Who’s Worse?

Hatfields and McCoys. Capulets and Montagues. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Throughout history, our society has held dear a good feud. A classic catfight usually consists of two parties, each at odds over words, actions and, more often than not, hearsay. Increasingly, modern media rejoices when celebrities, particularly female ones, throw shade in the direction of other female celebrities. Hurt feelings and animosity are celebrated now more than ever.

Speaking of Romeo and Juliet, singer Halsey just released a concept album loosely based on Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is Halsey’s sophomore project, a solid followup to her debut Badlands. Her new album is a polished, mature continuation of her alternative internet-girl image. Garnering plenty of attention for being outspoken and a little brash, Halsey has created a following that is every bit of 2017.

The singer has been open about her sexual orientation, racial identity, and struggles in mental health among other things. Halsey even features a gay love song on her new album, which includes fellow bisexual artist Lauren Jauregui. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom feels very much made for kids of the new generation and representative of a youth counterculture– on brand with the Halsey persona. Which is why many of her fans were troubled that her song “Lie” features rapper Quavo of the group Migos.

Quavo and group mates have been on record gay-bashing other artists. Halsey fans speculated why she would allow Quavo on her record, essentially endorsing a homophobic artist. In an interview for The Guardian, Halsey explains:

“I think he’s misunderstood. Just because I choose to be a socially conscious artist, and I’m pretty good at it, that doesn’t mean every artist is going to be equipped to be politically correct,” Halsey states. “I don’t think he’s inherently homophobic, I think he’s in a tough place of trying to explain what he means. I agree his apology was bullshit but I can’t police everybody.”

Many were dissatisfied with her answer, as so much of what Halsey stands for lands within the realm of social justice. Beyond this weak response, many were confused by the rest of her statement:

“And there’s a lot of people I wouldn’t put on my record. Iggy Azalea: absolutely not. She had a complete disregard for black culture. Fucking moron. I watched her career dissolve and it fascinated me.”

Iggy Azalea, for those of you who can’t remember, had an incredibly short-lived career as a rapper. Sailing through Top 40 radio for most of 2014, Iggy faced accusations of whitewashing rap music and essentially ripping off her black peers. Public opinion of Azalea headed way south within a year, and internet hate paired with a very embarrassing breakup sent Iggy into a hiatus that is still indefinite.

Even considering Iggy Azalea as a forgettable radio trend, Halsey’s words still seem pretty harsh. Once the Twitterverse got a hold of this interview, Halsey immediately issued a lengthy, as-expected apology on her Twitter:

“Honestly? I didn’t know that Quavo had made homophobic comments when I collaborated him. We’ve never spoken a word to each other and + I have no intention of pursuing a friendship there, unless he wants to make a legitimate apology. I work tirelessly to represent & support marginalized communities I love & am a part of. I’m sorry if my actions have ever seemed otherwise.”

Deleted from this thread of apology tweets was her very unapologetic stance of her Iggy Azalea statements.

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So, this leaves us with the question: whose side are you on? Usually in these social media battles, there’s a clear winner and loser, an offense and a defense. We should be able to pick out a right and a wrong somewhere. While I am the first in line to read something juicy, this situation is particularly exhausting to me because of who it involves. Halsey and Iggy Azalea, outside of being popular musicians, are two of the most annoying online presences recognized by the world today.

Halsey is sort of infamous for doing the absolute most. As I said before, she lives out her Tumblr-girl persona full force, making music that represents social justice and millennials. While her devoted younger fans see her has the ultimate creative, much of what she has to say comes off as pretentious and try-hard. And it seems that these impressions are not completely unwarranted, because Halsey has come after a few big names in music, making comparisons that display an arrogant side to the singer. Audiences also question whether or not her devotion to LGBTQ+ and mental health issues are her platform or her shtick, because she seems to employ both as devices in victimizing herself when necessary.

Iggy Azalea, comparatively, has ruined her reputation by saying all the wrong things. As a white, female rapper, her responsibility in the media was to be extremely careful. But rather than creating an inclusive discussion in the industry, she made cheap imitations of other black artists. On top of this, Iggy never acknowledged her wrongdoings and made weak jabs at those who called her out. Rather than stepping up to redirect her career, Iggy Azalea defends herself more than she proves herself.

All things considered, I’m not on a side for this one. I don’t really want to pick one. Halsey dragged Iggy’s name out of nowhere, which was inappropriate and mean spirited. But didn’t she say what people already knew? Had social media not played a part in calling out Iggy’s whitewashing, we would be stuck listening to Black Widow 2.0 for the next few years. Both perspectives are understandable, but hardly supportable. When it comes to pop culture figures, we are increasingly encouraged to indulge in their trivial drama. But as these stars become more petty and entitled, we go beyond asking whose side, and start to question who’s worse?

