I’ve spent all week trying to avoid finding something nice to say about this year’s VMAs.
I watched this year’s show live through the MTV app on my iPhone. By the end, I had a headache, but I couldn’t tell if it came from the small screen or the sugar high. The show was an overcaffeinated mess, drunk on its own excess and obsessed with its own artifice. There were missed cues, bum notes, off-color asides and racist undertones. What appeared spontaneous also felt calculated. What appeared calculated also felt cliched.
Taylor Swift set us up to talk about the music video for “Bad Blood” for two full weeks before it premiered during last Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards. Despite Swift’s stacked Rolodex and the overstimulating aesthetics of the video, though, I’d much rather talk about something most people seem to have ignored: Kendrick Lamar’s guest verses.
First of all, it’s worth stepping back and realizing that ten years ago, Taylor Swift released a charming, low-key country single called “Tim McGraw,” and no one had the slightest idea who Kendrick Lamar was. (The top-selling rappers of that year were 50 Cent and some guy named Kanye West. If only we knew then what we know now.) Even at the onset of Kendrick Lamar’s rise to the top of the rap game, it was unthinkable that he would appear on the fourth single from any pop star’s new album. It was also unthinkable that Taylor Swift could be called, without irony or qualification, a “pop star,” as she is today.
“Welcome to New York,” the first track on Taylor Swift’s new album 1989, is not about New York. If you’ve heard the song, you already know why. It’s about a magical place filled with wonder and delight. That place does not exist. But Taylor Swift does, and the song is about her.
“It’s been waiting for you,” she chants. She’s projecting, of course. We’ve been waiting for her.