When I first heard that pop star Taylor Swift had paid off a fan’s student loans, I was honestly and truly impressed. The average student loan debt is around 30 thousand dollars, and can easily pass six digits for some folks, and knowing that struggle all too well myself, that kind of spontaneous kindness struck me as really neat. When Evan wrote about that on Friday, reporting the payment was less than 2 grand, it kinda took the wind out of my sails. Don’t get me wrong- I think Evan hit the nail on the dead in saying that anything good is good, but I still couldn’t help thinking:
“Is that it?”
Still, I decided to suspend my hostilities towards the woman and actually do some more research into her- fully prepared to be proven wrong, or to admit that my dislike stems purely from taste in music.
Still, it seemed the deeper I dug, the more I’d keep returning to that same question.
“Is that it?”
Now back in November, Evan had written another post trying to defend Swift, arguing that her music isn’t for everyone (no argument), plenty of other singers have cashed in on lost-love themes (also true), and at the end of the day, she’s just being herself.
Problem is- I believe that.
While it’s entirely possible that Swift’s just another interchangeable, committee-designed pop figure, I’m completely willing to believe that she’s being who she is. Only who she is isn’t all that good.
Let me break it down here.
For my research, I decided to read through the entire discography of Swift’s album 1989. Why didn’t I listen? Because my Pandora and YouTube accounts have been delicately tailored to recommend me just the right balance of metal, rock, and industrial and I didn’t want to throw that off.
Now that’s said in the spirit of full disclosure. If you think the accompanying music can redeem the dreck I had to slog through, I hear ya (but don’t believe ya). Of the thirteen songs on there, all but one address something other than getting/losing a guy, and even that referenced the fact that getting/losing guys is all she writes about. And yeah, there’s plenty of folks out there who do the same thing only (1) they’re not all that good either and (2) there’s still a chance for some variety. Stuff about redemption, lost chances, existential desperation, struggles with duties- something. With Swift, it all just seems to be the same- “here’s this handsome guy who I’m in the process of flirting with, dumping, or railing on after the fact”. This girl could talk to herself all day and still fail the Bechdel test. And I’m not trying to say that every artist has to be an activist, or that every celebrity should have a pet cause (Swift, in all fairness, has given to charity). I do think there should be something present, though. Something with substance. Swift’s been on this earth for a quarter of a century now- is this all she’s got to say?
She’s a commercial success, she’s popular, she’s inoffensive, and more than a little redundant. All attributes I could just as easily give to a Thomas Kincaide painting.
Where’s the soul? Where’s the sincerity? The rebellion? The joy? The truly stirring sense of longing? The guts?
The simple fact of the matter is, as things stand now, Swift is going to be just another Jenny Lind.
“Who the **** is Jenny Lind?”, you ask?
Back in the day, Jenny Lind was a musical superstar. Like Swift, she was wildly popular, greeted by a crowd of 40 thousand at her arrival in the US from Sweden (nearly 10% of the whole city’s population came out to greet her, giving her a better reception than the flipp’n pope would get in 2008).
Like Swift, Lind was assigned a “fairy-tale” persona, like Swift, made millions, and (you guessed it- like Swift) was highly philanthropic. And who remembers her?
Now you might be thinking, “But Gordon, you historically-minded but otherwise cynical ***hole, that was over a hundred years ago! Can you name any songs from that period?”
To which I say:
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “Oh Susannah”, “Amazing Grace”, pretty much anything by Tchaikovsky, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, The Pirates of Penzance, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, and on and on and on. Yes, plenty of these have survived simply by virtue of being historical songs, but plenty of ’em have their own depth. Let’s face the facts- Swift sings pop and she’s not exactly exploring the depths of the human soul here. This isn’t Pink Floyd here- nobody’s going to be sitting around in forty years thinking “Wow, haters are gonna hate, hate, hate…”
That’s my real issue. It’s all just so… empty. I mean the whole flippin’ album is nothing but songs about wanting to get with a boy or lamenting the loss of a boy- I’d like to think that there’s more to life than that. I mean, let’s talk Canadian post-punk band Billy Talent.
Yeah, they talk about break-ups and lost love. They also talk about pressure, social isolation, jingoism, existentialism, exuberance, addiction, homelessness, and Robert Oppenheimer. I could go on all day listing off folks more creatively daring, more challenging, or if nothing else, more diverse.
“But she’s writing from the heart!“, you might still protest.
That’s not something to be proud of here. If you’ve got millions of folks listening, is this the most you have to say to them?
“Well you aren’t being forced to listen- why don’t you leave her alone? Why not let her fans just enjoy it?”
Because I don’t want her making more of this junk. I don’t want this kind of bland, castrated junk being spread around. I don’t want other people to think that art is, much less what it should be. I don’t want people thinking that a sophomoric romance is the most the universe has to offer. For ****’s sake, I’m a Nine Inch Nails fan and I think this is nihilistic.
I’d hope, for her sake, that this is an act- a marketing ploy as calculated and cynical as whatever the **** Miley Cyrus is doing.
Because if this is it-
If this is all indeed real, it would suggest that Swift is just as insubstantial and empty as her music.