Twitter beefs had a landmark year thanks to the election of a narcissist with a fragile ego as our Commander-in-Chief. But unlike the style of online squabbles we’ve all grown fond of, the ones Trump started could not simply be watched with delight and your favorite popcorn gif (the “Thriller” one is the classic, although the one of Spongebob eating a bucket of his own hands is usually more apt). Instead the only appropriate reactions to his petty cyber bullying were disgust, horror, and shame.
Beefs are fun only when all that’s at stake are the participants’ reputations. That’s simply the price of entry. But they are a whole lot less enjoyable when bystanders’ real lives are at risk. If we were reminded of any lesson this year, it was that words matter as much as actions, especially when those words incite someone else to take an action — whether that be another country’s unstable political bobblehead threatening nuclear warfare or the people of our own country turning on each other to enact violence on whoever Trump blames for their troubles.
But to anyone who says that we should now focus less on celebrity beefs that “don’t actually matter,” I wholeheartedly disagree. First off, because there are few things that help us escape from our own daily anxieties as effectively as insignificant spats between strangers. And more importantly, because often those disputes between public figures reflect the very tensions that are driving our current political divide. Much like the way we project the virtues or shortcomings we need musicians to embody in order to symbolize our own individual struggles, as a society we tend to map our political battles on a stage of greater interest with considerably less consequence. The winners of those fights can shift the cultural barometer, or at the very least prove motivating as an ideological victory when the bigger ones begin to feel too daunting to manage. Regardless of whether they affect public policy or just a participant’s Twitter mentions, beefs indisputably matter. Below are the biggest of 2017 that had us on the edge of our seats, whether in laughter or dread.
11. The Notorious B.I.G and Tupac vs. Kendall and Kylie Jenner
The celebrity merch bubble has got be close to bursting, right? I mean, they aren’t even trying anymore. Perhaps the only trend worse than lazily placing basic font on low quality fabric and selling it for $70 is superimposing your own face on existing artist merch and passing it off as novel. And that’s only one of the awful aspects of Kendall and Kylie Jenner appropriating images of iconic musicians such as the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Pink Floyd, and the Doors for their own limited edition T-shirts. The sisters were immediately dragged for the stunt on social media and deservedly drew the ire of Biggie’s mother Voletta Wallace, who wrote on her Instagram: “The disrespect of these girls to not even reach out to me or anyone connected to the estate baffles me. I have no idea why they feel they can exploit the deaths of 2pac and my Son Christopher to sell a t-shirt.”
But Biggie’s wasn’t the only family the Jenner’s ticked off. Ozzy Osbourne was another victim of the graphic design snafu, and Sharon Osbourne chimed in to demand the girls “stick to what [they] know…lip gloss.” Meanwhile the photographer who originally took the photo for the Tupac shirt came after Kendall and Kylie with a lawsuit, though they claim they obtained his images from a company that had a valid license to sell them. Regardless, the Jenners apologized for the controversy, calling the designs “not well thought out” and pulling the shirts from retail. But Arcade Fire kept the mockery alive by making T-shirts with their band logo plastered on top of Kendall Jenner’s face as another one of the many antics from their 2017 trolling tour. Hey Arcade Fire, we thought our beef was exclusive!
10. Fifth Harmony vs. Camila Cabello
As with all successful boy and girl groups, Fifth Harmony was never going to stay intact forever. Inevitably, they lost their first member late last year when Camila Cabello decided to follow the momentum of a few successful solo cuts and leave the quintet in pursuit of her own fame. But she didn’t make a particularly clean exit, with the remainder of the group finding out the news via Cabello’s representative just hours after they had all performed together in Miami. Or at least that’s what they said in their public statement, a story Cabello proceeded to decisively dispute. In her own statement, Cabello said she was “shocked” to read their account and that they had previously discussed her feelings about the future during a number of “long, much needed conversations” throughout their tour.
Fifth Harmony fired back that they had “tried with exhausted efforts and hearts to keep this group alive as the five of us, and we want it to be very clear that unfortunately those efforts were not mutual.” Specifically, they cited booking counseling sessions that Cabello hadn’t shown up for and being informed by her manager in November that she would be leaving the group (which contradicts Fifth Harmony’s initial story, for the record). They concluded their second statement by saying they’d “said our peace” and “are done engaging in this back and forth,” but then in August added more fuel to the fire via a dramatic gesture at the VMAs where the group entered the stage with a cloaked fifth member before symbolically pulling her off the stage. Meanwhile, Cabello responded by making better music.
