We can't go on like this.
As a kid, I was a die-hard Taylor Swift fan.
I have vivid memories of listening to "Fifteen" while playing Zoo Tycoon. I loved Taylor, all the way up through her "Mean" days. She seemed to stand for outsider girls like me, who like to turn events and feelings into words.
Taylor Swift - Fifteen www.youtube.com
Around the Red era, something changed. I became disinclined towards pop artists in general, but particularly Taylor. I also found it difficult to relate to Taylor as she switched from confessional country to pop songs that spoke about a way of life that seemed glamorous and utterly unattainable. She'd become a cheerleader and the leader of a clique overnight, and I suppose I felt betrayed.
I celebrated as media outlets slammed her for being a white feminist figurehead and later for being apolitical. Before my job was to write thinkpieces for the Internet, I constantly wrote thinkpieces in my head that tore apart Taylor Swift. She seemed like everything I couldn't stand—shallow, a sellout, an emblem of white WASPy hyper-capitalist femininity and victimization, obsessed with relationships and herself, beloved by all. The pieces wrote themselves, really.
Then I wasn't alone. For a while, it was fashionable to hate Taylor Swift. There was the prolonged Kanye West drama, culminating in the legendary controversy concerning Kanye's song "Famous." Here's a brief rundown of what happened: the song contains the lyrics "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, Why? I made that b*tch famous." After Taylor denied approving the lyrics, Kanye insisted that Taylor gave her blessing and Kim Kardashian leaked a phone call revealing that Swift had, indeed, done so.
But thanks to a leaked phone call audio released on March 21, we now know that Kanye did not inform Taylor about the use of the word b*tch. In the new audio, Swift does say that she thinks the first line is funny, and adds, "I'm glad it's not mean though. It doesn't feel mean, but like, oh my God, the build-up you gave it. I thought it was gonna be like that stupid dumb bitch, like, but it's not." There's no mention of the last line. Maybe Taylor wasn't quite the snake we thought she was. (Would it matter either way? Does hyper-focusing on Taylor Swift's word choice solve anything for anyone?)
To be fair, the initial and prolonged blowback against Swift was about a lot more than just one phone call. At least in some circles, Swift became a symbol (of sorts) of white women's compliance in systems of oppression. Her willingness to make herself into a victim while condemning Kanye, many felt, was reminiscent of white women's complicity and evocative of the old narrative wherein fragile white women accused black men of crimes. Certainly this systemic oppression still exists, but Swift became its unwitting face. Her vindication doesn't do anything to change this very real issue of white supremacy and white women's complicity and integral role in it; it simply shows that maybe Taylor Swift wasn't the biggest problem after all.
Swift's history of racial insensitivity or apathy isn't reserved for this one issue. Until she suddenly became politicized (out of public necessity), Swift had been beloved by some members of the alt-right, who called her their "Aryan Queen." She used LGBTQ+ culture when it was convenient and in order to paint herself as a savior. The list of her missteps went on. The presses salivated.
Swift, always an expert at taking the public's temperature, is well-aware of our disdain for her. She's fought it relentlessly for years, but recently she's at last seemed to have given up the ghost of her need to please, and she's come clean about the toll that need has taken. Maybe that's what I was looking for all along: an admission of imperfection. Finally, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Swift said, "I used to be like a golden retriever, just walking up to everybody, like, wagging my tail. 'Sure, yeah, of course! What do you want to know? What do you need?' Now, I guess, I have to be a little bit more like a fox."
rollingstone.com Erik Madigan Heck for Rolling Stone
Asked about all the hate she received, she said, "I wasn't sure exactly what I did that was so wrong. That was really hard for me, because I cannot stand it when people can't take criticism. So I try to self-examine, and even though that's really hard and hurts a lot sometimes, I really try to understand where people are coming from when they don't like me. And I completely get why people wouldn't like me. Because, you know, I've had my insecurities say those things — and things 1,000 times worse."
As I watched Taylor Swift play four songs on the NPR Tiny Desk today, using just a guitar, a piano, and her breathy, shaky voice, I tried to find kernels of that burning hatred that motivated me and so many others to lash out against her for so many years. But I couldn't. The hatred had cooled, or perhaps moved on, like a storm front at last moving out from overhead.
Looking out over the flooded ruins of the industrial complex I and so many others have built out of my Taylor Swift hatred, I began to wonder about the sources of my fierce dislike for this pop star I once loved. I don't like a lot of what she's done and what she stands for, so there's that—but I don't have the same kind of vendetta against, say, Tomi Lahren, who is also Southern and blonde and who has committed far worse sins this week than Swift ever has.
