Taylor vs. Kanye, 2029
Competitors from both sides fight to the death.
The hiss of the crowd echoed down through the belly of the Great Arena and vibrated the dense cement walls around us.
“WHAT. THE FUCK. I MEAN, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!”
I looked up to see a hysterical young woman scanning each Squad members’ blank face for a reaction. “It’s actually so fucked up, right? Like. We’re going to die today.”
The reverberating room met her with wide eyes, watching something simmering under her fragile surface. Her face twitched and I braced myself for her to scream or maybe throw a shoe. Instead, a weird giggle emerged and erupted into frenzied laughter. Finally, she collapsed onto the floor and curled into a kind of growling ball.
I shrugged nervously to the girl next to me and tugged at the tight high-waisted shorts that were our assigned uniform. I should be used to them by now, but today the striped cotton felt suffocating. We were the Old Taylors. The Queen decided she should be resurrected in the form of an unwilling zombie army.
Not always unwilling. I remember a time when I picked my side with pride, before it was a legal requirement. When it was fun. Social media banter. “She was wronged!” we cried out from behind our iPhones. “He didn’t tell her the song would say bitch!”
The crowd exploded into a roar above: a Match was over. Skittish eyes darted around our dusty room as shaky hands gripped the splintered benches beneath us: Who had won? I dug my stiletto into the dirt floor, instantly jealous of the sneakers worn by some members of the other side. They must be comfortable, make the competitors more agile. Though we had all heard the stories of Squad members using their heels as weapons in desperate moments of some Matches. Pros and cons, I thought.
I caught the eye of a jumpy girl sitting across from me. She bit her trembling red lip and looked away from me like a wounded animal. I wondered what had brought her here. I knew many competitors volunteered solely to get a look at the Queen in person. Others, like me, had been sentenced.
It was a tweet I had written in 2012, years before the Two Realms were created. It was an off-hand remark: that Red was clearly a pop album, though it was categorized as country. It was so long ago, I’d totally forgotten I’d written it. I hadn’t even meant it as a criticism, I told the Judge, just an observation. He ruled it a Treasonous Tweet. Questioning the Queen’s supreme judgement.
“Treasonous Tweet,” I said to the scared girl, desperate for some semblance of friendship right now. “How about you?”
“They found the Teenage Dream album on my Spotify history,” her voice cracked. “I’m not a Katy supporter! It just used to be on my…workout…playlist…”
She succumbed to sobs. I reached out to pat her shoulder, but she shrank away.
The yelling Taylor from earlier overheard. “I called my parents,” she said boldly, for the whole room to hear. The whole Squad launched instinctively into the proper response to one of the Forbidden Words.
Hiss hiss hiss hiss hiss hiss hiss.
“We had parents! Remember that? And you know what? I had a sister, too. I used to talk to them!”
Hiss hiss hiss hiss hiss.
“Oh shut up, you dumb bitches. What are they gonna do now? KILL ME?” She went from crazed laughter to growling ball much more quickly this time.
I walked to the mirror to check my lipstick. It was still confusing to see my reflection and try to remember what I used to look like. I smoothed down my blonde bob with my palms, urging the loose waves into submission. Did I miss my brown hair? It didn’t matter. I couldn’t say it if I did.
Suddenly I was lost in involuntary thoughts of the old days. I could almost laugh thinking about how we had believed the country was divided, how we found our elected leaders unqualified. Now all three Haim sisters were Secretary of Defense.
The heavy iron door swung open and we all jolted. The stone-faced guard walked purposefully into the cell and we all cast our eyes downward. After six rounds of this today, it had become instinct. Don’t look at him and maybe he won’t see you.
I drew in a breath that felt like mud and slowly lifted my eyes to him.
Let it be someone else. Let it be someone else.
The guard’s index finger was locked on me. I glanced over at my terrified friend. Her dead eyes were glued to the floor as she rocked back and forth, quietly singing to herself.
“Baby, you’re a firework. Come on and show ’em what you’re worth…”
The guard pushed me up a set of steps and into the mouth of a long hallway. As we made our way down the dusty corridor, the crowd outside became louder. We inched closer and closer to whatever horror awaited me on the other side.
Since receiving the Instagram message that I was sentenced to a Match, it hadn’t occurred to me that, if I did happen to win, I would be meeting the Queen today. What would I say to her now? There was a time years ago when I would have literally died over the chance to talk to her. Today I might literally die. I supposed that maybe I would just say to her the same thing the Squad members repeat to each other. The one saving grace we cling to, the one justification for this involuntary fandom that had become our entire existence. 1989 was a great album.
A bell rang. I closed my eyes. Who would they call out first? The crowd became hushed and for a moment the only sound I could hear was my pulse pounding deep inside my ears.
Cause baby now we got bad blood. You know it used to be mad love.
The unmistakable chorus of Bad Blood tore through the stadium speakers. Above me, spiked heels pounded the floors and echoed as if they threatened to break through the stone bleachers. In a flash, the door in front of me was ripped upwards. The guard pushed me. I stumbled forward into the Arena. Blinking away the blinding glare of the spotlights, the entire spectacle came into view. Across from me on gleaming, titanium-plated benches, the followers of Yeezus sat stoically in their oversized sweatsuits, mutely staring me down. This was the custom following the decree in 2022 from Queen Kim designating cheering “not cute.”
