.,” or “Dark Horse.”) She’s off her game. Taylor Swift will outlive us all, like it or not. But Katy might not outlive “Bon Appétit.”

Hannah Giorgis: There are few things in this world that interest me less than petty squabbles between preternaturally untalented white women, but it seems Katy Perry is determined to make people notice her. In the last several months, she’s tossed an astonishing number of gimmicks at the wall in the hopes of forging or at least feigning relevancy: a sudden interest in being “conscious,” a Migos-assisted track that I find my dear colleague Justin Charity seriously troubled for enjoying, many deeply ill-advised attempts at getting invited to the proverbial cookout, and now a renewed jab at human subtweet Taylor Swift. For her part, T-Swift has been blessedly quiet — and I suspect she will remain that way. And for that sweet, small mercy, I am grateful. So grateful, in fact, that I’m gonna cast my vote for the sentient sorority tiara herself: T-Swift wins because she doesn’t need the beef.

Alyssa Bereznak: Not like I’m gunning for her, but it seems like Taylor Swift already won this feud. At least, based on her terrifyingly adept media manipulation of the details. Let’s examine the timeline:

  • Swift hit up Max Martin to make a pretty OK song called “Bad Blood” and let the internet figure out it was about Katy Perry. Intrigue over the song launched it to the top of the charts in multiple countries. She got richer.
  • Swift subsequently made a bad music video for the tune that starred approximately 243,326,437 of her hot and famous friends (plus Kendrick Lamar). At the time, it broke the Vevo 24-hour record for views. The internet picked it over for clues about the feud. She got richer.
  • Swift briefly squabbled with Nicki Minaj over a VMA-related subtweet, then the two of them performed together at the event. Perry had an opportunity to skewer Swift, but instead fumbled at a crucial moment by tweeting something that wasn’t even a sentence. Swift got richer.
  • In a high-profile GQ profile, Swift publicly denied that the song was about Perry just so she could sneakily get the words “Bad Blood” and “Katy Perry” into a bunch of headlines while also claiming innocence. Swift probably got richer.

Years later, Perry is on her own counter-feud media tour, conveniently pegged to the release of her new album. The difference is, she’s not as disciplined a gossip whisperer as Swift. While Swift was at home studying Wag the Dog in a ruffly white nightgown, Perry was probably still in the process of removing that matching Sanskrit tattoo she got with her ex-husband Russell Brand. Perry is a little bit messier, a little bit more of a human being. Because of that, she’s already lost control with the media. Within the span of a month, she has insisted that the songs on her album weren’t about anyone, released a weird song that is obviously about Swift, and then called on her to end the feud.

Then: The same day that Perry launched her album, Spotify joyfully announced that Swift has returned to its platform!!! As you might recall, Swift had maintained a longstanding feud with the streaming company because she thought its pay structure devalued her work and was unfair to indie artists. But given the opportunity to demonstrate her musical importance on Perry’s big day, all that principled talk was canned. Swift’s specialty — with the exception of last year’s release of the Kimye receipts — is to get rich while feuding. My bet is that all this ends with an insincere yet critically acclaimed nonapology song on her next album. And that “Swish Swish” will be but a vague memory as the Swift Industrial Complex consumes us all. Katy never had a chance.

Andrew Gruttadaro: Earlier this year, Nicki Minaj more or less won a feud with legendary female MC Remy Ma by sitting back and letting her outsize fame and Remy’s inability to quit while she was ahead do the work. Remy’s “ShETHER” was an evisceration with a few shots so savage I could barely lift my jaw the first time I heard them. The public called for an immediate response from Nicki, but instead she basically remained silent. And just as many were preparing to give the crown to Remy, she went and released a second dis track, “Another One.” This time around, the response was tepid and the resounding opinion was that Remy had overplayed her hand — she went from being considered a cutthroat MC saying the things no one else would to a desperate has-been trying to regain fame by sniping at a bigger star. Less than a week later, Nicki Minaj finally dropped her response, “No Frauds,” along with the message, “Queens don’t move on peasant time.” It was over before anyone even hit play.

This Katy-Taylor thing is playing out in similar fashion. Even though Taylor had a rough 2016, in which the world realized she’s been playing everyone, and after she was noticeably silent during an election when her pop-star peers opted for optimism, she’s sitting back and watching as Katy takes herself down, and then throwing salt in her wounds with mind-blowing expertise. May I present to the jury evidence item no. 1?

And item no. 1A:

These are bad looks for KP, who sung about being disillusioned by modern culture back in February only to turn around and drop a song rife with bad food-sex innuendoes and “Swish Swish,” a T-Swift dis track so transparent it feels as though it was produced for the sake of aggregated blog headlines. Then, at the most opportune time, the eve of the release of Perry’s Witness — because remember: Queens don’t move on peasant time — Taylor delivered a crushing blow, making her entire discography available on streaming. Seeing T-Swift undercut KP in such a simple but brutal way, you almost have to feel bad for the latter. Perry’s not equipped for a war like this. Both “Chained to the Rhythm” and “Bon Appétit” hit no. 1 on the Billboard + Twitter Trending 140 Chart, but who cares — Taylor’s old tracks will be streamed way more than Katy’s new ones today. With Taylor more vulnerable than ever, Katy gave away the moral high ground, diluted her persona, and worst, gave people a reason to jump off her bandwagon. All Taylor had to do was stay low with her new nondescript British boyfriend and send a text to Spotify at the best/worst time possible. It’s a wrap.

