Pretty much ever since that infamous night at the 2009 VMAs, Taylor Swift has simultaneously been a media darling and a media villain. As time has worn on, however, articles have been leaning more and more towards the latter. And, for about as much time, I haven’t blamed them. Taylor has always tended towards the dramatic and thrives on victimhood (whether or not it’s warranted). Some of it was just because she was young and immature (i.e. the video with the Joe Jonas doll), but some of it was borderline histrionic (i.e. the Katy Perry incident). And then, of course, came the day Kim and Kanye exposed Taylor as a snake.
Some background (in case you were somehow able to escape the gossip): Kanye released a song called “Famous” that contains the lines, “I think me and Taylor might still have sex./ Why? I made that bitch famous.” Kanye was quick to tell anyone who asked that he had, in fact, cleared the lyrics with Taylor. Taylor, meanwhile, categorically denied ever hearing the song in any capacity. The media, predictably, took Taylor’s side, as she declared you should never let a man take credit for your accomplishments in the name of feminism (which she had only recently adopted, but better late than never). And then Kim dropped video proof that Kanye did indeed call Taylor to ask if the lyrics were okay, and Taylor can be heard telling him to go for it. I, along with many across the globe, thought that she had finally been exposed as a liar.
I’ve had a year to consider the incident and Taylor’s response (in which she says she never heard the song itself or the lines where Kanye claims he “made that bitch famous”), and my perspective has shifted a little. Because, based on the video evidence, she didn’t hear the song. And Kanye never shared that line. Now, Taylor telling him he needed to tell “[his] truth” could be interpreted as permission, but it’s also unlikely Taylor ever imagined he would say something like that. So I don’t think Kanye is totally innocent here (whatever Kim thinks). I do wonder, however, why Taylor wouldn’t have just said this up front.
When asked, she could’ve easily said, “Kanye did talk to me about the song. I told him I was fine with the lyrics he shared with me, but he never told me about the “I made that bitch famous” line nor did he play me the song. I feel like I wasn’t given the whole story and was misled into giving the okay.” She’s so well-spoken, it seems strange she couldn’t just… be transparent. Why wait until she’s “exposed” to explain her side, rather than using the incident as a platform for “girl power!!!”?
Of course, she doesn’t owe anyone an explanation. It just strikes me as an oddly miscalculated move from someone who’s usually so shrewd and clever. But an error in judgment isn’t a reason not to trust someone. So why am I still not on her side? Well, partially because of what she used this for.
Taylor considers herself a feminist, and yet only seems to address feminist issues when they apply to her. There’s this incident, the incident with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (they made a “Taylor-dates-a-lot-of-guys” joke), and even cases of sexual harassment and assault. But don’t misunderstand. I am glad Taylor stood up for herself against the radio DJ who groped her. I’m glad she went after her justice. She deserved to do that for herself, and it’s a great example for her millions of fans. But, if she’s a feminist, why doesn’t she speak up about feminist issues more regularly? And why do I expect her to?
I guess part of it is her large platform. She’s so influential (and rich!), imagine what she could do if she tried. Another part of it is the sheer amount of celebrity feminists (and even your average feminists) who are regularly addressing feminist issues and taking action. Why, if she’s a feminist, doesn’t she do that too? Is she that afraid of alienating her audience?
However, I will freely acknowledge I have no idea what she does in her private life. Maybe she’s constantly donating and petitioning Congress. Maybe she’s spreading feminist messages among people she knows. Or maybe she just doesn’t get it. Maybe she’s just that out-of-touch.
And then there’s the streaming and money thing. I’m not going to sit here and say she doesn’t deserve compensation for her hard work or that she’s not a very smart business woman. However… doesn’t she have enough money by now? Goddamn! It does come across as a little greedy. (Of course, I think most public figures are overpaid, so this isn’t really a Taylor thing.) However, I do believe musicians should be paid when their songs are streamed. That’s how it works on radio. It’s just common sense.
This latest bit of media fodder, however, I am Team Taylor on. She is suing a magazine for an article that pretty much calls her a white supremacist. I mean, that’s straight up slander and libel. They claim her lack of speaking up about social justice issues and song lyrics are “proof,” but really it’s just bad feminism and plain old reaching. But why is she suing over this article and not the actual white supremacists who call her their “Aryan goddess”? Well, was there an actual article that claimed this or is this more of private online communities? Because I don’t know that you can sue those people. Can you sue someone on Twitter for making you out to be something you’re not? I don’t think there’s been any legislation on this. But hey, I could be wrong. I’m no lawyer.
Of course, she could denounce her white supremacist fans, but she probably assumes she doesn’t have to. I mean, I’d love to tell real, actual Nazis to fuck off, but Taylor clearly doesn’t think people will believe she actually supports them in anyway. And yet, just because I side with her on this issue, doesn’t mean I’m suddenly a fan again.
Overall, I don’t know how to feel about Taylor Swift. And, I think, my biggest issue is the image she’s now chosen to portray. She’s rolling with the whole “snake” image, while also trying to create a duality between that Taylor and the “real” Taylor who has done none of the things the media says. I think the option she should’ve gone with is transparency. Instead of acknowledging her faults while also saying the media has sensationalized the truth, she’s hiding behind personas. I feel like I no longer have a handle on who the real Taylor Swift is. There’s too many versions of her out there now, and the two most prominent are her own re-appropriations.
I can only hope reputation (out November 10th) will help me find a person in this muddled picture. If the old Taylor is really dead, I want the new Taylor to show her face because I don’t think any of what she’s giving us is really her. I find it hard to believe such a queen of strategy would really be so petulant and lack that much self-awareness.