9. The National vs. Karl Rove
Blatant manipulation by politicians in power to serve individual interests was a thing well before this administration, as the National reminded us via a long spoken-word passage on their great Sleep Well Beast track “Walk It Back.” The horrifying quote, which is suspected to have been given in 2004 by George W. Bush’s former senior adviser Karl Rove, touches on a number of eerily timely themes that underscore our own moment of plutocratic gaslighting. Perhaps the most pungent excerpt: “You believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”
The National have said they are giving royalties on the track to Ron Suskind, the journalist who wrote the article on the Bush administration where the anonymous quote appeared. They’ve even jokingly asked him to share those royalties with Rove to, as Matt Berninger put it, “remind him we know he said that.” But when another reporter asked Rove what he thought about the band’s use of the quote, he denied having ever said it, before going “off the record” to dismiss the song with the following incomprehensible assessment: “starts with a Euro Tech Pop thing and transitions into a more peppy tune that’s easier to dance to and has a sound track that on YouTube is impossible to heard. Suspect it won’t make Casey Kasem’s Top 40.” The National promptly responded with a justified “Fuck you, Karl.”
8. Lil B vs. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie
Lil B is a shining star of positivity in rap music, even if he’s not a particularly standout rapper, so picking a fight with him in any capacity is not a good look (nor good for your career — just ask Kevin Durant). A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie was reminded of this lesson after he and his crew incited a physical altercation with the Bay Area phenomenon before his performance at Rolling Loud. Supposedly a response to Lil B saying something about A Boogie’s music that he didn’t appreciate, the incident resulted in Lil B cancelling his set because his attackers stole his equipment. Yet Lil B still went on stage to announce that he would be taking the high road: “I don’t promote violence, I’m never with the violence. So I love them, and it’s all good.” He was subsequently met with an outpouring of support from the Internet, including other rappers such as Travis Scott and ScHoolboy Q. Yet even though he won the feud the moment it began, Lil B squashed the beef with A Boogie the very next day over the phone in a remarkable display of the Based God’s capacity for positivity. A Boogie even had to give props: “s.o the west coast for the communication. Not too many people got it in them to forgive that easy, as a man I gotta respect that.”
7. Ricky Eat Acid vs. Car Seat Headrest
For whatever reason Sam Ray, the musician behind Ricky Eat Acid and Teen Suicide, decided he’s had enough of our collective praise for breakout indie rock star Car Seat Headrest. He took it upon himself to write an entire manifesto entitled “Punching Up At A Particularly Bland Windmill” against Will Toledo’s music and his public persona, which, according to Ray, “exists in between dull platitudes and esoteric name-dropping.” It’s a fairly pointless exercise in how seriously Ray takes his own opinion, especially since he can’t muster much criticism beyond finding Teens Of Denial “simply very, very, very dull.” But he gets some solid burns in at the end when he ditches the essay format and just starts taking potshots, which range from the uninspired (“Like Soylent, but for your ears”) to the actually kind of funny (“Car Seat Headrest – So bad we haven’t even made fun of the name yet”).
I was a bigger fan of Toledo’s response, which constituted a pair of tweets vaguely alluding to the essay while actively dismissing it: “My manager just told me that someone on the internet said that my music is bad…can anyone confirm this?” Or at least I was a fan, until he decided to release a godawful “diss-track” about being bullied that doesn’t really have anything to do with Sam Ray at all. I suppose he was trying to employ self-mockery in an attempt to cleverly make light of the whole thing, but it was ultimately just bad, giving Ray the opportunity to come in for the win with a tweet expressing the confusion we were all feeling: “eh even I thought he could do better than that lol and I wrote the damn essay.”
6. Nicki Minaj vs. Remy Ma
Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj’s bad blood dates back to Nicki taking some minor swipes back in 2007, but no major fight arose then because soon after Remy went to jail for shooting her friend in the stomach. When she got out six years later, the tension between the two seemed to have settled, before quickly bubbling up again — cresting this year when Nicki devoted her entire verse on Gucci Mane’s “Make Love” to shutting down Remy. Yet the moment this became a capital-b Beef was when Remy went all in for her response, dedicating not just an entire track to going after Nicki, but a seven-minute onslaught reinterpreting “Ether” (you know, Nas’ Jay-Z rebuttal that is regularly cited as the most effective rap diss-track in history). In it, she goes after just about everything she could have, most cruelly the child rape charges against Nicki’s brother. Everything from the Barbie doll delimbed on the cover art to her shots at Nicki’s influence on the youth (“She the one misleading the black girls / All these fake asses, influenced by that girl / Dying from botched surgeries, what a sad world”) was just brutal, and for a moment it seemed like there was no way Nicki could adequately respond.
