Why Are People Comparing Taylor Swift and Beyoncé?

As long as there’s been entertainment to watch, there have been comparisons. People compare the actors who play the same parts (Benedict Cumberbatch v. Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes, for example), and the stars who bear a striking resemblance to one another (apparently Cobie Smulders is often mistaken for Evangeline Lilly). But one of the worst things we as a society do is pit artists against one another.

This is where the Taylor Swift v. Beyoncé argument comes in. On the surface, the two don’t really have much in common: They come from different musical backgrounds and, originally, their songs didn’t sound alike at all. However, now that Swift has officially become a pop star, she and Beyoncé are often pitted against one another as the top hit-makers in the genre. Here’s why people are comparing the two right now, and how it all began.

The incident from 10 years ago

Taylor Swift speaks after Beyoncé allowed her to finish her speech after  Beyoncé won "Best Video of the Year" at the 2009 MTV VMAs.
Taylor Swift speaks after Beyoncé allowed her to finish her speech after Beyoncé won “Best Video of the Year” at the 2009 MTV VMAs. | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Everyone recalls the incident. At the time, almost exactly a decade ago, Beyoncé was fresh off her third album as a solo artist, I Am… Sasha Fierce. All anyone could talk about that year was her hit single (and its accompanying video) “Singer Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” And everyone includes one Kanye West.

Swift and Beyoncé were both up for the Best Female Video award at the MTV Video Music Awards. The former won for “You Belong With Me,” a soft pop-country tune that fit with her original image. Of course, you know what happened next: While she was accepting the award, West (at the time a close friend of Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z) went out on stage, took the microphone from her, and said the words heard ‘round the world: “Imma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!”

But this wasn’t enough to cause a rift between the two women. Beyoncé won Video of the Year for the music video in question later on that night, and invited Swift up on stage to have her moment. Clearly, there was no ill will here.

Why are they being compared now?

As far as the media can tell, there has never been an issue between Beyoncé and Swift. Even as Swift become a major pop star in her own right, there was always room for another. In fact, on more than one occasion, the two have been seen hanging out socially. It doesn’t seem as though there’s a competition between them.

No, the comparison comes strictly from fans and critics. And it comes back to what it almost always does: When there’s a similarity between a song, lyrics, dance move, or concept, people often jump to claiming that one artist copied another. But it’s been seen time and time again — art influences art.

This time, many are saying that Swift, who performed at the Billboard Music Awards on May 1, 2019, took her entrance from a recent one of Beyoncé’s, as seen in the artists concert special Homecoming. There are certainly similarities — but, as many have pointed out, the drumline/marching band concept has been done before.

The real story here is the idea that we need to constantly compare artists. Chances are, Swift and Beyoncé have barely registered this similarity between their two performances (or, like one Twitter user said, it was purposeful). Regardless, the idea of being hung up on what people we don’t and will never know on a personal level is just plain silly. Let’s let them decide if this was a punishable offense or simply two examples of similar art.

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