Above the crowd of silent Yeezies, a floating platform shot beams of colored lights around the Arena. On top sat the five ornate thrones of the Royal Family. Even at this distance, I recognized Princess North by her entirely fur ensemble. In the Eastern Realm, we had seen the headlines when she had chosen fur as “her thing.” We had heard the horror stories of the punishments that befell rebellious citizens who refused to stop wearing it themselves. Prince Saint sat on the opposite side in an enormous grey sweatshirt that draped over the edge of the platform.
Between Saint and Queen Kim’s throne stood a giant reflective visor, presumably shielding Princess Chicago from view of the crowd. King Kanye had decreed shortly after the child’s birth that she was a celestial being, and that human eyes were unworthy of looking at her. Rumors had spread that she was cared for exclusively by a robot nanny.
From the center of the stage, it appeared that King Kanye was looking down at me, though I couldn’t be sure since he now wore a mask of his own face at all times. Next to him, Queen Kim stood with a hand on his shoulder. It appeared that the spiked two-piece Balmain ensemble that she wore was made of a type of metal that could not bend enough to allow the wearer to sit.
A quick, horrifying wave washed over me as I realized I had taken all of this in while neglecting to pay homage to Queen Taylor. I spun around, searching out the throne platform on the opposite side of the Arena, immediately dizzied by the sea of blonde bobs in the stands.
And then I saw her. What was left of her. The starkly smooth head where blonde ringlets once were. The synthetic sheen of the claustrophobic green bodysuit. The tattooed scales covering every inch of visible skin. The stupid fucking contact lenses. Jesus, I thought to myself. She has really leaned hard into this snake thing.
I bowed. She locked eyes with me and nodded slightly. The cabinet members around her looked on with an air of boredom. Attorney General Gigi Hadid fidgeted with her phone. Secretary of Labor Selena Gomez picked at a chipped nail.
Man, I can see how it might be kinda hard to love a girl like me.
As the opening of Famous began to pound through the Arena, the Queen clenched her teeth ferociously. Blood vessels in her bald forehead swelled. Finally, she gave way to screams of outrage, ripping at her bodysuit with clawed fingers. She threw a chair from the platform and into the crowd, landing on an unfortunate blonde-bobbed young man.
I spun around to see my competitor entering from the other side of the arena. As she came toward me, I began to recognize the sleek turquoise wig and the nude bodycon dress. A Kylie. As she wobbled closer to me on her stiletto booties, our eyes finally locked. And that’s when I realized it was her.
Lindsay?? My eyes begged. Her shocked silence answered. Yes.
My old roommate. In our mid-twenties, we had joked about the ridiculousness of the celebrity feud from the safety of our little Brooklyn apartment. But as the social division intensified, we found ourselves landing on opposite sides. She thought Taylor was a little cheesy. I was a fan from the country days and didn’t understand how anyone could back Kanye after The Great Incident. Whether or not Beyonce’s video was great, it was impolite behavior.
We hadn’t really thought that our choice was important, though, until we were moved out of our place and into our designated residences in the Eastern Realm, ruled by Queen Taylor, and the Western Realm, ruled by the Kardashian-Wests. I still lived close to New York, in an assigned dorm in what used to be called Vermont. I supposed Lindsay could have been moved anywhere west of Missouri.
I could barely recognize her behind the nose job and intense lip injections, but I could see the panic in her eyes. Only her eyes, as the rest of her face barely moved. I watched sweat bead up on her forehead. You’d have to be freaked out to sweat through all that Botox, I thought. Looking at my almost unrecognizable old friend, I had a new appreciation for how little King Kanye cared about his people. Lindsay was clearly a Kourtney.
BOW BOW BOWWWWWW.
The airhorn roared as a burly referee walked toward us, gravel crunching under the soles of his boots. He barely glanced at the two of us as he hurled a huge gold coin into the air. It flipped and landed heavily in the dirt, displaying an ornate carving of Kanye delivering the Sermon on the Mount into a handheld mic.
“KING KANYE’S COMPETITOR HAS WON THE TOSS,” an unseen announcer blared. “YOU ARE INVITED TO CHOOSE THE WEAPONS FOR THE MATCH, KYLIE.”
I looked desperately at Lindsay but she was already being dragged toward the side of the Arena by the guard. Over her shoulder, she seemed to be begging me to tell her what to do. A giant metal rack covered with matching pairs of weapons was being wheeled out of the dark abyss inside. I squinted to make out her choices. A pair of spiked maces. Two crystal-encrusted swords. A couple things that looked like a bear traps. Two live pythons.
I closed my eyes, wishing away this entire reality. I silently begged to be somewhere else. Somewhere I didn’t legally have to wear winged eyeliner. Somewhere I wouldn’t have to fight an old friend to the death. Somewhere the entire political climate of the country hadn’t resulted from an awkward moment at the 2009 VMA’s.
I looked up to see Lindsay’s silhouette making her way back toward me through the dust. I shook off the past. There were two possibilities: live or die. And if Lindsay’s performance in our old Soul Cycle class was any indication of physical prowess, I could win this.
In a matter of minutes, I would be victorious and Queen Taylor would be bringing me into the Inner Sanctum. I wondered what Ed Sheeran would be like.