Remy didn’t even wait for her to try, proceeding to release another diss-track a week later with artwork depicting Nicki murdered on the pavement holding a bag of cash. But Remy would have been better off just saying her peace once and then walking away, because the follow-up seemed to indicate a desperation to keep up the attention, and revealed enough cracks for Nicki to exploit when she finally did respond. Regardless of the quality of her smack talk, “No Frauds” is just a more listenable track than either of the songs Remy dropped, and in rap it doesn’t matter if your disses hit deep if no one wants to replay them. Minaj proceeded to challenge Remy to “drop a hit” in 72 hours, or “book ANY show or interview w/o mentioning” her name, but that challenge was rhetorical. The war was already over. Just ask Drake, or put on “Back To Back” and witness everyone around you carrying on his battle cries for him.
5. Taylor Swift vs. Katy Perry
Taylor Swift and Katy Perry have been not-so-subliminally feuding for what feels like forever. The rumors of a spat between the two arose out of speculation over who Swift’s worst-single to date “Bad Blood” was about, after she teased it was directed at another woman in the music industry who “basically tried to sabotage an entire arena tour.” (Fun fact: During that same interview, Swift added “I’m surprisingly non-confrontational — you would not believe how much I hate conflict,” which, lol.) Anyway, three years have passed since we’ve all basically known that woman in question was Katy Perry, and the various subtweets and interview sniping have since grown increasingly tiring. But this year both pop stars had new albums to promote, and Perry took the first move to reignite the attention-generating beef by speaking directly about the subject for the first time during James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke (which I expect will become the definitive news source for a majority of Americans by 2019).
Perry basically confirmed everything we already knew, but made Swift look out to be as petty and manipulative as we now know she is (thanks Kanye!). She also talked big game about karma getting back at Swift, which is funny because that’s actually all Swift thinks about anyway, but also ironic because Katy’s album — including her milquetoast diss-track “Swish Swish” — basically bombed, perhaps in part due to Swift returning her entire catalog to Spotify the same day Perry’s album came out, but most likely because it was filled with bad music.
Since the album wasn’t doing so well, Perry decided to keep talking about Swift because Swift was ultimately the most fascinating thing about Perry this year. First she accused her of trying “to assassinate my character with little girls,” before a few days later deciding, presumably in exasperation, that she’s actually “ready to let it go“: “Maybe I don’t agree with everything she does, and maybe she doesn’t agree with everything I do, but like, I just … I really, truly, want to come together, and in a place of love and forgiveness, and understanding and compassion.” Weak shit to step off a beef once it’s clear that you’re going to lose it, but I still side with Perry because at least we know she didn’t vote for Trump.
4. Slipknot vs. Nickelback
Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger and Slipknot’s Corey Taylor were once labelmates on Roadrunner Records, but that doesn’t mean they liked one another’s music. Kroeger, understandably peeved when an interviewer with Metal Covenant compared Nickelback to Taylor’s other group Stone Sour, lashed out by referring to them as “Nickelback Lite” before refocusing his aim at Slipknot: “They had to put on masks and jump around. How good can your music be if you’ve gotta beat each other up onstage, throw up in your own mask every night?” There was precedent to Kroeger’s animus, as Taylor once referred to Nickelback as “fucking pretty boys” and Kroeger specifically as “Shaggy from Scooby-Doo.” But even if Taylor retweeted a fan’s advice that he should just “never listen to Nickelback or give him anything,” of course he wasn’t going to not retaliate. I imagine rarely does life challenge him with an opponent below his own weight class. So Taylor’s resoinded that Kroeger has “a face like a foot” and brought up how even while performing in a mask he’s been voted “Sexiest Dude In Rock” while Kroeger’s twice been voted the ugliest: “Stick that up your ass,” he told Kroeger.
This was clearly a losing feud for both parties, and more importantly for the rest of us, but Taylor refused to let it die, coming again after Kroeger a week later to describe him as “what KFC is to chicken…I’ll still eat it, but I’m not gonna feel good about it. It tastes like the same thing,” which, as far as insults go, is about as dry as a KFC biscuit. The following month went without word from Kroeger, but Taylor still reactivated the beef, reiterating that he’s cool with the rest of the band and that they apparently “called and apologized.” His final words on the matter were to dub Kroeger “Captain Ego from Planet Douche.” But don’t feel too bad for Kroeger because even if his face does still look like a foot, at least Billy Corgan thinks Nickelback is sexy? As he uncomfortably described their music to Joe Rogan on his podcast: “It’s porn, they want to get you off. It’s just how they’re going to get you off.”