Alison Herman: In a mean-girl-on-mean-girl dispute, whoever crosses over from passive aggression into open aggression automatically loses. I’m on Katy’s side here, and Taylor’s demand of absolute loyalty from people who are contract employees free to make decisions about their professional lives sounds objectively bananas. But if you feel the need to drag the details into a public forum, you’ve lost the upper hand. No one will ever be better at being the aggressor while playing the victim like Taylor Swift. Trying to clarify the terms of engagement just tightens the trap, making you look desperate and like a bully. Katy Perry can’t win.

Michael Baumann: From the moment she shed the last vestiges of her country exoskeleton, Taylor Swift has had a meticulously cultivated image. She’s studiously noncontroversial — even her biggest scandal, the Kimye recording — is about how consciously constructed she is. And despite the fact that everyone knows this, she’s one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. She’s authentically inauthentic. And you’re trying to tell me someone like that is going to lose a pissing contest to someone who’s messy and undisciplined enough to be married to Russell Brand? To admit she cowrote “Firework”? To go on live television and booty-call a quarterback who lost his job to a walk-on? No, sir. Taylor Swift is the ultimate cold warrior.

Team Katy

Katie Baker: Katy Perry is James Comey, and Taylor Swift is Donald Trump. Neither of them have exactly covered themselves in glory over the years, but when it comes to discerning who is telling the closest version of the truth about a disputed event, I’m going to believe one over the other every time. What do you think is more likely: that Katy Perry really randomly poached backup dancers (the Archduke Ferdinand of this war) out of catty spite, the way Swift seems to claim, or that it was a mostly boring situation involving recording cycles and contract clauses and knee-jerk management decisions that Swift misunderstood and/or blew out of proportion, as she is wont to do?

Look, I have no doubt that Perry has cruelly wrecked Swift before, probably egregiously so. The most I’ve ever personally related to Swift was when she complained that any time she ran into Perry, she was left wondering, “Are we friends, or did she just give me the harshest insult of my life?” (Welcome to my LIFE, lady!) But garden-variety passive aggression does not a Bad Blood feud make, and history will not look kindly on Swift’s constant drama. When your entire MO is to always be writing songs about all the people who have wronged you, maybe you’re the one who is in the wrong.

Sam Schube: Katy Perry has played this feud about as poorly as humanly possible — as if her crisis PR team was headed by Wile E. Coyote. “I’m liberated, goofy,” she tells the camera in a new promo video for her forthcoming album. The internet cringes.

But you know what? I’m here for it. Katy Perry might not beat Taylor Swift. In fact, Katy Perry will definitely lose to Taylor. But she will lose while accumulating tremendous style points, and while sounding like a human being. That’s not something her opponent can do, and it’s a win in my book (even though, again, it will be a catastrophic loss in everyone else’s).

Nobody

Lindsay Zoladz: Let’s not lose sight of what we are talking about here: two grown women trading public insults strategically timed to best promote their latest singles, which seek to capitalize off the performatively juicy narrative that they hate each other. Also: an argument over three arena-tour backup dancers who are also adults capable of making autonomous decisions about their careers. And: a woman who dances like this vs. a woman who dances like that. Let’s call it a draw.

There are no winners here. “Bad Blood” is a better song, but it is forever marred by its garbage video and its muddled, faux-feminist message that having supermodel friends is the best revenge. “Swish Swish” sucks, but at least Perry has peopled her debut performance of it with a sense of inclusivity (Backpack Kid > Karlie Kloss) in welcoming more diverse bodies — even if she’s shamelessly appropriated that aesthetic from ball culture, a space in which she’s a tourist at best. Everyone looks bad here, somehow even Kendrick Lamar, who embarrassingly appeared on the “Bad Blood” remix and who is probably the only reason noted white woman Katy Perry knows the word “bish.” Please exclude me from this narrative.

Kim Kardashian West

Kate Knibbs: The Taylor Swift–Katy Perry feud is probably the tamest music beef ever, based on a misunderstanding about backup dancers and buffeted by boring music. Both women have made great songs, but “Bad Blood” and “Swish Swish” are among their weakest output. And now Katy is claiming this whole thing could be over if Taylor texted her, which would be incredibly anticlimactic. It’s the well-done steak with ketchup of beefs, and I don’t want it.

Taylor Swift loses the feud because she’s done nothing but get dunked on since 2015. But that does not mean Katy Perry wins. If anything, Kim Kardashian West wins the Taylor-Katy feud because she looks brutal in comparison with Katy Perry as far as ruthless Taylor Swift burns are concerned.