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Innocence, then, is nothing more or less than the price of fame — not all of us can admit this, but at some level we all understand it. As with much else in this country, you can pay the price but never get the goods.But seeing as all Americans desire fame, then it’s fairly certain, in any case, that none of us are innocent.If Swift has made herself rich and famous in large part by projecting a vision of innocence wronged, Kanye West has made himself rich and famous by transmitting a message of complicity confirmed.Kanye’s lyrics have always been animated by his keen sense that the price of elevation to mainstream fame for a black artist involves embracing, if only in part, collaboration with racist power structures — involves being, in effect, a “rich slave in the fabric store picking cotton.” And if Swift’s vision of innocence precludes any display or acknowledgment of sexuality, it’s certain that whatever the ultimate meaning of Kim Kardashian West ends up being, that meaning will be sexually charged.Nonetheless, it’s somehow tempting to believe that one can be at once innocent and famous.It would be un-American to believe that you can’t have it all, especially when you really happen to be very famous and even more especially when you happen to have gotten very famous by presenting yourself as an innocent.
For all of her canniness, she seems unable to progress beyond an idealized image of herself as someone who is ever the target of malice and never its source.
While her other white peers, after coming of age, represented themselves as less naïve and more sexual, Swift has persisted in playing her original part, that of the wide-eyed underdog ingénue fighting against the indignities visited upon her by dishonest men.
And in an era where rap and R&B had merged into mainstream pop, Swift, beginning her career as a precocious country artist before seamlessly transitioning to the polished pop mechanics mastered by Max Martin, was the great outlier.
She’s no longer the high-school freshman protesting, with uncommon intelligence and eloquence, the caddish behavior of a senior boyfriend.
She’s an adult celebrity who commands a gigantic audience, holds tremendous clout within the music industry, and, almost as an afterthought, is unfathomably wealthy. Socially speaking, Swift will never be an underdog again; professionally and personally, she’s now at a permanent advantage. She wanted to be famous, extremely famous, and, together with her family and handlers, she was shrewd enough to realize her desire.
Kanye’s point was never that he is innocent, but that we (whoever “we” are) are guilty.