3. Ryan Adams vs. The Strokes and Father John Misty
Lizzy Goodman’s excellent oral history on early aughts NYC rock, Meet Me In The Bathroom, detailed a complicated relationship between Ryan Adams and the members of the Strokes. The most contentious period arose specifically because Julian Casablancas thought Adams was a bad influence on Albert Hammond Jr.’s struggles with addiction, going so far as to host a meeting with the rest of the Strokes banning Adams from hanging out with any of them. After presumably learning of this published account, Adams took to Twitter to air out some of his own opinions. “Julian Casablancas: who got you strung out on lasagna tho?” Adams quipped at the expense of the former sex-symbol’s increasingly shabby appearance, before calling Hammond “a more horrible songwriter than his dad. If that’s possible.” He even mimicked infamous pot-stirrer Liam Gallagher’s preferred Twitter sign-off with “As you were -RA x,” making clear his smack-talking intent.
As childish as Adams’ barbs were, they were also mostly hilarious. His best work were those focusing on the diminishing quality of the Strokes’ actual music: “Last Impressions of Actual Songs”; “I should’ve forced them to get addicted to writing better songs. Too bad @thekillers did it for them”; and regarding to Julian’s side project the Voidz, “I sold more t shirts last night than people who actually made it thru a single Voidz song, bro.” But Adams’ rage-induced online open-mic sessions didn’t stop with the Strokes tirade; he went on to call Father John Misty “the most self-important asshole on earth” who will “‘break it all down for us’ while he does his Nick Cave impression” and “sounds like shit Elton John but if he was just sitting in a corner staring at his hands on LSD.” Yet I personally think Misty got the last laugh when he posted a low-key video of himself remarking that “Ryan Adams called me the most important asshole on earth.”
Adams’ run of rapid beef-making turned from fun to sad when he started going after Har Mar Superstar’s Sean Tillmann in response to his call for Adams to “Chill out.” Tillmann followed up with Adams in a text saying he’s “not trying to attack” and “has a lot of love” for him, but Adams disputed that and responded: “If you think I’m jealous of someone who’s sold 20k records you’re diluted.” I don’t think Adams knows that “diluted” and “deluded” are different words, but regardless Tillmann seemed pretty hurt by that, texting back, “Maybe I don’t sell big. That doesn’t quantify a person,” and then disparagingly, “I remember when you literally sucked coke off the floor in the East Village, dude.” Yikes. The final turn in this ugly saga was Adams directing his anger at Jason Isbell for writing a supportive song about his divorce with Mandy Moore, before he finally calmed down and apologized for his actions: “I’m human & I have bad days. It happens…I am very tired but it’s no excuse to be cruel to others, even if they have shown me that same meanness. It is better to love.”
2. Liam Gallagher vs. Noel Gallagher
I have no idea why anyone would still want an Oasis reunion, when it means that we’d no longer get to experience the long-running saga that is the Gallagher brothers’ epic parade of barbs. 2016 was a banner year for the sibling rivalry, with Liam eviscerating his brother with his series of unflattering Noel photos all captioned “POTATO.” But this year might have marked a new series peak, with all sorts of memorable misadventures, passive aggression, and shit-talking. The first major shot fired came from Noel, who when asked about what his brother’s reaction would be to his and Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz-collaboration “We Got The Power,” flatly stated “Listen, nobody gives a fuck what Liam thinks about anything.”
Liam, thankfully, didn’t brush aside the comment, responding by actually offering his thoughts on the single, comparing it unfavorably to “Dancing In The Streets” and across multiple tweets referring to Noel as “the creepy 1 out of Oasis” and “the creepiest soul in the world.” No surprise, then, that Liam wasn’t invited to his brother’s Narcos-themed 50th birthday party, but he still lashed out about the lack of consideration, noting that their mom wasn’t invited either and that “says a lot about the man.”
Liam’s tirade didn’t let up over the next few months, most notably as he put his brother on blast for not attending the benefit show in Manchester following the grim terror attacks that took place during an Ariana Grande concert in May. To be fair, Noel wound up headlining the Manchester Arena’s reopening benefit and teared-up while doing so, but Liam dismissed all that as “his PR stunt.”
