Let's Discuss: Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is one of the largest pillars of the current pop culture landscape. Since her rise to prominence in 2008, she has cemented herself as one of the top female artists in the music industry. Notice I said music, not country music, pop music, rock music etc. I mean music.

Taylor Swift’s talent can’t be pigeonholed into any one genre of music. She is her own artist. She is a strong one, who has paved the way for other young women and served as a good role model to her millions of fans.

So why is it then, that for the last few months, she has been under a barrage of criticism for what at first seems to be no apparent reason? No one is perfect and that goes for people who are just going about their normal lives and for those who are living theirs under a microscope like Swift and other high profile celebrities. The major thing some are missing is that not all actors or musicians, or performers are celebrities.

Being a celebrity requires the work of publicists, calls to the paparazzi and the constant work of a media machine. There are some in the business who believe that the only way to stay relevant is to remain in the public eye via their personal life or other such storylines. Not everyone is guilty of that, so to paint everyone in the entertainment business with that brush isn’t fair.

Some might say that they ask for it and to an extent, the microscope, is one of the things that you have to accept when you get involved in that world. Swift hasn’t really courted the attention or complained about it. She has sort of lived a fine line between the two worlds. So being a publicity hog is quite a bit out of the question.

Swift has been criticized for kissing and telling on her famous exes in her hit songs. The way some are acting is as if Swift has invented the wheel when this is a theme that has always existed in music. Before Swift, Carly Simon sent people on an odyssey as to who the man behind her signature song “You’re So Vain” is. The crooned-about guy is still the subject of fiery debate as to his identity.

No one has been bashing Carly Simon, to my knowledge. Nor has anyone been critical of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or James Taylor. What is Swift doing that is any different than them? Given the historical precedence, it is hypocritical for members of the media to praise one and make a pariah out of the other. This doesn’t seem like a justifiable complaint.

The Guardian attempted to explain why they “love to hate her” in their article “Women we love and women we love to hate”. Their explanation mainly consisted of their belief that she is a whiner and takes things too seriously. Swift is young and she has some lessons to learn that much is true.

The cover art for Taylor Swift's single "Red" [Image by Big Machine Records]
I’ve been to both her "Fearless" and "Speak Now" tour and during the latter, she said something to the effect of that young people, like herself, don’t know everything and that she looks forward to learning more. That isn’t a person who thinks of herself as an all-knowing being.

In the article, they mention the lyrics from Bob Dylan’s song My Back Pages: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”. How has anything Swift has done indicate a lack of humility?

She is in a precarious PR situation. If she doesn’t address the questions from the press about whose slamming her this week, she could come off aloof and some are going to claim that she thinks she’s “too good” to answer the questions. Then when she answers them, she’s “whining” about what’s being said about her and being a public figure. The truth is that she can’t please everybody.

All we can do is speculate about how she feels, I can imagine, that she is probably befuddled as to where all of this antagonism is coming from. That if she knew why she was America’s sweetheart one moment and the bane of pop culture’s existence the next, she would be better able to respond. I think what a lot of people are picking up on is that she is on the defensive, confused as to where this began.

There are two events that can be speculated to as the point of origin or at least when the flux of negative news articles started. The first being the debut of her latest album, Red, and her New Year’s break-up with Harry Styles of One Direction fame.

With the success of her new album, she became a target for those who want to see her downfall. It’s a sad but true reality of the fame game, the higher they rise, the harder they fall. The mainstream media seems determined to create her downfall.

Her breakup with Styles is not really a big deal. Some have cast her as a man-eater who has devoured her latest victim in Styles. Swift has like many other twenty-something young women, dated a couple of guys. She’s 23, why is it a big deal if she isn’t settled into a committed relationship? While that seems a reasonable expectation of an average 23-year-old, Swift is not an average 20-something.

Cropped Cover Art for Taylor Swift's single "I Knew You Were Trouble" [Image by Big Machine Records]
She has a very busy schedule. She is one of the biggest stars in the world. If she wanted to fake a relationship with someone long term just so she could keep the image of a monogamist (she would be considered a serial monogamist) she has attempted to be more transparent and be involved with different people. 

She has not had a highly-sexualized image and she doesn’t write about anything even remotely close to what Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera did back in their prime. She’s discussed what is known in the current young adult culture as “dating.” There seems to be a veiled meaning behind people who’ve said she goes from one partner to another.

It would seem there is a tip-toeing in the mainstream media, they are holding back from something and for those attuned to their sexism it is clear, what they are so furious they can’t say, Can you guess what it is? If you can, then you know that it is a sentiment filled with sexism. Why is Taylor Swift getting hate for dating different guys, when many of her male peers respectively do the same and it is said that they are "just being guys.”

This weekend at the ACM’s, I predict Swift will be shut out of all of the categories. It won’t be a sign that she has failed as an artist. She has to admit that Red is not a country album. She did put one song (Begin Again) on it that could be considered country in the loosest sense of the term. Even though the current standard of country should make that quite easy.

Before Red, country music seemed to be readying their retaliation against Swift for moving away from the genre. The country music industry can’t seem to be happy that she still pays homage to the genre that gave her a break.

They have to, at some point, realize that it is no different for Swift to move on, and come back to pay her respect, then it is for TV actors who move on to movies and still present at the Emmy awards. Or those who make appearances on the final episode of the series that gave them their break (i.e. George Clooney in E.R.).

No one in the television industry seems to feel bitter and resentful at George Clooney for not doing TV shows anymore and not appearing at every Primetime Emmy Awards. The same goes for Johnny Depp, who hasn’t shied from giving thanks for his break in 21 Jump Street, even appearing in last year’s film adaptation.

So why then should country music be holding resentment against Swift for growing into something else as an artist? When all is said and done, true talent will win out and Swift possess it.

The best advice would be for her to keep her head down and just ignore all of the haters. She has nothing to prove to anybody. She’s conquered country music, pop music, and she can conquer anything else. She has a rare gift. The haters can’t deny it.

[Featured Image by Big Machine Records]