Three songs have been playing every night before Taylor Swift has taken the stage on her current tour, and each one seems to convey a different message. One track is Dusty Springfield’s cover of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” a classic assertion of female independence. Another is Lady Gaga’s “Applause,” a pump-up jam in which a celebrity confesses her hunger for approval. Then there’s Ice Spice’s “In Ha Mood,” a recent hip-hop song whose presence shows, among other things, that Swift is paying attention to what’s hot in pop culture—an important fact to keep in mind when evaluating the controversy now brewing around her.
Ice Spice is a 23-year-old Bronx emcee whose whispery voice and puff of red hair have become internationally famous in a very short span of time, following the TikTok success of her August 2022 single “Munch (Feelin’ U).” She features on the new remix of Swift’s track “Karma,” released last week, and this past weekend she joined Swift to perform the song at the singer’s three concerts in New Jersey. From a distance, the story feels familiar: Established star allies with rising star for mutual benefit. But the remix has unleashed a wave of indignation online, making Swift, not for the first time, a focal point for conflicting attitudes about what entertainers owe their audience. Right now, the allegation that keeps coming up is that Ice Spice is being used as a “prop”—though she’s probably better thought of as a protagonist.