The fury of criticisms was relentless, with other memorable jabs including mocking his brother for trying to talk to Brad Pitt at Glastonbury, calling him a “fuckin’ stalker” and “working class traitor” before then undermining Noel’s U2 fan credentials, setting the record straight saying: “I was in a band with that kid for 20 fuckin’ years…I never heard him play one fuckin’ U2 song.” Granted, Noel didn’t do himself any favors in this fight, often providing easy targets for Liam’s rampant criticisms, such as bringing along a musician playing a pair of scissors for his appearance on Jool’s Holland. Liam rightfully took aim at the stage antic, noting sarcastically how he’ll “have someone sharpening a pencil at my gig” or “peel a banana or something.” True to his word, he recruited a fan to peel a potato in the front row during one of his shows in London.
Noel didn’t get any good licks in at his brother after the initial “nobody gives a fuck” that predated Liam’s onslaught, instead wasting his time calling his cat more rock and roll than Radiohead or whatever. Liam also wasn’t Noel’s only source of disrespect, with Steve Earle taking a stand against Oasis but most specifically Noel when he called him “the most overrated songwriter in the whole history of pop music.” Back in 2016, Noel responded to Potato-gate by dismissing it as his brother’s attempts at “staying relevant,” but this year Liam offered his own reasoning behind his sibling spite-fest: “I don’t care about getting Oasis back together. But he prods me, and I prod him, and I like winding him up. I’m just reminding him that I’m right here ’cause his head’s up a few people’s arses.” But he’s not ignorant to the existence of a better way: “Me and [Noel] don’t speak and that’s the saddest thing about it. We’ve got to start becoming brothers and friends again.” I wish their family all the best, but also I’ll mourn the day the shenanigans come to end.
1. Taylor Swift vs. Free Speech
Before I go on, a quick moment of acknowledgement for some of the beefs that aren’t on this year’s list: Halsey vs. Iggy Azelia, Bon Iver vs. Delta, The Grammys vs. Frank Ocean (and Sufjan Stevens, and St. Vincent, and Q-Tip). The primary reason these and other memorable highlights of musician animosity didn’t make the cut is because the commitment to conflict was only really carried out by one side. Halsey took a shot at an easy target to distract from her inability to defend working with a homophobe, while Bon Iver got angry at his airline like we all do when taking a flight, but neither Iggy nor Delta really fired back. For a beef to be significant, it has to be mutually participatory. So you may be asking yourself then how the most significant beef of the year featured only one agent against an ideal, not an actual person?
Well, the exception to the rule is the case where a musician actually has enough clout to throw down against an abstract entity as towering as the First Amendment. Furthermore, this fight embodied the thematic whole of 2017. Taylor Swift, among all her reputation-soiling antics, put the final nail in the coffin of her old virtuous sweetheart image by issuing a defamation threat against Meghan Herning, editor of the blog PopFront, who wrote a critical essay about Swift’s harmfully apolitical (if not willfully ignorant) actions and demanded she denounce white supremacy. Through the threat of a lawsuit, Swift as Goliath took aim at all the Davids of this year: independent media, minorities, and people with zero tolerance for Nazis.
The ACLU swiftly got involved. While Swift’s lawyer William J. Brigg argued that Herning’s blog post is “provably false and defamatory,” ACLU lawyer Michael Risher called his claim “a completely unsupported attempt to suppress constitutionally protected speech.” Beyond their legal argument, the ACLU tried to explain their case in Swift’s own words: “Criticism is never pleasant, but a celebrity has to shake it off, even if the critique may damage her reputation.” Swift’s camp has been silent ever since, effectively rendering this a victory for Herning and the ACLU, and one of the few unequivocal wins Free Speech made against the bullying interests of people with money not wanting to be criticized. The blog post stands, and you can read it here.
But the outcome doesn’t overshadow the actions. Back at the start of the Reputation
rollout, a number of reviews of the album’s lead single and Swift’s transformation into an obtuse supervillain noted the similarities between her new persona and the real-life supervillain that now represents our country. But that juxtaposition was more than simply an example of how critical analysis can’t help anymore but to revolve around social context; indeed, many writers failed to capture the most noteworthy elements of the comparison.
Almost exactly a year after the election that turned the world upside down — finally forcing us to realize it had been upside down this whole time — Swift dropped Reputation into that world. She celebrated the anniversary as Trump did, by still refusing to denounce white supremacists. And as with Trump, her lack of words drew a very clear dividing line between who she’s singing for and who she’s silent against, suggesting that her beefs are so much bigger than just with the individual people she manipulates, undercuts, calls out, or otherwise publicly attacks. Her beef is with all of us. It’s always been look what we made her do.