Will history remember the time Ja Rule ripped open 50’s old wounds or when Azealia Banks pulled a triple takedown on Nicki, Miley, and Taylor? Probably not. These are historical notes, skirmishes in the aftermath of the great Drake-Meek Mill war of 2015. Nobody is memorizing the diss tracks, but no one will soon forget the consequences of calling out Aubrey for having a ghostwriter.
It’s web psychologist Dr. Liraz Margalit’s job to know why that particular bit of internet beef was so damn juicy. Margalit, a contributor to Psychology Today, is fascinated by the rubbernecking that takes place on social media and the way in which celebrity has remixed public discourse. She says that what’s remarkable about these battles is how intimate they are. No one fires until they see the whites of their enemy’s eyes.
The Drake-Meek Mill feud, not even two months old, is already legendary. It all started when Meek, evidently butthurt about Drake’s unwillingness to promote his new album, took to Twitter to call out his former pal and accuse him of using a ghostwriter. The rap world was quick to choose sides, with Nicki Minaj and OG Maco standing behind Meek while Roscoe Dash, Noah Shebib, and the rest of the internet joined Team Drake. The craziest part? Hundreds of thousands of people followed the whole thing like it was a melodrama, which — on some very real level — it was. Cryptic subtweets are cool.
Gossip isn’t anything new, says Margalit, but the internet has taken our relationship with celebrity to the next level. We’re using social media to broadcast our own lives as if we were celebrities, but — and this is the crucial thing — celebrities are using the same platforms and they are different. When Drake shares details of his personal life, he insinuates himself into the lives of his followers, offering thousands of people proximity to his Drake-ness.
“As a result, the social relationship between fans and celebrities feels like a genuine relationship,” says Margalit, “And in the minds and brains of Kardashian’s fans, they are as close to her as Kanye is.”
If Drake is sad (and when isn’t he?), I’m going to be sad. And if he’s enraged, I’m damn well going to help take down the motherfucker who pissed him off.
The Twitter equivalent of sticking up for Meek in this fight is hitting “favorite” on his tweet — or, if you’re especially loyal (and, frankly, misinformed), retweeting it and adding a hashtag. It’s a public announcement of which side you’re on. That’s crazy because the argument in question, about ghostwriting and rap, doesn’t really involve many people. Still, identifying with a gang — that feeling of solidarity — appeals to all humans. Drake rolls millions deep.
“Taking a side means completely identifying with everything that this side represents,” says Margalit. “See it on Facebook, read it on Twitter, it doesn’t matter if it’s your battle or not — the important thing is to choose a side, and make sure everyone else knows which side you’re on. And if they’re on the other side, judge them for that.”
Even other celebrities get involved in existing beef. For them, choosing sides isn’t just personal; it’s political. Rick Ross, for example, allegedly tweeted his support for Drake, but immediately took it down. It seems that he thought — for a moment anyway — that he was a civilian like us. Then he realized, no, he’s him.
Like everything on the internet, beef fades as quickly as it arises. Sometimes fans simply lose interest, and sometimes one party drops amazing back-to-back diss tracks and is proclaimed the victor. Just another trip to the games, right?
Margalit isn’t so sure. We’re spending a scary amount of time obsessing over the digital world, even when we’re outside of it. “It’s become a central part of our world and the line between virtual life and real life is getting blurred,” she says. “The danger is that social platforms such as Twitter provide an illusion of intimacy with our favorite celebrity and the virtual world becomes the part in our life of which we invest most of our mental resources.”
Repping Team Drake online, it seems, is fine until it’s not fine. But as Twitter and Instagram continue to blur the line between celebrity and plebe, our personal investment in the stars — our friends, goddamnit — is only going to grow deeper. Internet beef, like it or love it, is here to stay.