Pop Culture Shock: The logic of subtweets

MOVE columnist McKenna Bulkley on Taylor Swift and Katy Perry’s feud.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever subtweeted about someone. Good, now that everyone’s hands are raised, we can accept that although we’re all guilty of throwing shade over the Internet, we can also admit it’s really, really annoying.

We all know the feeling when you see a tweet and your first thought is “Is that about me?” or “Who’s that about?” and then you inevitably start digging to find out what drama is going on online (but that could just be me and my Internet-stalking hobby).

But the thing is, you’re never 100 percent sure who it’s about. Maybe you, maybe your bestie, or maybe someone you’ve never met. But now the entire Internet knows there is some kind of drama going down in that person’s life. And we all want to find out with whom, especially if they’re famous. And even more if it’s probably about some other famous person.

Case in point: the alleged feud between Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Swift did an interview with Rolling Stone, and went into details on her new song “Bad Blood,” explaining her feud with another female pop star:

"For years I never knew if we were friends or not ...Then she did something so horrible I was like, ‘Oh, we're just straight up enemies.' … And it wasn't even about a guy! It had to do with business. She basically tried to sabotage an entire arena tour."

And of course, even though Taylor Swift refused to name names, the great people of the Internet did some serious snooping to find out with whom she was “just straight up enemies.”

Within a few hours, the entire world had found out that three dancers from Taylor Swift’s Red tour jumped ship to Katy Perry’s new Prismatic Tour. So naturally, she seemed like the obvious candidate for Swift’s lyrically-expressed hatred.

And then bring on the subtweet by none other than the “Dark Horse” singer herself, Katy Perry. The day after Swift’s Rolling Stone story was released, Katy Perry took to Twitter to seemingly confirm the rumors surrounding their feud. On Sept. 9, Katy Perry tweeted to her 57.2 million followers, “Watch out for the Regina George in sheep's clothing ...” And then it seemed as if every celebrity news site from E! to Gawker started freaking out and analyzing the feud.

But why the subtweet? Why not just say “Hey, @TaylorSwift13, I stole your dancers. #sorrynotsorry” or something to that extent?

Because it’s easier to be non-confrontational, of course. Subtweets exist to call people out without actually calling someone out. And if the person it’s about says something, you can totally deny it.

If I say, “I'm actually pretty sure ‘I'm just not looking for anything right now’ is the ultimate cop-out and a load of bull” (a real tweet of mine), my followers are all pretty sure it means I was rejected by a guy, but I’m still expressing myself while being slightly less dramatic than I could be. But if I say “Dear (name), your rejection was lame and you kind of suck” (which is what I really meant) I’m being a little ridiculous and now everyone and their mother knows this dude rejected me.

So I subtweet, I feel better for five seconds, and I move on. It’s absolutely not the best method of communication and it can cause more harm than good, but we do it anyway and the world moves on.

When Perry subtweeted Swift, we may be pretty sure who and what she’s referring to, but they haven’t started an all-out Twitter war for everyone to see, and Swift isn’t expected to respond directly.

I’m not promoting subtweets in any way, because they are annoying and aren’t the best means of communicating your feelings, but they do have a purpose. We can express ourselves indirectly and feel better for about five seconds and then move on with our lives. Or in this case, celebrities can confirm rumors without engaging in a Twitter war or catfight (although that would be interesting to watch).

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