Why I Hope Taylor Swift Will Change

Since the dawn of 2006, Taylor Swift has graced my soul with her words, and I have loved every minute of it. Sure, “Tim McGraw” isn’t exactly as deep as the ocean, but it sure makes me lust after a love I never had. “Love Story” doesn’t have any literary accuracy, but it sure is nice to dream. Taylor’s broad themes of breakups, boys and bandy-legged awkwardness touched me before puberty even gave her messy feelings to touch.

But even as I turned up “Fearless” all the way on the car stereo when I got my license at 16, years after the album even came out, belting my heart out and feeling free, I felt a disconnect from America’s Sweetheart. Boys in high school rarely wooed me, and my friends and I were far more concerned with our grades and sports and clubs than the dramatic relationships Taylor subtly detailed.

Little did I know, while I will always love the Swift music that has kept me company, as I get older, I come to appreciate Taylor Swift less – and I’m not the only one. Here are some of the arguments fighting against the Queen of the Underdogs.  

She’s Not an Underdog: There is no doubt Taylor Swift worked hard to get to where she is – lyrics don’t write themselves, albums don’t just become best sellers, and four mansions don’t just pop out of the ground. But Taylor also didn’t start from nothing:

“In Swift’s hometown, she told the magazine’s Lizzie Widdicombe, ‘it mattered what kind of designer handbag you brought to school’ […] ‘she persuaded her mother to take her to Nashville during spring break to drop off her karaoke demo tapes around Music Row, in search of a record deal; they didn’t succeed, but the experience convinced Swift that she needed a way to stand out.’ When Swift was 14, her father relocated to Merrill Lynch’s Nashville office as a way to help dear Taylor break into country music. As a sophomore in high school, she got a convertible Lexus. Around the same time, her dad bought a piece of Big Machine, the label to which Swift signed.”

When Swift portrays herself as an underdog (how many times have we all referenced “Teardrops On My Guitar,” pining for the guy who will never see us?), she ignores her wealthy upbringing and privilege.

Cultural Appropriation: Somehow, Taylor failed to find any people of color to act in her “Wildest Dreams” music video – shot partially in Africa (and California, with the following demographics: “74.0% White, 6.6% Black or African American, 13.6% Asian, 1.0% American Indian, 0.4% Pacific Islander and 3.6% from two or more races”). Some sources, including NPR, have argued the video romanticizes imperialism, which has left negative impacts on colonialized countries stronger than any impact a boy has left on Taylor Swift. The video comes after the lithe blonde twerked in “Shake It Off,” with little – any? – concept of black culture.

Feminism: While T-Swizzle talks about feminism like it’s an all-encompassing quick fix to girl problems, her definition seems much more superficial and incomprehensive than what feminism actually is. She ignores the intersection of race, sexual preference, socioeconomic status, etc. with gender, and instead defines feminism as “just basically another word for equality,” ignoring the underlying structures of why feminism exists, as well as her own privilege (see above). While being a white feminist doesn’t make you a White Feminist, feminism is more than just encouraging your famous friends to bake cookies and be famous.

Her Girl Clique:  Along a similar vein, Taylor’s definition of “feminism” seems more like a guise for defending her clique, which is mostly comprised of 6-foot tall skinny (and conventionally beautiful) white women. Lena Dunham, creator of Girls, known for her controversies as much as her contributions, described how uncomfortable it felt standing next to the entire Victoria’s Secret swimsuit catalogue at the 1989 concert. EJ Dickson does a great job of comparing Taylor’s squad (read: Cultural Appropriation) to the popular girls in high school who were fans of the phrase “you can’t sit with us.” While having girlfriends is important, you can’t call clones your crew in the name of feminism.

She Martyrs Herself: Taylor has a knack for pitting herself as the victim and making us feel bad for her. We constantly hope Taylor gets the boy, wins the fight, or ends up happy, making it hard to imagine anyone doing her wrong – even though without boys, the songs she writes wouldn’t really exist (they had to come from somewhere, right?). “If This Was a Movie” tells the object of her affection – likely a man – to “come back to me / Like you could, you could, if you just said you’re sorry,” as though the breakup was completely his fault and she played no role in the end of the relationship. In “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” when she proclaims “And you would hide away and find your peace of mind / With some indie record that's much cooler than mine,” I wonder, are we not allowed to like other types of music, or even worse, are the boys she dates assumed to hold her music above all other artists? In “You Belong With Me,” and “Speak Now,” dear Taylor wants to date someone who’s already in a relationship. Swooper, much?

The most specific instance of Swift martyrdom comes with infamous “Bad Blood.” While I’m sure Katy Perry isn’t blameless in the explosive media catfight, when is it ever fair to gather your girlfriends and publicly shame another woman? Somehow, Swift portrays her famous friends banding together (another reference to her popular-girl clique) to publicly bully Perry in a music video with over 820,000,000 YouTube views as a reference to feminism and girl power.

Despite these faults (and others I haven’t even touched) I forked over $115 to go to the 1989 concert. Loving Taylor Swift’s music for a decade made me feel much more entitled to a perfectly-timed glow bracelet and a canned speech on being yourself than the hordes of 11-year-olds who will someday take my spot.

I wonder why. How is it possible for me to disagree with Taylor Swift’s views so thoroughly, but burst into tears when “Welcome to New York” started playing and I caught my first-ever live glimpse of the woman who got me through high school, and college? Why, when Taylor ends her music hiatus (after a fresh five albums in 10 years) and releases another record, do I know I will buy it the second it’s available? Is Taylor like the high school boyfriend I went back to again and again, knowing it would end badly? Will Taylor end up just a phase in my life?

I hope not. I hope Taylor’s next album and the accompanying music videos will see a greater understanding of culture and feminism. While Taylor can’t change her background, she can seek to understand not only how she is different from others, but also why. I hope the next generation of young girls can be true feminists, and accepting of others – I hope Taylor Swift can help them accomplish this. I hope.

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