Forever Young With Taylor Swift
I’ve been hating on Taylor Swift since 2008, around the time her second album Fearless was released. I know she had an album before that but I didn’t know who she was, nor did I care. As Taylor Hater #1, I would loudly and publicly guffaw every time that bland girl was brought up in conversation or played on the radio. All the while though, I was harboring a secret. In the depths of my iTunes, there were a handful of tracks by the very girl I loathed. What can I say? She may be annoying but the girl can write a catchy song!
I have no shame when it comes to my taste in music. I like my music poppy, vapid, and manufactured. Taylor, for the most part, falls directly into these categories, but there was just something that kept me at a distance and I could never figure out what it was.
Up until recently, the Taylor-sphere had lain dormant for a while. In the absence of America’s favorite blonde country crooner, I almost found myself starting to… miss her. Tracks like “Sparks Fly” and “Mean” had been in heavy rotation on my iPod during the summer months (more frequently than I would ever admit). And almost as if on cue, her mouthful of a new single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was released in August and it’s so bad but oh, so good. I previewed about seven seconds of it on iTunes and immediately purchased it, knowing that it was inevitable. For once, it’s an anti-boy power anthem, a welcome change from Taylor constantly playing the heartbroken victim. And is there anything better than a chorus full of howling white girls? Obviously not. I couldn’t help but seriously question: had Taylor won?
Lucky for me, I found a reason to change my tune. Last weekend, I picked up the new issue of Rolling Stone. The cover features Taylor looking sultry and coy as ever. Though I didn’t buy the magazine because of her, I was excited to read the cover story. What I found was a perfect illustration of why I never liked her to begin with and why I’m sick of her act.
My problem with Taylor has always been the fact that she and her team have consistently painted her as this young, innocent girl, and the media is eating it up without question. It was great when she first came out, sure. She was 16, it worked. But three albums later and on the horizon of a fourth, at the age of 22, she’s still acting like this frail ingénue, wide-eyed and innocent.
The article opens with cute little Taylor getting in a minor fender-bender with her bassist’s car, exclaiming “OH, MY GOD” a staggering 13 times. Two paragraphs later, her 2010 Grammy performance alongside Stevie Nicks is inexplicably mentioned, dismissing her poor performance as stage fright. It’s a well-known fact that Taylor Swift is an entertaining though mediocre live performer. The already-forgotten Grammy performance didn’t hurt her career, the album released a couple months after the embarrassing performance sold 5.7 million. She’s clearly doing fine. Why even bring it up? What was the point of defending it two years after? It seemed to only remind readers of her poor performance rather than justify it.
Not a paragraph after that, the most notorious moment of Swift’s career is brought up, yet again. Kanye West at the VMAs. It is made clear that Taylor is still not happy about it. The fact that by now, she can’t laugh about the incident, if only to make herself look good, is astounding. Who is doing her PR? Can’t somebody tell her to at least fake a sense of humor about the event that everyone else is finally laughing about?
If you take only one thing from this article, let it be this: Kanye West did Taylor Swift the biggest favor of her career by jumping on stage that night, and you’re playing yourself if you think otherwise.
The article essential spoon fed this image of fawn-like Taylor Swift, and served it up stronger than ever. There was little mention about her upcoming album, her songwriting process, or her inspiration. Instead, all of the focus went toward her naïve demeanor, the slew of celebrities she’s dated and then written songs about, and her new relationship with the young member of the Kennedy family. It was almost as if I were reading an issue of Tiger Beat or J-14, instead of freaking Rolling Stone.
Taylor has always written a good chunk of her own material, which I can’t hate on her for. It’s refreshing for so much of the material to be her own, especially from such a young age. Sure, she has cowriters, but so does everybody else. Thing is, her words always sound like they’re coming from the mouth of a 15-year-old girl. That was fine on her first album, as she wrote many of the songs around that age. But as she matured, her music didn’t. People praise her for writing her own lyrics, to which my response has always been “Okay, but are you actually listening to them?” If I were 19 and a friend of mine was spouting off some shit like “all you’re ever gonna be is mean” I’d be like “girl, bye.” Her music always made her seem like that girl who you ditched in high school because her maturity was embarrassingly stunted. They were cute songs I guess, but when album after album is filled with just “cute” songs, I start to wonder if there’s anything more to offer.
I just can’t understand why, at the age of 22, she is still striving to be perceived as this nubile, bashful girl when she’s a full-fledged adult. She loves the endings of rom-coms, she never had a drink before her 21st birthday, describes fresh scars on her knees as “eight-year-old child injuries,” WE GET IT, YOU DON’T GET OUT MUCH. Eight-year-old child injuries…? Is that not just weird to anyone else?
I’m not asking her to be more focused on selling sex than selling records, but as Rolling Stone illustrated, her public persona seems more important than the music. I get almost uncomfortable with the fact that she still carries herself with the demeanor of a little girl. To me, she’s very much still selling sex. It may not be the same as Britney Spears when she was 22 (~*nEvR 4get*~), but it’s definitely sex all the same. With all the sundresses and prim little outfits, she seems to be personifying a modern day Lolita. I’m sure it makes her more relatable to young girls, but something about her look still places her on the Maxim Hot 100 five years running, and that’s where things get weird.
She’s also very forthright about the men that she dates, which, okay, you’re a celebrity, you’re going to be photographed when you’re out on a date, fine. But for Taylor, her love life is some of the best album promo she has. With every relationship, there is an ever-present flashbulb and without fail, a song that follows calling the guy out by name or just as obviously, and scorning him. Celebrities who want to stay hidden are able to do just that. It’s no accident when she’s seen looking flawless with an A-List guy on her arm. She knows what she’s doing. Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Mayer, god, how do I even know all of that? Because she wants me to. That’s the point.
The Rolling Stone article points out the fact that almost all of her past relationships will show up on her next album, with little to no mystery as to who the song is referring to. Her last album, Speak Now, included a track titled “Dear John,” obviously relating to her brief relationship with John Mayer (though she never confirms that outright). She has no problem dancing around the topic for press though. “I didn’t write his first and last name in the song, so that’s him taking it on — when he had an album to promote.” Nice try. Apparently she conveniently forgot that the track was one of the biggest topics during HER promo for that album, definitely one of the biggest selling points of the record. Buy the album, get the dirt! It’s pretty genius, and pretty pathetic. When asked why she doesn’t simply pick up the phone and tell the guys off, she replies playfully, “Where’s the fun in that?” To me, it’s pretty clear that her problem isn’t that there’s no “fun” in it, it’s that there’s no paycheck.
I realize that writing 1,700 words about how I “don’t like” Taylor is pretty transparent and inherently defeating, so maybe we can chalk this all up to a sick obsession. Fine. I’ll own that. I guess I just thought that she had finally broken me down, that I would finally be able to admit to enjoying a Taylor Swift song without being overwrought with self-loathing and shame. I suppose I also thought that by the time she released her fourth album at the age of 22, she’d be giving us something different, something age appropriate, authentic, or believable. But as time goes on, it’s just the same old Taylor. Don’t get me wrong, I love when an artist stays true to their roots. But evolution is expected, and growth is necessary — as an artist and especially as a person. Taylor Swift is exhibiting neither. To sum up my feelings, I’ll quote the woman (girl) of the hour, “and I’m like, I mean, this is exhausting.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
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