Sometime after 2010, the unspoken law that everyone had to be perfect secretly went into affect. Presently, if a celebrity missteps in an interview or their social media, they are completely raked over the coals. Halsey and Iggy Azalea share this experience, because of their many media slip-ups. This feud essentially boils down to the whiny girl vs. longstanding displays of ignorance. Surely there are celebrities that we can better support than these two?

What about Miley Cyrus? She’s supported the LGBTQ+ community whole-heartedly with her Happy Hippie Foundation. She’s great! But she has been accused of racism in the past by making fun of black culture in her music videos and performances. Nicki Minaj has called her out for this, and celebrates her own blackness, in turn inspiring many young women of color. But Nicki Minaj has also reportedly posted bail for her brother, who was arrested for raping a minor. Yikes. And those college students she vowed to pay tuition for on Ellen have yet to deposit a check. Taylor Swift, who has beefed with Nicki Minaj in the past, is certainly charitable. With countless fan hospital visits and initiatives like Swiftmas, Taylor is a totally supportable celebrity! Unless of course you don’t consider the radio silence on anything political in the past year, negative treatment of fans, money hungry business strategies and her overall mean-girl reputation in Hollywood. Swift’s nemesis in the media is Katy Perry, who seems to publicly agree with the aforementioned problematic behavior on Taylor’s part. So why not get on Katy’s side? With fun and cheeky music, Katy Perry has also been active politically and socially– raising awareness in almost every conflict we face presently. But even though she’s toured the world and donated money everywhere, she’s faced backlash for appropriating and fetishizing Asian culture multiple times. Even though Katy Perry has spoken up on police brutality and supported movements like Black Lives Matter, she may or may not have made a racist joke on Instagram Live a few weeks ago. And even though Katy Perry has been awarded by the Human Rights Campaign for her work as a gay rights activist, she was faced with the exact same criticism as Halsey for featuring Migos on her respective record Witness.

If my maze of celebrity controversy did not illustrate my point, I’ll elaborate. We hold celebrities to this impossible standard of exemplary behavior and politics. In doing this, we have created a convoluted points system in which one celebrity can take the moral upper hand with slightly more social awareness than his or her peer. We are quick to write off people for their misjudgments; if you are a media celebrity these misjudgments are even more quickly blown out of proportion.

I noticed in reviewing these feuds, I only included female pop stars. I hate to add to the larger problem here, because hyping up these feuds between women reiterates stereotypes about bitchiness and female competition. That’s why I believe Halsey errs more on the side of fault in her recent statements, because she advocates for both feminism and anti-bullying. Iggy Azalea has admitted that the tsunami of internet hate directed her way has lead her to depression and suicidal thoughts. Since her career imploded with whitewashing accusations, Iggy has essentially kept to herself. Throwing another female under the bus is not in the spirit of feminism– but remaining teachable certainly is.

To cap off many dramatic reports, Iggy Azalea finally responded to Halsey’s comments with this:

“I don’t know her. I’ve never met her. So I thought it was a bit strange to just throw that out there … She’s young and I hope that she learns to be a bit less judgmental.”

This response was not accountable as it could have been, but honest as it needed to be. It’s not always easy to say “Hey lay off– that hurts my feelings!” when you share a bit of the blame. Perhaps Iggy Azalea will never fully address the racial issues surrounding her media image, but she is facing some insurmountable problems on her career path music-wise. Keeping her nose clean and giving classy responses like these is in Iggy’s capacity right now. She doesn’t owe me anything, so that will have to be good enough.

I think Halsey has a good heart as well. Whether her approach is likable or not, she entered her music career with every intention of representing something. And that’s a brave move for a young woman. I’m actually really enjoying the music on her new album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. But under the guise of social justice and pontification, that’s really all it is. Music. Even though she loves her art, Halsey struggles with being a little too big for her britches when making music. Although her identity is valid, and the opinions that it garners are to be considered as such, this does not make her all-knowing.

Maybe Halsey and the rest of us could benefit in understanding that our favorite celebrities are not Gods, nor are they monsters. Putting into perspective who they are and who we are will ultimately dissolve the narrative of unattainable perfection. Keeping score of who-said-what distracts from who is genuinely good and who is not. As a media audience, it’s time to end this narrative. Relax your anxious Twitter fingers, be objective, and move on.