With Swift, and with artists we love who let us down, it's always personal. Certainly, the hatred I feel for Taylor Swift is in no small part rooted in envy—envy that I could never look or be like Taylor Swift, envy that she is lauded as a great songwriter of our times while I am still playing piano in my bedroom, envy that for a long time, she seemed to be oblivious to pain not entangled in her own love affairs.
There's a little bit of internalized misogyny there, which I've noticed in my tendency to immediately write off stars like Camilla Cabello as industry plants while not blinking an eye at her male equivalent, Shawn Mendes. As she says in her song "The Man," it's true that she would probably not have faced as much hatred were she a male. This doesn't discount the fact that Swift comes from whiteness and wealth, and as another white woman from an upper-middle-class background, I realize that Taylor Swift and I are not all that different, and before I come for her, I need to interrogate myself and my own complicity.
Like all vitriol channeled at one person instead of larger issues, Taylor Swift hatred (like cancel culture on the whole) is a cheap and simplistic way to blame a single person for much larger and systemic problems with equally systemic solutions. That's why it can all come crumbling down so quickly, when a single phone call audio gets leaked.
This isn't to say that Taylor Swift is entitled to anyone's love or time. I, for one, still don't entirely understand the reason that people seem to worship the lyrics of "All Too Well," which to me is a relentlessly average, cookie-cutter pop song. I do think she gave a good performance on the Tiny Desk, although arguably many others deserved the slot.
Taylor Swift- All Too Well Lyrics www.youtube.com
We are all entitled to dislike who we wish to dislike. We are, in general, entitled to our preferences and emotions. But the kind of rage that Taylor Swift has ignited for so long within us—that so many pop stars and figureheads and ditzy celebrities ignite within us—shouldn't cloud over the deeper realities of the world that shapes them and that profits off our obsession with them, be it negative or positive.
Lately, that rage often swirls around an artist's political acuity or lack thereof. But must all artists be activists? I believe that someone like Taylor Swift, who can afford hundreds of PR people (at least one of whom might be bothered to be responsible for her political and social presence), does have certain responsibilities. Still, this exists on a spectrum, and while everyone should hold a basic respect for others' human rights, I don't think we can say that artists must always be radical activists, especially if we are not activists ourselves.
Maybe our tendency to lash out and blame one person for an entire issue is indicative of the Internet's tendency to polarize and ignore the forces that conspire to create each person, which stems from our desire to find quick fixes to unanswerable and ongoing issues. No one exists in a vacuum. Trump did not create racism—this is sewn into the fabric of America. Contrary to popular belief, Taylor Swift did not create white feminism—that was built into the origins of the women's movement.
So today, Taylor Swift wins. Today I am releasing my Taylor Swift hatred. Surrendering it, as Marianne Williamson would say. There's too much else going on to expend more energy on her. If this is it, to quote another artist whom I've spent an excessive amount of time defending, I'm signing off. The 45 minutes I spent writing this piece will be the last minutes I spend griping about Taylor Swift, and that's a promise. Until next time.
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SahBabii, UnoTheActivist and more make up this weeks under appreciated releases
Juice WRLD's posthumous release, Legends Never Die, has already sold over 400,000 copies, putting it in the running for the biggest release of 2020.
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It's a shame that Taylor Swift has had to build her career on victimization, because she doesn't deserve constant sympathy.
When Taylor Swift released an emotional statement regarding the sale of her music catalogue to the producer Scooter Braun, she detailed the events in a long, tearful Tumblr post.
Taylor Swift — For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my... taylorswift.tumblr.com
"I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future," she wrote. "I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past. Music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums." She alleged that she learned of the sale right when it was announced to the rest of the world, and stated that "all I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I've received at his hands for years."
"This is my worst case scenario," she continued. "This is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term 'loyalty' is clearly just a contractual concept. And when that man says 'Music has value', he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it."
"When I left my masters in Scott's hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them. Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter. Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words 'Scooter Braun' escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to. He knew what he was doing; they both did. Controlling a woman who didn't want to be associated with them. In perpetuity. That means forever."
