Performances by Taylor Swift and Kanye West at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards are spurring more internet discussion today than Lady Gaga’s armful of moonmen trophies. Both artists debuted songs written in reaction to last year’s incident at the same awards show where West interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech. See videos of Swift’s and West’s performances.
The New York Daily News calls the debacle the “gift that keeps on giving for Swift. Last year, it transformed her from a very successful pop star into a household name.” The paper goes on to say:
Call it “Taylor vs. Kayne: Round 2.” On last night’s Video Music Awards, the most over-discussed couple from last year each had their say in their own way – with new songs that doubled as statements on the great debate. Naturally, the performances also served as well-placed promos for each of their upcoming CDs, which will contain the cuts.
The Wall Street Journal points out specifics in Swift’s song that lead the listener to conclude is about West.
It’s difficult to say what it’s really about–and sometimes even artists themselves evade such questions or don’t even really know. But it’s pretty clear from the lyrics that [Swift’s] new tune, apparently titled “Innocent,” has something to do with the Kanye confrontation. There are references to his age at the time, the month the VMAs took place, and other tell-tale signs… West’s song “Runaway” was more confessional and confrontational. He seemed to be attacking the whole culture of celebrity—something he willingly participated in—that led to his acting out and barging in on Swift’s moment.
The LA Times music blog says the artists “gave MTV more than the network deserved this year by agreeing to resolve their differences musically, turning themselves into willing pawns in a cynical grab for publicity.”
Swift, made up to look like Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief,” strummed a National guitar and never once cracked a smile as she sang “Innocent,” a ballad based on her encounter with West. It was a somber attempt to forgive her offender, but it fell horribly flat. With lines like, “It’s okay, life is a tough crowd/32 and still growing up now,” the song came across as more condescending than empathetic. And with her small, wavery voice, Swift couldn’t muster the drama that would have made it transcendent. This consummate professional has rarely seemed so uncomfortably young.
West did something harder to accept, but more interesting to contemplate: He confronted his mistake in a song that begged for forgiveness on the surface, but on another level, made the case for flawed character as a motivator for great art…The spareness of West’s song quickly gave way to a sunny tune reminiscent of early 1970s soul, and an extremely off-color chorus in which West both made cruel fun of himself and implied that fools such as he do play an important role in keeping art interesting. Unlike the grim and visibly nervous Swift, West smiled as he lacerated himself with epithets.