You can’t ignore Taylor Swift. Whether it’s having her mic snatched by Kanye, hosting Saturday Night Live three years ago, or having her hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” play as you flip through radio stations [yes, some people still listen to the radio] she’s become a public pop culture icon and she’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Yes, she’s loved by millions, but also derided by a sizable number. While many of the judgements stem from her seeming inability to hold down a relationship, this more often than not seems like the public concentrating on an aspect of superstardom that they tend to turn a blind eye to when it comes to their respective favourites. What Taylor Swift really receives a lot of flak for [and for better reason] is the content of her music.
I first came across this idea on a blog post by Shelby Fero that has since been taken down. Recently I managed to dig it up again since it had been replied to on another tumblr, and you can check it out here. [EDIT: That has since been taken down as well]
There’s a four-minute video you can watch, but if not, Let me recap it:
It’s a follow-up to another post on tumblr where she says, in one line without profanity, “‘Mean’ by Taylor Swift pisses me off so much.” Which is fine. The video goes on to elaborate her point, and is largely about the music video. In essence Fero says that it’s fine to have a song about those bullied because of their sexuality or poverty [both seen in the music video], but you can’t marry or compare that to your own problems about being told you’re not a good singer; you can’t put yourself into this song and still have it be about these other bigger problems.
The thing is, “Mean” really is all about Taylor Swift. In an interview with Ramin Setoodeh of The Daily Beast she answers the question “Do you think your music empowers women?” with the following:
I write from a place of my personal feelings about things. It’s funny when you write a song and you don’t expect it to turn into what it turns into when it goes out in the world. I wrote a song called “Mean” about a critic who hated me. I put it out, and all of a sudden, it became an anthem against bullies in schools, which is a refreshing and new take on it. When people say things about me empowering women, that’s an amazing compliment. It’s not necessarily what I thought I was doing, because I write songs about what I feel. I think there’s strength when you’re baring your emotions.
“Mean” was a song written in response to a critic that most people believe to be Bob Lefsetz, writing on her performance with Stevie Nicks at the 52nd Grammy Awards. The song features the following lyrics:
And I can see you years from now in a bar, talking over a football game
With that same big loud opinion but nobody’s listening
Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things
Drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing
And honestly, they’re petty and childish and just a little bit mean in and of themselves. The point is, however, that Taylor Swift’s revenge song has become an “anthem against bullies.” How are we supposed to feel about the appropriation of something juvenile to be used for bigger and better things?
The novel “The Education of Little Tree” received a lot of acclaim when it came out, the story of a young boy who was inseparable from his Cherokee grandfather. Wikipedia tells us that people have been “drawn to its message of simple living, tradition, and love of nature.” Controversy sprung up, however, when it was revealed that the author had been an active participant in White supremacist organizations, which included the Ku Klux Klan. This was a man who believed the most deplorable things, but does this negate the possible good his book can do?
At no point is she anything but honest about where her music stems from, though the maturity of the feelings they’re based in is certainly worthy of scrutiny. That being said, can any piece of art that can be used to support the anti-bullying cause be blamed for that?
Following up her answer about how her music empowers women, Taylor Swift responded to the question “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” with a short and simple answer:
I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.
It’s not wrong to be taught this, and in a perfect world women would be paid as much money as men [the gap narrows, but it’s still there]. The fact that feminism isn’t “guys versus girls” aside for now. Being for equality between men and women is part and parcel of what feminism is about, so maybe the issue here is that Taylor Swift has a skewed understanding of the term.
Taylor Swift’s Facebook page has roughly 36.6 million likes, which I’m sure is an inaccurate representation of how many fans she really has worldwide. As a woman who has the attention of millions, it’s perfectly fine for her to “write songs about what [she] feels,” but Jessica Wakeman [writing for The Frisky] says it best when she says:
I do not expect that Taylor Swift would have the politics of Kathleen Hanna, India.Arie, Ani DiFranco or even Alanis Morrissette. But I do wish she could correctly identify what a feminist is — even if she does not want to identify as one.
I close with a remix of my favourite song off of her newest album: