She’s the epitome of white feminism. A slut. She wrongfully obtained the coveted 2016 Album Of The Year Grammy award that, according to Twitter fanatics, should have been given to Kendrick Lamar.
These are some of the many complaints about music’s most prominent superstar, Taylor Swift. The 26-year-old hasn’t released an album in nearly two years, but media coverage of her personal life prevails, despite how seemingly humdrum the details: her now platinum blonde hair that she chopped to cover Vogue, her steady relationship with DJ Calvin Harris, and her on-again, off-again feud with self proclaimed deity, Kanye West.
“For all my Southside n----- that know me best/I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous/I made that bitch famous” West notoriously rapped in his seventh studio album, The Life Of Pablo’s track, “Famous.” He was, of course, alluding to the 2009 VMA’s where he ripped the microphone out of Swift’s hands while she was accepting the Best Female Video award and declared, “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but Beyonce has one of the best videos of all time!”, an unprecedented yet distinct footnote in Swift’s mega-successful career.
2009 treated Swift like Country/Pop royalty. “Bad day? There’s a Taylor Swift song for that” Facebook groups were rampant. “You Belong With Me” played in school dances and clubs and car radios around the world. The average consumer could not go one day without seeing Swift’s closed eyes and corkscrew golden locks gracing the front of her album Fearless, from Verizon Wireless commercials, to the deluxe edition exclusively available at Target, to Rolling Stone hailing the album as “so rigorously crafted it sounds like it has been scientifically engineered in a hit factory.”
Swift’s ascent to Pop music’s most untouchable phenomenon grew steadily through her five consecutive albums. But as her fame soared to cosmic heights and she collected awards at the rate children collect stuffed animals, media opinion shifted out of her favor.
It was, undoubtedly, her dating history that sparked such heated controversy. Even someone who wouldn't call themselves a Taylor Swift fan can rattle off names: John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal, A Jonas Brother. She was linked with a Kennedy(!) and a One Direction member in 2012 alone. Tabloids labeled her a serial dater with a victim complex who sought out romantic relationships for personal gain. Swift addressed this persona in her 2014 single, "Blank Space," where she cunningly, (albeit sarcastically), spawned lyrics like, "Oh my God/Look at that face/You look like/My next mistake/Love's a game/Wanna play?" and, "Got a long list of ex-lovers/They'll tell you I'm insane," and, the ultimate Instagram caption/t-shirt slogan, "Darling I'm a nightmare/Dressed like a daydream."
Swift has never been shy, or unsuccessful, at having the last word. Her success is uniquely credited to the fact that every song that she's ever put her name on, she's had a hand in writing. Swift is a mastermind at putting a sound to nostalgia, a pinnacle element in the highest of songwriting formulas that other artists attempt but often lose in translation.
"Fifteen" was played on the first day of thousands of girls' Freshman year of high school across the world. Before that, "Tim McGraw" and "Our Song" gave country fans love songs to dance, or cry, (or both), to. Swift's third album included an anti-bullying track, ("Mean"), a graduation anthem ("Long Live"), and, of all things, a song to interrupt a wedding to ("Speak Now"). My mother and I blared "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" the day she signed divorce papers from my dad, 20-somethings related to being "happy, free, confused, and lonely, at the same time" with a track that took a jab at hipsters in "22", and Swift emphasized the matrix of her potential in the career-defining "All Too Well." "Shake it Off" embodies a shoulder shrug, wry smirk kind of gesture with lyrics like "haters gone hate, hate, hate, hate, hate," (a nod to her many critics) and "Wildest Dreams" conceptualized the pleading of a doomed love: "I can see the end, as it begins....Say you'll remember me".
Swift's songs are not the product of middle aged music producers and Hollywood songwriters that have been in the business for decades. Rather, there is a certain kind of magic, a screaming reassurance of love in her albums, in lyrics as potent and powerful as, "You call me up again/Just to break me/Like a promise/So casually cruel/In the name of being honest," and, "So you were never a Saint/And I loved in shades wrong/We learned to live with the pain/Mosaic broken hearts/But this love is/Brave and wild."
The enchantment of Swift leaves fans, unsurprisingly, as wonderstruck and starry-eyed as she is when she wins her awards. She's the ultimate tween (or college student) role model. Her career downfalls have been few and far between: aside from the Kanye West drama and her exaggerated love life, a few pitchy performances in Swift's early career made headlines, but nothing that stopped her from scoring ten Grammys and 22 Billboard Music Awards to date.
Swift's understanding of feminism has been critiqued, specifically, her tweets to Nicki Minaj concerning the Billboard Music Awards, where Minaj suggested racism in the music industry at Billboard's nominations and Swift's response launched hundreds of online articles titled "Taylor Swift Is A White Feminist." Fewer articles reported on the end result of the feud, where Taylor said, "I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke."
Swift has been judged mercilessly for her stance on feminism (which she has admitted to being flawed) and her tumultuous relationships with A-list celebrities. But perhaps the reason Swift is so incessantly devalued as an artist isn't because of these things, but because she validates an ideal constantly ripped apart by society: being a young girl.
"When I was a teenager, I felt like we were always being stereotyped as being really intense and dramatic and passionate and hopelessly romantic and excitable, now, in retrospect, I think I need to let you know those things are amazing. I hope you never lose those things." Swift has said.
The very foundation of Swift's career has relied on love, heartbreak, and talking, writing, or singing about boys. As Swift matured, she put a high priority on friendship-powerful female friendships, and this, too, was deemed by media culture as a high school clique indicative of just how much Swift needs to grow up.
In actuality, none of these things are bad. At some point, half of the world has experienced being a teenage girl and then a young woman. Why is there such criticism because we have a voice of a generation representing this? Swift's fan base, largely young, and, for the most part, female, shouldn't invalidate her either. Teenage girls were the primary fan base for The Beatles, after all.
Swift's reigning empire, wide-eyed and wondrous in all of it's glory, has made a lasting impact on music. As much as Kanye West wants credit for this, true recognition lies with Swift and her millions of loyal, dedicated fans.
Swift's latest single features a line that summarizes her story well: "I could build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at me." And castle she has built.