It’s not surprising to see that the world’s musical titans lead lives far more colourful and intense than the rest of us. The rise of the ‘influencer’ has prompted our favourite musicians to invest even more heavily in themselves and their personal brands. What better way to sell yourself than to display everything we consider human and ordinary in a more entertaining, extraordinary package? That means the good, the bad, and the ugly. The joys, the tears, and the brawls. Every beef serves a purpose. With that being said, let’s explore the reasoning behind some of the biggest musical feuds, the legitimacy of their nature, and the repercussions of these clashes, both positive and negative.
A recently well-documented feud centered around the difficult working relationship between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj in 2013, when both acted as judges on the American Idol panel for the first time. It seemed neither diva was pleased about sharing prime marketing space with the other. The clashes came early and lasted the entirety of the season. Fan favourites included the TMZ obtained clip of Minaj declaring from her seat on the judging panel “I told them, I’m not f—ing putting up with her f—ing highness over there.” Suspicions flew around that the whole thing was staged to bring in higher ratings for flailing American Idol. This is exactly where the matter gets a little more interesting.
‘Bad blood’ (excuse the pun), can be a useful tool for the stars. Fights, break ups, and sly comments often make tabloid headlines, and tabloid headlines make for great advertisement. The idea is as follows: the star becomes a side to choose, breeding fan loyalty, and sometimes even a perverted sense of community – think of the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty, or the #KimyeIsOverParty, both having taken over social media in Kanye and Swift’s most recent clash. When the time comes for that star to release their single, album, or fragrance line, that loyalty results in maximised profits. Swift would go on to release Reputation, using the Kardashian’s snake emoji as her new motif. In the case of American Idol, any and all extra viewings the feud brought in would serve as a bonus, as well as benefiting either Carey or Minaj. It should have been a win-win situation, but the transparency of the conflict left a bad taste in many viewers’ mouths and backfired. The show’s ratings remained lacklustre, and conversation surrounding the spat didn’t survive long after the cameras stopped rolling.
In a way, the game of the feud becomes a gamble; with investment in the slander comes a risk. Diss tracks can flop and subtweets can result in a major loss of following. Lose the popularity contest too many times and it will follow you everywhere you go. Currently, music’s biggest controversy involves Minaj (yet again), her newest rival being female rap’s most recent success story, Cardi B. It’s beef with all the juicy trimmings; shady lyrics (most excitingly on ‘Motorsport’, a song on which they both featured), subtweets, and even a violent outburst at NYFW. Neither woman is new to the celebrity feud, naturally leading to audience suspicion. Theories fly quickly; many believe Minaj’s camp are trying to distract from her recent collaboration with 6ix9ine, who faces being registered as a sex offender. For Cardi B’s team, this highly sensational feud could well be a cover up for her pay-for-radio-play scandal. Soon #TeamNicki and #TeamCardi would pop up on Twitter, and other celebrities acts of unfollowing one lady or the other would breach alliances between fanbases. No matter how obvious the inauthenticity, it seems sometimes the entertainment value is just too good for us to pass up.
Musical feuds do not occur in a void, and certainly do not lack strategy. In an age of technology and the interactive potential between stars and their following on social media, we can often forget the game of chess that is PR. It is a celebrity’s job to sell a product, be it their music or themselves. Feuds are the frontier-breaking form of entertainment. Is it bad to indulge in what is so obviously staged? Not necessarily, but nevertheless I would recommend you don’t go throwing shoes at people at parties. It could turn out worse for you than it did for Cardi B.