In Defense of Taylor Swift…

There’s a noxious “feminist critique” of Taylor Swift that a friend of mine posted on facebook that basically ignores any potential feminism in Taylor’s work and goes right for the “she’s blonde and pretty and country so MUST be emblematic of purity rings and Christian values and all that is right-wing and evil” jugular, facts or reality be damned. I’m going to have to write a more refined piece about this soon, but in the heat of initial anger and low blood sugar I churned this out.

That’s nice, but still a load of bullshit. Yeah, she plays with tropes – if originality is our measure than nothing anyone listens to is worthy of the stamp. “Hadn’t earned”? How does one earn a Grammy exactly? If you’re looking for authorship and authenticity GaGa and Swift are both the first in a long while to sell as much as they do while simultaneously writing everything they sing. If we’re arguing that Swift is problematic for feminism…I just don’t buy it. Cherry-pick individual radio singles, fine, but there’s a depth and nuance and realism to a lot of what she’s writing about. Teenage girls writing about their own experience are few and far between in pop music.

Here’s the rub: actual freaks make really awesome music. It’s edgy and complicated and it comes from a yearning, desperate, mixed-up place where pain & happiness have existed in equal parts for almost entire lifetimes. It’s not safe or sexless — it’s ugly, hopeful danger.

And as for “yearning, desperate, mixed-up place where pain & happiness have existed in equal parts for almost entire lifetimes. It’s not safe or sexless — it’s ugly, hopeful danger.” – in other words, Swift’s music. Just because the sex and danger aren’t announced and paraded doesn’t mean they’re absent. The reading of “Fifteen” there is reductive at best and really just misconstrued.

I mean, she’s pretty clear in “Fifteen” — really the only song where Taylor has an actual female friend — that “Abigail gave everything she had to a boy, who changed his mind, and we both cried.”

I’ll spare you the time of listening to the song and give it to you straight: Abigail had sex with a boy, and later they broke up. That’s right. No marriage. She gave him all she had.

That’s right. All Abigail had was her hymen.

“Everything [Abigail] had” is never equated to sex or her hymen. And “the Puritan ideal that girls can only access power by confidently and heterosexually denying access to their pants”? Far from it. If anything, the point of “Fifteen” is that defining “everything you have” as “things that are attractive to boys” is short-sighted, Taylor thought she was gonna marry him someday “but I realized some bigger dreams of mine.” And Abigail’s her actual real-life best friend, for what it’s worth.

See, teenagers do think about sex and that’s part of what makes adolescence so fucking wretched but also hopelessly authentic. Revisiting that paradox as an adult can make great art. It’s not about slut shaming, exalting resistance, extending childhood or demonizing desire — it’s about powerfully wanting things that are REAL.

And as for sexless? Her first album was filled with songs about “driving down back roads at night” with boys who had “one hand on the steering wheel and the other on my…heart.” I mean, does she present herself as wholesome (as in nice?)? Certainly. But definitely not as sexless. And while a lot of her songs are about boys, most of them aren’… See Moret particularly rosy-eyed visions of romance besides “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me”. She has songs about lust and anger and cheating, and songs that have nothing to do with boys – songs about her family and social isolation and personal ambition.

Does she need to broaden her palette by the time she releases her next album? Totally. But the idea of a 16 or 18 year old female songwriter with a damn good grasp on structures and techniques of songwriting, with an ear for detail, articulating her own experiences, and having the buck stop with her in pretty much every way – from lyric writing, to set design, to music and melodies, etc. isn’t a bad thing.

There’s stuff to talk about when it comes to Taylor Swift, and she’s far from a perfect role model, but…I mean. This is like reducing Vampire Weekend’s discussion of class and wealth and sex into “well they’re white and rich and WASPy so fuck them.”

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One response to “In Defense of Taylor Swift…

  1. Also the idea that the cheerleader/nerd set up in “You Belong With Me” is in fact the standard Virgin/Whore complex is just wrongheaded. SMH.

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