Her allegations were met with immediate dissent from Borchetta, who claimed that Swift already knew about the sale before it happened and that she had a chance to buy back her music. Braun's wife, Yael, also responded to Swift's statement with an Instagram post:
Since then, Taylor Swift has received an outpouring of support from stars including Cara Delevigne, Halsey, Katy Perry, and more. On the other hand, Demi Lovato—who liked one of Braun's posts—has been the object of backlash from Twitter and the Internet alike. And for good reason: Powerful music industry executives have been screwing over artists, particularly female artists, since time immemorial, and the issue is a widespread problem that needs immediate recognition.
🦋 @taylorswift13 https://t.co/1iI2tCr8my— h (@h)1561928019.0
For those asking, I left Scooter Braun a long time ago...I am saddened by this news, but not shocked. He is an evil… https://t.co/rrId5oFYwV— Todrick Hall (@Todrick Hall)1561938567.0
Let's get one thing straight: Braun's actions were and are unacceptable, and what happened to Taylor Swift is one incident of an epidemic, brutally real problem that so many artists in the music industry face. None of this, in any way, is meant to excuse Braun and Borchetta.
Then again, there's something familiar about this story, something slightly askew about all this. Maybe it's because this has happened before. Once again, it seems that Taylor Swift has been taken advantage of.
Coming from the majority of artists, these accusations would be shocking, but for Swift, they are run-of-the-mill. A glance back at the myriad headlines that have surrounded Swift for over a decade reveals that her career has been a long, repetitive sequence of getting into fights and then healing them, sewing everything back together into a neat, clean whole that places her at the center of the story, wronged but resilient, always with a new song to sell.
Compared to many of her contemporaries, Swift's music expresses little of the angst and pain that she expresses through her public persona. Even her last and arguably most emotive album, Reputation, was an empowered, declarative outcry against a press that she saw as hell-bent on personally attacking her. In some ways, she's the anti-Lana Del Rey: Never a sad girl, she's built her sonic brand on using her bullies and heartbreaks as rocket fuel. However, Swift's music and career echoes Del Rey's often submissive narratives in that things are always being done to Taylor Swift.
That narrative has been played out over and over. She built her career on songs that blamed other women for stealing her man and painted herself as the wronged angel, always seeking revenge.
Even then, she showed that she could not take the kind of criticism she unleashed on others. There was the time that Lorde criticized her for representing an unattainable ideal, and in response, Swift sent the singer flowers and befriended her.
Once she was called out on her music's internalized misogyny, she shifted her focus to female friendships in an effort to combat these accusations. 1989 brought Swift's "squad" into being—but it also rehashed Swift's victimized narrative. Hers is always a story about cheaters and liars, injustices and catastrophes that she had no control over but for which she always deserves our deepest sympathy.
After 1989, this pattern escalated. First, there was the beef between her and Katy Perry, which was apparently resolved during the creation of "You Need to Calm Down"; now, Swift is allegedly attending Perry's wedding. Then, of course, there was the legendary Kanye West drama. The seeds were planted at the 2009 VMA's, but everything fell apart when Swift released an emotional outcry against West's "Famous" song and video, in which he spoke about having sex with her. Later on, Kim Kardashian released a series of Snapchat videos that revealed that Swift had given West permission to do just that.
In that case, Swift's attempt to solidify her place as the victim backfired. Many noted the nature of the power imbalance between the white female victim and the black male oppressor, an old and deadly dichotomy rooted in historical injustice. Still, the incident got her name back into the press, and many still took her side.
These events led to an outpouring of thinkpieces and discussions that analyzed Swift's career-long positionality as an archetypally virginal, chaste damsel in distress, unearthing dozens of examples that saw her locate herself in a kind of classic, frail vulnerability that often disguised latent misogyny. "Her passivity and purity were the centrepiece of an appealing narrative constructed around traditional girlhood," writes Ellie Woodward—a narrative focused on denouncing an overly sexualized other woman (remember "she wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts"?) and idealizing fairy tale tropes. Some called her career a "professional victim act."
As Swift grew more infamous and controversial, her attempts to reestablish her own victimhood grew more desperate. She lashed out, constantly placing the blame on the others, never questioning her own culpability.
Only this time, the media wasn't having it. Following criticism of the whiteness and exclusivity of her "squad," as well as the feud with Katy Perry that she blew out of proportion with the violent "Bad Blood," Swift turned her focus to the media, blaming it for attacking her while also combatting any accusations that she was representing an archaic feminine ideal. Thus came Reputation, in which she lashed out at the press and killed off her old self.
