Something momentous took place within Katy Perry’s Twitter replies this weekend. During an extended Q&A session with fans, which included lots of pro-Lady Gaga hashtags and winks toward new music, the most followed person on all of Twitter dropped this golden nugget of content fodder when asked if she would collaborate with Taylor Swift:
First, let’s take a moment to reflect on how important this response was in making subtext text, two years after two of the biggest pop superstars on the planet started taking subtle shots at each other. From “Bad Blood” to “Regina George in sheep’s clothing” to certain well-timed Hillary Clinton memes, the snipes have thus far kept names out of Taylor and Katy’s mouths… it was possible that they were friends all along! Well, nope. With this tweet, the worst-kept secret in pop was at long last spilled. I’m not sure why that’s important, but it feels important.
The other underlying significance of this tweet: the ball’s squarely in Swift’s court. It probably always has been, since Swift was the one who made their private disagreement public with that 2014 Rolling Stone interview (more on that later) and “Bad Blood.” Yet Perry’s subtle move explicitly states that, if Swift apologizes for the damage, they’ll not only be square, but they'll potentially collaborate, too; Perry won’t hold a grudge if Swift simply says sorry for wronging her in their game of pop star battles. Now the onus is on Swift to turn bad blood back into mad love and co-write the fan fiction of an empowering Katy/Taylor duet. Stadiums of fans would love a musical resolution; so would believers in women supporting other women.
But should Taylor Swift apologize?
From a career standpoint, the answer depends on how Swift sees the next few years playing out. 1989 made her the biggest music star on the planet, dropped the country-pop prefix and dominated Top 40 radio. She won the GRAMMY for album of the year; she wrangled approximately 100 stars for the “Bad Blood” video, and, perhaps most impressively, got Kendrick Lamar to play someone called ‘Welvin Da Great.’
Swift must realize that, when you’re at the top, the only way to go is down. Even if you only mess up a little bit, you still mess up, and there will be hashtags celebrating this fall. So where does she go? On one hand, Swift could turn heel, abandon her pristine image and lean into her new blemishes. She could say “Screw all of you, I’m 26 now and I’m doing what I want. Katy Perry, you know that you stole my backup dancers and you can stick that apology you-know-where!”
And as part of this Dark Side era, she could drop a Villain Record.
Make no mistake, this would be a villain that you’d love to root for—sort of like when LeBron James ditched Cleveland to join the Miami Heat—but a villain nonetheless. Think of the possibilities! A Taylor Swift Villain Record would essentially serve as the Blackout of her discography, as she snarls at her haters, torches the media and drops some well-placed profanity (“It’s Taylor, bitch”?) while going full electropop. In this hypothetical situation, she hoists a middle finger at Perry’s offer for reconciliation, writes a proper takedown of Kanye West and puts a song titled “You Suck, Calvin Harris" on the album, because who has time for “Dear John” guessing games anymore?
From both a musical and cultural standpoint, Taylor the Villain could be marvelously compelling, especially since Swift remains an A-plus songwriter when she’s got a subject of disdain (thanks for the memories, Jake Gyllenhaal) and has been likely storing up some choice insults in her Twitter drafts for months. On the other hand…this is a short-term solution. By embracing a bad-girl image, Swift is potentially sacrificing a large chunk of the young fans (and their parents) who go to her stadium shows for the positivity-preaching. By lashing out at her enemies, Swift endangers her Top 40 stronghold, country holdovers and undecided voters who are ready to pledge allegiance to Team Katy or Team Kimye if need be. And by burning her good-girl image, she flings all of the success that image has brought her into the past as well. No matter how many damaging snaps Kim Kardashian West posts, let’s keep things in perspective: Swift is still wildly popular, and doesn’t necessarily need to risk her legacy in order to get even with her detractors.
Let’s swivel to the Swift-should-apologize scenario. Such a move would also find Swift owning her mistakes, but in a conciliatory, lesson-learned fashion. An apology to Katy could be taken as an apology to Kimye, and to Calvin Harris, and to whomever else vocally declared that Taylor has been secretly one of the Mean Girls all along. Such a move could be positioned as a more natural continuation of her squeaky clean identity—she’s made some mistakes, she’s only human, she’s grown a lot these past few months!—but also give her critics an opportunity to cry BS, kick her while she’s down and continue demonizing her image. Admitting you were wrong is a lot harder when you have thousands of young fans who want you to be perfect, and lots of purveyors waiting to declare you #ended.
So there are drawbacks to apologizing, too. But here’s where we have to go back to the beginning of this whole feud in the first place, which was started over…some dancers leaving Swift’s Red Tour a little early so that they could join Katy’s Prismatic Tour? That’s how this all started, according to Swift in her infamous 2014 Rolling Stone interview.
“She did something so horrible,” said Swift. “I was like, 'Oh, we're just straight-up enemies'. And it wasn't even about a guy! It had to do with business.”
If you read the account of what allegedly happened with the backup dancers, it sounds like a big misunderstanding, not some mad scheme from Katy to try to thwart Taylor’s tour. But for argument’s sake, let’s say Katy did try to sabotage the Red Tour. Hasn’t Taylor gotten more than her fair share of vengeance by calling her out in an interview, then orchestrating a single and music video in an attempt to “bury” her, as her ex Calvin Harris put it on Twitter a few months ago? It’s likely that we, the interested public, don’t know all the details of this war, but if this confusion over some dancers from three years ago is the main issue… isn't it time to just move on?
Maybe Swift doesn’t beg for forgiveness. Maybe she simply says, “This is stupid, we’re both adults, I’m sorry for calling you out, let’s forget all this ever happened.” If she does that, some people will still call her two-faced, or worse; others will be disappointed that she admitted fault in her competition with Perry. But Swift can also begin rehabbing her image from a particularly unpleasant summer and move on to writing her next ex-boyfriend takedown (featuring Katy Perry, if that collaboration offer is real).
Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes; we’ve held this truth to be self-evident for nearly two years now. But maybe the bullet hole wasn’t a bullet hole at all, but a scratch that looked a lot like a deeper wound. Wrap that wound, Taylor, and don’t let it slow you down any more than it already has. Take a lesson from the recently redeemed Justin Bieber if you have to: It’s not too late now to say sorry.