Some people are completely over her, but Taylor is here to stay
On November 10, Taylor Swift's latest album Reputation released after months of promotion. Thousands of reviews and analyzes popped up everywhere online within minutes from official publications and diehard fans alike. Her star power has not dwindled over the past 10 years. If anything, her fame and acclaim has only grown and flourished. But why is this? How did her brand survive a genre switch and continue to grow beyond it? What about Taylor Swift gives her staying power in a highly competitive industry?
Taylor Swift first came onto the country music scene back in 2006. She was 16 at the time. You probably remember how her second album single “Teardrops on My Guitar" was pretty much inescapable. By its nature, country music is niche and has a smaller audience compared to pop or hip-hop. Swift gained mass appeal because she was never just a country artist. While her songs had the hallmarks of country with violins and a drawl to her voice, the structure and lyrics were just as appealing to pop fans. Especially other teenagers like her. Her second album Fearless hit the top of both country and pop music charts. And she became the highest-selling country artist of 2008.
This fame and success didn't come out of talent. While no one can deny that Swift can write a decent song, her singing has often left much to be desired. She often had trouble staying on key and in tune while performing live. And she doesn't have massive vocal power like Cheryl Crow or Demi Lovato. But Swift has never claimed to be a talented singer. On several occasions, she has stressed that she is first and foremost a song writer. “Songwriting has always been the number one thing," Swift said in an interview with CBS This Morning in 2014. “If I didn't write, I wouldn't sing."
The key component of Taylor Swift's marketing and success is social media. All of her accounts are specifically tailored to present the cohesive image of a down-to-earth but classy young woman. She calls out haters on Twitter and interacts with fans on her Tumblr. She even creeps on her fans' Instagram stories and live streams. Recently, she took it a step further and released her own social media app.
Swift lets her fans into her life, which makes her relatable to her audience. But all of this is a crafted persona. Most of it may be true to herself, but a lot of it is caught up in promotion of her work. Still, she doesn't share absolutely everything online. Namely, her relationships. This secrecy is what leads to rampant speculation about what her new songs mean, given who she was dating at the time they were written.
Swift has also maintained a squeaky clean image over her career. Unlike other teenage stars, she hasn't had any public run ins with drugs or alcohol. The only controversies she has dealt with are dating rumors and break ups. And, oh yeah, that feud with Kanye West — which really only reinforces her public image. Swift often makes the conflict out as being attacked for her success because she is a woman. And her fans vehemently defend her every time something new comes up.
It's the unbreakable loyalty from her fan base that allowed Swift to completely change her sound. She had four full albums released as a country singer. In 2014, her album 1989 released under the pop category instead. To many, this change wasn't that surprising. Her country songs shared many of the same hallmarks as pop hits. Ultimately, the themes in her music have remained the same as when she first started out. Relationships, break ups, and all the happiness and heartaches that come with them.
Swift's loyal fanbase goes beyond listening to her new albums the second they release. For both 1989 and Reputation, her latest album was not accessible on any kind of music streaming service. Over 100 million people have a subscription to a service — the most popular being Spotify. These services infamously pay the artists minuscule amounts per each listen. Swift has taken a stand against this treatment by keeping her new music away. Despite this, Reputation has become 2017's highest selling album. All those Swifties pre-ordered copies or picked them up soon after the album's release.
Several pieces have claimed this success is due to a killer marketing strategy, but that strategy also played upon the loyalty and love Swift receives from her fan base. Fans freaked out when she went dark on her social media channels just prior to the first announcement of her new album. After seeing her so connected to her fans online, the silence was deafening. But no one thought she had abandoned them. If anything, the silence made her fans extremely excited for a potential announcement. And it got many, many websites talking about her strategy — giving free press for her upcoming album.
So what has made Swift a success? Cultivating and maintaining an image that appeals to a broad fan base and inspires loyalty and love from them with every turn.
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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