Taylor Swift - Look What You Made Me Do www.youtube.com
After Reputation, it became harder to accuse Swift of embodying fragile white femininity, so the press turned their attention to her then-apolitical stance. At first, Swift attempted to quell accusations that linked her to white supremacy: She threatened to sue a blogger for defamation over an article that linked her song "Look What You Made Me Do" to both Hitler and the KKK, a suit that was denounced as 'meritless' by the ACLU.
Perhaps realizing that silence was no longer an option, Swift quickly turned political, supporting a Democratic candidate in Tennessee and denouncing Trump. Following a misstep in which she seemingly copied Beyoncé's Coachella performance, she later releasing the well-intended but misguided "You Need to Calm Down."
Taylor Swift - You Need To Calm Down www.youtube.com
Most likely, Swift is confused as to why her newly political persona has not been more widely celebrated and devastated when queer people were angry about that video. After all, she only wanted to support them—and it's true that support is better than silence. However, though a Tweet or speech in celebration of Pride would have sufficed, Swift's star power was also her downfall: She used queerness as a brand with her as its figurehead, and by capitalizing on the LGBTQ+ community and placing herself at the center of the narrative, she appeared to have appropriated a struggle that was not her own, rubbing quite a few people the wrong way.
In essence, the point is clear: Swift needs to be the star of every story, but even more acutely, she needs people to love her. Really, who can blame her? Don't we all want people to love us? It's difficult to be in the public eye, and even harder to try to please everyone in a media landscape that feeds on contention, cheap thrills, and drama.
But pleasing everyone is what Swift has built her entire career on—and that's not an easy state to maintain, especially when you're so squarely in the public eye. Still, she's kept at it. Through a career-long fight against criticism, Swift has proven that she is never going to give up the ghost of her own innocence.
With this latest revelation about Braun and Borchetta, she has cemented her position as a victim, expertly rehashing an old story but wearing a bullet-proof vest this time. Check-mate: Any protestations, any accusations that her actions are a publicity ploy will be met with outcries of misogyny. Still, it's a shame that Taylor Swift has had to build her career on this kind of victimization, because she doesn't deserve constant sympathy. She deserves respect and accountability for her actions as a public figure.
Swift's personal drama aside, it's painfully true that the recording industry has long cheated its artists, specifically its female artists, out of their profits and autonomy. It's true that what happened to Swift has happened to thousands, if not millions, of artists whose catalogs were overtaken by wealthy, powerful men, and who had no opportunity to achieve any public sympathy or personal autonomy over any of their creations.
Did Swift get the short end of the stick? Certainly. Do the presses hold an abnormally harsh vendetta against her when they allow other artists to get away with similar things? Possibly—because for all her brilliant marketing skills, Swift does seem less fluent in the language of social justice than many of her peers, and some of her initiatives that might come off as genuine if she were someone else feel saccharine and insubstantial when she delivers them. Admittedly, her poor delivery is not an excuse to denounce her as a person or as an artist, and she is certainly exceptional at what she does.
On the other hand, did Swift necessarily need to publish a message that was so clearly a cry for sympathy and that painted her as so completely helpless? Surely she knew that it would spark a wave of support, and for good reason. Her complaint touches a nerve, echoing a widespread and devastating phenomenon in the music industry, one that desperately needs to be brought to attention.
Of course, Braun and Borchetta have denied Swift's claims, arguing that she had the opportunity to buy back her catalog and that she knew about Braun's purchase before the general public. If either of these things are true, her outcry loses credibility and thus damages the credibility of other, more severe claims from artists with less money, power, and support.
Still, whether or not Swift's story holds up, it marks the beginning of an important conversation. She could use this opportunity to uplift the voices of other artists whose catalogs have been systematically stripped from them and who do not have the funds and power to create their own work like she does. She and her supporters might use this to spark a wider conversation—not about the validity of Swift's tragic story, but rather about the widespread, deep-rooted patterns of thievery, abuse, and destruction wrought by corrupt executives since the dawn of the recording industry.
For now, it seems like this is all about Swift. It seems that she has at last found the right niche, the one that will surround her with the maximum amount of love and compassion, sympathy and new album sales. There is no doubt that Swift was screwed over by Scooter Braun. She deserves support and compassion in these times. Whether or not she orchestrated this to help sell her new album and distract from the flop of "You Need to Calm Down" is irrelevant. The gravity of the issue outshines even Swift's questionable motives, and we should not let her past detract from the important conversations that it raises.
Taylor Swift, you win. We all feel sorry for you. This time.
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