Back in 2014, Taylor Swift was at the top of her game — so it makes sense that her alleged conspiracy to end Jessica Hart’s career as a Victoria’s Secret model didn’t get much attention.
But this week, Jess Hart decided to remind us all of their beef with a now-deleted series of Instagram posts. In the photos, she was wearing a sweatshirt that reads “FOUR LETTER BAD WORD TAYLOR SWIFT,” as in f*ck Taylor Swift. The posts have since been deleted, but here’s what they looked like:
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You might think Jess was simply espousing the current Cool Opinion to have about Taylor Swift: that she sucks.
But pop culture scholars and Swifties alike know this beef goes back to 2013. And if reports about it are true, it’s definitive proof that even when Taylor was at the top of her game as America’s sweetheart, she was ruthlessly petty behind closed doors.
It all started in 2013 when Taylor performed at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Her singles “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” were slaying and she was picking up award after award. The general public still wasn’t sick of her aw-shucks-who-me act. Most people assumed Taylor was just as sweet, innocent and nonthreatening as her public persona suggested.
But we all know you don’t get to Taylor’s level by actually being sweet and innocent, and her alleged treatment of Jessica Hart proves it.
During post-show interviews after the 2013 VS extravaganza, a reporter from WWD asked Jess if Taylor, who’d put on a great show strutting down the runway in lingerie during her performance, could make it as an actual Victoria’s Secret model. Here’s what Jess had to say:
“No… I think, you know what, god bless her heart. I think she’s great. But, I don’t know, to me, she didn’t fit. I don’t know if I should say that. I think what you find is that for a lot of us, we’ve been working for 14, 15 years; what it takes to make it here comes from experience and confidence and knowing how to be confident with yourself. I think it comes with age. It’s definitely the benchmark of all jobs.”
Taylor and her fans see this as shade against Taylor. But they miss the point.
People undervalue the skill and hard work that go into modeling all the time. Being a model is not just about being conventionally attractive — that’s why so many hot people fail as models, and so many people with unconventional looks succeed. Modeling is a cutthroat, soul-crushingly difficult industry. It’s not just about looking good in clothes — especially if, like Jess Hart, you don’t have famous, well-connected parents to slot you into the best modeling gigs the moment you hit your first growth spurt.
Jessica probably just meant to defend her industry, especially since models are so often perceived as vapid bimbos who won the genetic lottery.
But Taylor Swift apparently didn’t see it that way. And when she was asked to perform again in the 2014 show, she allegedly said she’d only perform if Victoria’s Secret left Jessica Hart out.
A source close to the show told the New York Daily News that Jess was left out specifically because of Taylor.
“It’s not been announced that Jessica is not walking, but it was a direct request from Taylor that this be the case if she were to go,” the source said. “No one can know that Taylor requested Ms. Hart not be in the show; they want to keep that under wraps but that’s the facts.”
Victoria’s Secret President Ed Razek denied it at the time, according to StyleCaster, claiming that Jess being left out of the show had nothing to do with Taylor.
Fast forward to 2018. Thanks to Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, plus Taylor’s embarrassing 2016 show-mance with Tom Hiddleston, general opinion holds that Taylor is a cold-blooded PR manipulator who cannot tolerate criticism or even lighthearted jokes at her expense. She especially loves to hide behind the “women supporting women” defense whenever claiming she’s been wronged, which we all know is BS.
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Jessica Hart, meanwhile, is not exactly a household name. If it’s true that Taylor Swift cut her Victoria’s Secret modeling career short over one quick comment, Jessica has every right to not only be mad, but maybe even seek damages in court. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is a major, major deal for models. It’s one of the only ways, besides being born to famous parents, that a model can become a household name. Being left out of the show for personal reasons is effectively like a football player being banned from the Super Bowl because someone performing in the Halftime Show doesn’t like him.
What went on between Jessica and Taylor is not a feud — it’s a conspiracy, undertaken by Taylor.
As Ryan Holiday explains in his new book, “Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue” (full disclosure: he’s my former editor), conspiracies take years of planning and are often undertaken secretly. The more you learn about conspiracies, the more you realize Taylor Swift is a Machiavellian genius who excels at carrying them out. She and Peter Thiel should hang out.
If this were a feud, Jessica and Taylor would have consistently taken equal shots at each other. As far as we know, this was not the case. Instead, Jessica made an innocuous comment pertaining to Taylor. She likely had no idea Taylor was bothered by it. It could have all ended there and the comment would have been forgotten. But apparently, Taylor didn’t want to let Jessica get away with it. But instead of hitting back at Jessica with a comment to the press, Taylor allegedly ended her career as a Victoria’s Secret model a year later.
Conspiracies are the perfect method of revenge for Taylor Swift, because they are easier to keep secret. This allows her to exact ruthless revenge on anyone she feels has wronged her, while also keeping up her good girl image instead of tarnishing it with a public battles in the press.
But when Taylor’s conspiracies are found out, like when Kim Kardashian exposed her as a liar in 2016, the effect is catastrophic for her brand. Taylor has never fully recovered from this apparent proof that she’s a calculating liar instead of the perfect, innocent victim she always presented herself as.
Back in 2014, when Taylor allegedly gave Jess’s VS career the ax, the public still bought her good girl shtick. The press wasn’t hungering for stories of Taylor’s cutthroat PR tactics. Today, though, mainstream audiences delight in finding further evidence that Taylor Swift was never as innocent as she seemed.
If Taylor wants to stay relevant, her best bet might be to own up to the role that this type of manipulation — not to mention years of allegedly fake relationships and coded lyrical slander of her exes — has played in her career. Elizabeth Taylor and Mariah Carey come to mind as female celebrities for whom a late-stage pivot to overt pettiness has worked.
Instead, though, she seems determined to stick to her script: she’s a nice girl who has never wronged anyone. This is a narcissistic pipe dream, because let’s face it, we’ve all wronged someone somewhere along the line. You can’t open your life up to public scrutiny like Taylor has and expect people to ignore the bad parts that will inevitably surface.
Taylor’s desire to cover up her flaws and misdeeds is also anti-feminist, because it perpetuates a childlike and innocent version of adult femininity that doesn’t exist in the real world. As people tire more and more of Taylor’s act, more stories like Jessica’s will likely be revealed. With her refusal to present herself as the three-dimensional human being she really is, Taylor is only hurting herself.