The 30-year-old singer covers the latest issue of Variety and reveals that her upcoming Netflix documentary, “Taylor Swift: Miss Americana”, will shine a light on her feud with the rapper and his wife, Kim Kardashian West. West and Swift stems back to when he interrupted her at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Their feud was reignited when West released his 2016 song, “Famous,” where he raps, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that b**ch famous.”
While West claimed he got the lyric approved by Swift, the “Paper Rings” singer denied that fact, even after Kardashian West shared an audio recording that seemed to back up his claim. Swift later said she approved the line about sex, but not the line that referred to her as “that b**ch.”
“As a teenager who had only been in country music, attending my very first pop awards show, somebody stood up and sent me the message: ‘You are not respected here. You shouldn’t be here on this stage.’ That message was received, and it burrowed into my psyche more than anyone knew,” she tells Variety of the initial incident. “… That can push you one of two ways: I could have just curled up and decided I’m never going to one of those events ever again, or it could make me work harder than anyone expects me to, and try things no one expected, and crave that respect — and hopefully one day get it.”
Following years of a back-and-forth feud between the pair and prior to the release of “Famous,” Swift presented West with an award at the 2015 VMAs, which she told Rolling Stone that she did at West’s request. West’s response to that moment left Swift feeling that he was “two-faced,” but, after he apologized with flowers and called to get her approval on a lyric for his new song, Swift was “touched” that he was being “respectful.”
Swift elaborates on that moment to Variety. “But then when that person who sparked all of those feelings comes back into your life, as he did in 2015, and I felt like I finally got that respect [from West],” she continues. “But then soon realized that for him it was about him creating some revisionist history where he was right all along, and it was correct, right and decent for him to get up and do that to a teenage girl.”
Though Swift ceded control about what would make it into the documentary to its director, Lana Wilson, the singer said she “understand[s]” why the feud made the cut.
“With the 2009 VMAs, it surprised me that when she talked about how the whole crowd was booing, she thought that they were booing her, and how devastating that was,” Wilson says of why she included the West drama. “That was something I hadn’t thought about or heard before, and made it much more relatable and understandable to anyone.”
While Swift’s feud with West is featured in the flick, the singer’s spat with Scooter Braun and Scoot Borchetta, who control Swift’s older albums at her former label, Big Machine Records, is not included.
“The Big Machine stuff happened pretty late in our process. We weren’t that far from picture lock. But there’s also not much to say that isn’t publicly known,” Wilson explains of the decision. “I feel like Taylor’s put the story out there in her own words already, and it’s been widely covered. I was interested in telling the story that hadn’t been told before, that would be surprising and emotionally powerful to audiences whether they were music industry people or not.”
As for Swift’s decision to become a figurehead of the artists’ rights movement, she says that she “sleep[s] well at night knowing that I’m right.”
Another area in which Swift used her voice was the 2017 sexual assault trial, where a jury found former radio DJ David Mueller liable for assault and battery after he groped the pop star at a meet and greet in 2013.
As a result of the trial, at which Swift was awarded $1 in damages, Swift says she realized she needed “to speak up about beliefs I’d always had, because it felt like an opportunity to shed light on what those trials are like.”
“I experienced it as a person with extreme privilege, so I can only imagine what it’s like when you don’t have that,” she says. “And I think one theme that ended up emerging in the film is what happens when you are not just a people pleaser but someone who’s always been respectful of authority figures, doing what you were supposed to do, being polite at all costs.”
“I still think it’s important to be polite, but not at all costs,” Swift continues. “Not when you’re being pushed beyond your limits, and not when people are walking all over you. I needed to get to a point where I was ready, able and willing to call out bulls**t rather than just smiling my way through it.”
That experience led in part, Swift says, to her decision to speak out politically for the first time in 2018 — in support of democratic candidates who campaign on causes including LGBTQ and women’s rights — something that her father and team were hesitant about.
“This was a situation where, from a humanity perspective, and from what my moral compass was telling me I needed to do, I knew I was right, and I really didn’t care about repercussions,” she says. “My dad is terrified of threats against my safety and my life, and he has to see how many stalkers we deal with on a daily basis, and know that this is his kid. It’s where he comes from.”
It’s things like that previously unseen conversation with her dad and team that Swift is excited for people to see in the Netflix documentary.
“The bigger your career gets, the more you struggle with the idea that a lot of people see you the same way they see an iPhone or a Starbucks,” she says. “They’ve been inundated with your name in the media, and you become a brand. That’s inevitable for me, but I do think that it’s really necessary to feel like I can still communicate with people. And as a songwriter, it’s really important to still feel human and process things in a human way.”
“The through line of all that is humanity, and reaching out and talking to people and having them see things that aren’t cute,” she continues. “There’s not a lot that’s cute in this documentary.”
“Taylor Swift: Miss Americana” will hit Netflix on Jan. 31.