Are celebrities okay? I know that, in the main, celebrities are really Not Okay, but it seems that since Covid-19 hit the Western world, they’ve been even more Not Okay than usual.
Madonna, for instance, thinks it’s fine to film a video musing on the “democratic” and equalising nature of the virus while sitting in a milky bath full of rose petals; previously sensible celebrities such as Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo took part in that bizarre Imagine video; and Kim Kardashian decided that what the world really needs right now is a nine-tweet rant about Taylor Swift.
To recap: in 2016, Kanye West released a song called Famous where he raps, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that b---- famous.” He said that he’d asked Swift’s permission first, only for Swift to state that she hadn’t consented to the “I made that b---- famous” part.
Several months later, Kim Kardashian (West’s wife) released clips of a video which appeared to show Swift agreeing on the offending lyrics. West and Kardashian’s fans flooded Swift’s social-media channels with snake emojis and Swift disappeared from the limelight for a year, struggling with depression and self-worth (as detailed in her documentary, Miss Americana).
Then, this week, the full video (which Kardashian had clipped) was leaked. And it shows that, although West had run “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex” past Swift, she hadn’t approved being called “a b----”. In fact, she said that she’d initially been worried that West was going to call her a “stupid b----”.
Swift said nothing at first, but on Monday, she posted an Instagram Story, saying that the leak proved that she “was telling the truth the whole time”. Even so, she urged fans to move on and donate to Feeding America, a hunger relief charity.
Kardashian was not so restrained. In a nine-Tweet rant, she called Swift “self-serving”, insisted that Swift was lying (despite the video evidence), then ended with “This will be the last time I speak on this because honestly, nobody cares.” At the time of writing, roughly 19,000 people have replied, most saying something along the lines of: “Then why are you still talking about it? Especially now?”
I’m not sure there was ever going to be a “right” time to start talking about the Kardashian/Swift feud again, but talking about it now and paying this stupid spat so much attention at a time when people are losing their lives, liberty and livelihoods? It starts to border on obscene.
And yet, it isn’t the most inappropriate thing Kardashian has done in such a situation. At the end of last year, when Australia was being ravaged by bushfires – which killed 33 people and a billion animals as they burned through 20 million hectares – she posted a cheery video saying she was sending Australia “something very special”. Not firefighters or financial aid, but her new beauty line.
In fact, for someone who makes her living from being relevant and cool, Kardashian finds it surprisingly hard to read the room on the same social-media sites that make her popular. She’s frequently called out for cultural appropriation, whether for repeatedly wearing her hair in the braids usually worn by black women, or naming her shapewear line “kimono” and trademarking the name, or wearing religious Indian headgear just because it’s pretty, or just appearing on magazine covers in straight-up blackface.
She’s also completely out of the loop when it comes to the burgeoning body-positivity movement: she’s previously bragged about her low weight online, which inspired Jameela Jamil to start the #iweigh movement, and happily posts ads for appetite suppressants and diet products on her Instagram account, despite our growing awareness of eating disorders and how unhealthy those products are.
And yet: Kardashian has a lot of power, and has proved more than capable of using it for good, whether in advocating Obama to recognise the Armenian genocide or working in prison reform. So it’s disappointing – and, for such a savvy businesswoman, baffling – that she so often makes these huge blunders.
Unfortunately, she’s not the only celebrity who does wildly inappropriate and tone-deaf things without suffering any real consequences – just look at the rest of her family, and the slew of so-called “covidiots” in the news this week. We talk about the problems of “cancel culture” and how we’re too quick to write people off for little mistakes, but people like Kim Kardashian, who are able to let the criticism slide off them, seem impossible to cancel anyway.
We’re going to have to put up for a little longer with self-obsessed rants and Beatles covers that are tone-deaf in moral as well as musical terms. At least, that is, until celebrities get some self-awareness – but to judge by the last few thousand years of humanity, we could be waiting for that for a while.