The second thing you need to know is that Ione is terrible at taking responsibility for her own actions and an expert at coming up with excuses. She is desperate for validation, see, in every form: from the general public, from award committees, from lovers, from friends, from enemies. She wants to win the world over with charm and an easy disposition. She wants to lack the complexity that makes her miserable to be with and around. She wants to be simple, unaffected, irresistible. But she is not that person. She is not charming or easy. She is rough around the edges, she tries too hard. She stands up straight, but she bends at the weight on her shoulders. She falsifies her opinions, her reactions, her behaviors in an attempt to commit to an idealized version of herself that she’ll never truly realize, and she falters every time. Every single time.
Ione succumbs to her self-imposed pressure every day. Ione is a coward.
The phone call takes place in January.
“I feel like me and Ione might still have sex.”
“Um. That’s, well, I’m… like, right now I’m just, I think people are sick of me — I’m ready to just, you know, do the Grammy’s and then go away for a while before the tide turns. The album era’s ending, the tour was really big, there was all of the, um, the emphasis on my last relationship and the dissolution of it, the Apple stuff, it’s just been a lot of me in the press. You know — you know how it is. I’m just worried about, um, overexposure.”
“Oh, well, I think this is a really cool thing to have.”
“Um, yeah. Yeah. I mean, yeah. Thank you for calling me. I just… yeah, it’s nice of you to do that.”
“All I give a fuck about is you as a person and as a friend. I want things that make you feel good.”
“Oh, wow. Thank you.”
“I don’t want to do rap that makes people feel bad.”
“Um. I mean. Yeah. Of course, I get it. It’s tongue in cheek, right? Because I’m aware that discussion has existed since the whole thing happened, but I, um, I mean, I’d sold like, seven million units by then, so I didn’t — I was doing fine, so it’s a chicken or the egg kind of fable at this point, almost. So it’s just a joke, right?”
“Yeah. But relationships are more than punchlines, you know?”
“Punchlines, yeah. It’s really nice of you to, um, get in touch with me about this. It’s fine.”
The third thing you need to know to understand this story is that Ione fucking hates being the punchline.
Ione has walked out of conversations where she felt embarrassed by the tone. Ione has thrown fits for less than a backhanded compliment. Ione once stayed home from school for three days because she fell in the hallway and people laughed. Ione has held a four-year grudge over being the subject of an episode of Punk’d. Ione sent a cease and desist letter to an ex who made light of being the subject of one of her songs. Ione ruined a perfectly good day in the rainforest because she was too sensitive over an innocent joke. Ione once cried in the bathroom at an award ceremony where she’d lost an award and had a joke made at the expense of her love life. Ione is petty and childish, and she does not handle embarrassment well.
The fourth thing you need to know to understand this story is that Ione hates this about herself. Ione wants to be affable. Ione struggles with her true feelings versus the version of herself that she wants to be, a version who can laugh it off. She says okay because she wants to be that person. She lies to him, and she lies to herself.
The song comes out in February.
Ione had not heard the actual song. She had only a conversation to go on, and when she eventually hears the end result, it hurts more than she wanted it to.
“How could you tell him that was okay?” Brooke asks her, a perfectly valid question that doesn’t help whatsoever.
“I don’t know.” She pauses. “Because I wanted it to be okay.”
“Are you fucking stupid?”
“Yeah. But yelling at me isn’t going to change that, so you can cut it out. He would have done it either way, Brooke. At least this way I’m in on it.”
“Ione, use your brain. The message this song is sending is that you owe him your body because he made you famous. He’s taking credit for your fame and he’s suggesting that fucking you is a fair trade. Think of the goddamn thinkpieces that will inspire, especially if you’re publicly backing it.”
“It’s a joke. He meant it as a joke, like, that’s what we discussed. I didn’t want to tell him no, he was kind about it, I—”
“Stop there. I don’t give a shit. The only joke is that the world already has a lot of opinions on your disingenuous use of the word feminism when it suits you and here you are, ready to stand behind this incredibly misogynistic message, and for what?”
“I don’t know.” She really doesn’t. Brooke has a way of making her feel small, but she knows this time she deserves it: she didn’t want this to begin with, but he seemed to like her, genuinely, and in the moment that felt like enough to overshadow everything else, to make her want to say okay and this is fine without thinking critically, or at all.
And now the world is listening. Ione feels like a punchline.
Ione James: Furious Over Kanye’s Betrayal?
Kanye Insists Ione Knew About The Now-Famous Line in Famous
“No one likes being called a bitch” Ione James Overheard at Grammy Afterparty
Squad Member: “Ione Made Herself Famous”
Ione never comments on it.
She never has to; the media does it for her, and she lets them. Clickbait dictates the narrative and Ione benefits from them throwing him under the bus on her behalf. She is silently complicit in allowing them to make her the victim publicly while she plays the victim privately, never getting her hands directly dirty in the press. She ignores repeated requests to acknowledge the situation. She knows she is being unfair, but Brooke won’t let her condone it and that’s the shield she hides behind instead of taking responsibility for her decisions.
The situation escalates when the video is released. Ione’s no longer just embarrassed, she’s humiliated, she feels violated, and she feels like it’s her fault. Would this video have happened if she had spoken up in the first place? Was this spite, or was this just his vision from the beginning? Would it have mattered whether or not he respected her, or anyone else depicted, for that matter? Would she have been offered input? Would she have been able to say no? She’d never have answers for those things, and she knows it’s not just about her. She punishes herself by reading commentary about it. People think she deserves this. People think it’s genius social commentary. People think it’s funny. People think it’s clever. Ione thinks it’s revolting.
It’s July. Ione’s leaving her apartment.
“Ione, look at the cameras!”
“Ione, over here. Can we talk about your break up? Did you get dumped again? He hasn’t left your apartment in a while.”
“Ione, smile for us! Don’t be a bitch, give us a good shot!”
“Ione, what do you think of Kanye’s Famous video?”
Ione keeps looking ahead, but she speaks without thinking. “It’s disgusting.”
Ione gets in the car. She regrets opening her mouth instantly; she knows it’s too late to have an opinion.
Ione made her bed, but she’s having a hard time getting comfortable in it.
The clips of the recorded original phone call between the two of them “leak” online, and Ione is now a liar. Or she’s calculating and she orchestrated this. Or she’s manipulative. Or she used him. Whatever story’s being told and whatever judgment’s being made doesn’t matter, because however true or false, there’s no justifying it in the end, anyway. She accepts fault, but she also wants to run from it; her attempt to do that through silence didn’t teach her a lesson. Ignoring something and hoping it goes away doesn’t work, not in a world where people will speak for you because gossip is rampant and unforgiving, but Ione hoped and hoped and hoped her cowardice wouldn’t come back to haunt her and in one fell swoop those hopes crashed and were buried along with her dignity and her credibility.
She didn’t mean to backstab him. She didn’t mean to be two-faced. She didn’t mean to go back on her word, not in such an explosive and detrimental way. She certainly didn’t mean to dig her own grave. But intentions aren’t worth a lot when it’s her actions that led her here, and all of her self-pitying won’t change that.
“You fucked up,” Brooke tells her. She has nothing supportive or encouraging to say. She has no solution. “You just have to ride this out now, looking like a manipulative liar.”
Ione boards a plane that night. She turns off her phone and she hides, and maybe this will blow over eventually. Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, Ione will still be a coward.