Her songs may be catchy—even I can’t stop singing her latest, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”—but Taylor Swift is one of the most detrimental-to-young-peoples’-self-esteem artists out there in my opinion.
I know a lot of people who would beg to differ: but she’s not overtly sexy, so therefore she’s portraying a healthy message to young girls. And she actually writes her own songs and plays instruments, so that’s positive for young people to see, too. But I liken her to pop cultural phenomenons like Glee and 50 Shades of Grey: on the surface they give off the impression of acceptance for the former and empowerment for the latter. When I’ve expressed disdain for these things I’ve literally had people feed me these lines of reasoning. And just like Swift is feeding the messages of the fairytale of young love and not to settle for second best to her fans, what she’s really espousing is an attitude to the opposite sex and to relationships that is toxic.
For example, she waffles on about princes and castles and Romeo, but anyone who’s been in a relationship for more than five minutes (just how long have Swift’s high-profile partners stuck around?) knows that it doesn’t really work like that. Swift is 22 years old and is still singing about relationships and boys as if she were 17, the age she was when her first album was released.
Natalie Reilly writes in the article that inspired me to muse on Swift:
“What if he doesn’t look at you in the right way at the right time of day when the dappled sunlight is falling just the right way across your face? Well, you’re going to WANT TO DIE. Is it any wonder Swift’s songs contain so much wounded anger when her expectations are so teeteringly high? Which guy could ever live up to this Instagram-worthy narrative and still be considered a human?”
I know a girl who loves Swift, has all her albums and went to her concert in Melbourne earlier this year. Recently, she started dating her first boyfriend. I quietly observed that their relationship seemed to progress as if it were taking place on a teen soap or movie: have sex after three dates, publicly announce the progression from “dating” to “boyfriend and girlfriend” after a month… And after two months the relationship fizzled because one party apparently wasn’t making enough “grand gestures” to satisfy the Swiftian ideal of what a relationship should be.
And that’s one of my many problems with Swift: she perpetuates the notion that men are the arbiters of happiness in relationships and unless they are standing outside your bedroom window with a boombox, riding off into the sunset on a lawnmower or sneaking into your room to watch over you as you sleep then there’s some crucial romantic element missing in your union. Why must Swift insist on portraying these archaic heteronormative notions of men being the “doers” and women are just there?
Because Taylor Swift hates feminism. An article a few weeks ago asked Swift whether she viewed herself as a feminist, a key question in most interviews with successful women who haven’t already come out as a women’s libber. Here’s her 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.”
Paging Taylor Swift: that’s exactly what feminism is. And as I originally commented, if Swift is about nothing else, she is about guys versus girls. Her prime song lyric generator is breaking up with men who’ve wronged the poor, innocent Taylor. You know, when she’s not slut-shaming the popular girl who’s the girlfriend of the boy she wants for herself, and if only he could look past her sluttiness he would see Swift is the one he’s really supposed to be with. See: the “You Belong With Me” video for which, handily enough, Swift was awarded best female video at the 2009 MTV VMAs in the infamous Kanye West-“Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time” incident. Poor little Taylor cast as the victim yet again.
Swift really is the perfect victim (Reilly notes Swift is a key proponent in the “‘lover as victim’ trope”), though, because she manages to hide the playing up of the victim status so well. Sure, she writes songs teens can relate to, but the self-absorbed, angsty and tormented world of a teenager is a far cry from the real world a 22-year-old should be inhabitating. There comes a time when you need to stop blaming other people for relationships gone awry and maybe look inside yourself for the cause of the problem.
As Reilly asks, is Swift’s ideal of relationships “the narrative we want for young women? For any women?” Certainly not.
Image via Jezebel.