Taylor Swift Week, an informal celebration of the release of her new album, is almost over. Thank God. Before we continue, let me state clearly and for the record that I do not hate Taylor. I also don’t like Taylor. Taylor Swift exists in a squishy pocket of the universe occupied by other curiosities that baffle my pop culture palate — Harry Potter, Justin Timberlake, Bollywood movies, The Big Bang Theory, and all foods containing bananas just don’t make sense to me.
I don’t begrudge anyone their right to enjoy any of those things. I just can’t find a way to explain to myself the reasoning behind what makes someone obsessively affectionate toward Taylor Swift.
Based on her carefully crafted public persona, she seems to be kind, generous, emotionally present, and oddly humble for someone who has a very obvious genetic leg up on 99 percent of the rest of the world. I can see that being appealing. Who doesn’t want their pop icons to embrace transparency and social graces?
Not every famous person can be as unapproachable and eccentric as Lady Gaga. Maintaining a hyper-sexual cartoon character like Nicki Minaj is probably exhausting. I have a hard time pretending I’m paying attention when my mom calls.
That still doesn’t explain why rational people become irrational when Taylor Swift is mentioned. I don’t just mean those who love her. I’m also referring to the mania that accompanies any negative think piece about her work or her dating life. It certainly doesn’t stem from her music, which is well-produced and catchy, often with confessional, on-the-nose lyrics designed to appeal to as many people as possible.
There is literally nothing offensive about what she does. She doesn’t push the envelope of good taste like Miley Cyrus. She doesn’t make critics question her sanity like Britney Spears. She’s not brash or outwardly confident the way Beyonce is. Maybe that generic quality is exactly what makes other people love her (and hate her.) To me, it just makes me shrug.
I’m hard to please in a very noticeable way. It takes quite a lot of effort for me to get attached to anything, be it a movie, a TV show, or a pop star. I think the last time I truly got excited about something was the release of Blade Runner on Blu Ray. What does that say about me? What does that say about my potential Taylor Swift fandom? Is 1989 going to be the record that finally gets me on the Swiftie bandwagon? No, it’s not.
If I’m going to be passionate about something, it has to be difficult. That’s not to say that I only consume things that aren’t popular or make people mad, but that is to say that I appreciate art that gets messy. There’s nothing messy about “Welcome to New York.” It’s a good pop song performed well. There’s a lot of money riding on it. Corporate sponsors have to be satisfied. Tour dates have to be sold out. A Taylor Swift album has to be huge. These mainstream pop stars are like real-life Avengers, and Taylor Swift is like Hawkeye — just kind of around, no superpowers, no fancy costume. She’s just someone who does one thing very well, and that is be charming and seemingly real. And make no mistake, Taylor Swift is so charming. She’s the kind of person you want to hug for no apparent reason. I’m baffled by her appeal, but I also recognize that some success is just a mystery of human chemistry. Her last album, Red, speaks to listeners in a profound way, even if her sentiments are borderline generic.
I can admire the perfect, polished nuggets of mainstream brilliance for what they are: superior product. No matter how much you relate to Taylor Swift, she is still an object to be marketed to you in the same way as Robert Downey Jr., Old Spice, and The Beatles. She’s an avatar for every person who feels most at home living simply, loving someone, and being willing to exist honestly. There is nothing wrong or dangerous about that. I guess I just don’t see the need to have that avatar anymore.
Perhaps the next Taylor Swift album cycle will make more sense to me. Maybe as she grows as a human being and an artist, she’ll discover attributes I’ll find more exciting and I won’t think of her as though I’m some alien visitor trying to make sense of Earth culture. Or maybe she’ll make a rap album and totally freak me out. No matter what, I’ll be paying attention, even if I can’t figure out why.