Originally Published in the November 2014 Issue 2 of "The Mainsheet"
Love her or hate her, Taylor Swift is a force to be reckoned with. Her new record, 1989, is the first album since Eminem’s 2002 album The Eminem Show to sell over 1.2 million records in the first week of sales. Taylor Swift has blown away the music industry and proven whether her music is classic country or electronic pop, her loyal “Swifties” will follow her to the ends of the earth.
Swift’s music is undeniably catchy. Her old hits like “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me” or new songs like “Shake It Off” are near impossible to get out of your head once you hear them on the radio. On paper, she seems perfectly likable: super into interacting with her fans, nice girl reputation, not out partying like her pop star counterparts Miley Cyrus or even Katy Perry. Taylor Swift’s image has been squeaky clean, perfectionist, tall blonde who just by chance (yeah, right) only seems to date bona fide movie stars and teen heartthrobs. With a slew of famous girlfriends like musicians Lorde and Selena Gomez, writers like Lena Dunham, and models like Lily Aldridge and Karlie Kloss, Swift is the perfect best friend and girl’s girl. And yet, there has always been something that has driven me up the wall about her.
I love that Swift writes her own music and seems to manage her own career trajectory. Her music is so fun to sing along to (most of the time- “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” serves as a nails on a chalkboard exception). She seems to be changing the tone of her music to less “poor me” victimization when relationships don’t work out to more “hey, we both weren’t perfect,” a more realistic perception of what happens when a relationship doesn’t work out. With the influence of Lena Dunham, she is talking about feminism- equality for men and women, not some matriarchy, bra-burning misinterpreted version of modern feminism. She talks about the double standard she has encountered when writing songs about her relationships and how even though she isn’t dating tons of guys, some members of the media choose to paint her as a boy crazy, needy person.
And yet, my problems with Taylor Swift break down to three key issues: 1) Her music has one subject matter: love, and she aggressively markets her one theme music to very young, impressionable girls; 2) She paints herself as just like you and me, but let’s be real, she isn’t; 3) She only dates famous guys (players) and complains when it doesn’t work out.
Let’s take 1989 as a Swift case study. Part of the hype for this album was that it would be a totally new side and subject matter for Swift: less about guys and more about friendships. That’s just totally not true. To be fair, “Shake It Off” is about forgetting about the haters and “Bad Blood” is about a feud with rumored nemesis Katy Perry. Non-relationship songs like “Welcome to New York” (terrible song) is not explicitly about boys, it’s about getting over boys in a new city, and “Blank Space” is poking fun at her boy crazy public image, but “Style” (Harry Styles cough), “Out of the Woods,” “All You Had to Do Was Stay,” “I Wish You Would,” “Wildest Dreams”, “How You Get the Girl,” “This Love,” “I Know Places,” and “Clean” are all about romantic relationships.
Love and high profile relationships sell records, and Swift seems to define the men she dates. She can write songs about whatever she wants, but as NPR reporter Melissa Block points out, impressionable young girls are unintentionally given the message that the most important part of womanhood is being in a relationship. Older girls hopefully learn that defining yourself by the people you date is unhealthy for your self-esteem and self-confidence. Younger girls don’t know that yet. Many idolize Taylor Swift. Her romantic narratives and Starbucks filled New York dates we see in paparazzi pictures make us want the same fairytale relationships. It’s this fantastical world that Swift creates that can be so damaging. There is so much more to growing up and being a girl than being in a relationship. There is nothing wrong with being in love or having your heart broken- that’s not the point. The point is that aggressively marketing your music to a demographic that mindlessly repeats your lyrics without understanding the message that is being absorbed seems manipulative. Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus aren’t marketing their music towards middle school girls and Taylor Swift is.
The subject matter she broaches in 1989 is far more grown-up than anything she has done in the past. And again, there is nothing wrong with a musician talking about love, sex, and relationships, but when you are marketing your music towards young girls, again, I feel you bear some responsibility to keep your music more PG and more diversified. Talk about your dynamo female friendships and your journey to embracing yourself. Talk more about shaking off the haters and finding yourself in a new city. “I said no one has to know what we do. His hands are in my hair. His clothes are in the room.” Little girls don’t need to be repeating those lyrics.
Beyond the manipulative marketing, which yes, plenty of other artists do as well, Taylor Swift dates Taylor Lautner, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Harry Styles and still expects the world to believe that she is just the average 24 year old. Taylor Swift comes from a well-off family. She is tall, skinny, blonde, and pretty. She dates famous guys and dresses in expensive designer clothes. She has a few million-dollar houses in Nashville, the Cape, California, and New York. She isn’t the average American young person! If she was really looking for a normal relationship, she wouldn’t be dating celebrities. She just wouldn’t.
Now, for someone who isn’t the biggest Taylor Swift fan I do know a lot about her. That’s because I really do want to like Taylor Swift. One of my best friends who is a diehard Swift fan swears that I secretly love her and need a good dose of “Swiftamine,” a SNL created cure for Taylor Swift music induced vertigo.
But as Melissa Block pointed out in her Swift interview, Taylor has a huge platform to talk to vulnerable young girls who love her music. I wish she would broaden her music to be more than just heartbreak and love songs. I wish she would let go of the idea that she is just like us. I even wish she would try dating a normal Joe guy. 1989 was supposed to be a whole new side to Swift. I don’t think it is