We owe Taylor Swift an apology. A big, heartfelt, sorry-I-hated-you-for-no-reason apology.
I’ve been there. I always admired her ability to write her own songs, but I never wanted to be one of “those girls.” At the time when One Direction, Taylor Swift, and Five Seconds of Summer were the big names, there was a sense of unity in hate, in disliking someone for their mainstream pop influence. Being a fangirl made you basic, obsessive, annoying. There was no positive verbiage around being a fangirl, so I socially conformed to avoid being labeled as one.
The media didn’t quite help with Swift’s image. In their eyes, she had too many boyfriends. She was always the victim. She had half a brain and her songs were shallow. In order to avoid the shame that came with being associated with Swift, some of us internalized those opinions. We absorbed these sexist ideas and then cast them onto ourselves and other women with the hope that we wouldn’t be judged all the same. In other words, internalized misogyny, or “the byproducts of [the] societal view [that women are inherently inferior] that cause women to shame, doubt, and undervalue themselves and others of their gender.”
The media was inclined to project the image of Taylor Swift, the serial dater. Nevermind that her male counterparts in the industry were never criticized for their dating lives, for the frequency or infrequency of relationships they had. The truth is, it is never our business how much or how little a public figure is dating; her fame just made it easier to publicize. It wouldn’t matter that Taylor had a normal, healthy dating life if the public was waiting to pick apart every aspect of her relationships. We dramatized a lifestyle that was perfectly standard to begin with.
Then there’s Taylor Swift, the victim. Unfortunately, a substantial part of Taylor’s career was her back-and-forth, he-said-she-said feud with Kanye West. Fans of Kanye lauded him for asking permission to use her name in his track “Famous,” though the leaked video of Swift approving the lyrics did not include the line “I made that b*tch famous.” To think that the Twitter hashtag #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty was number one worldwide in 2016 is inconceivable. Swift all but had a scarlet letter on her back, known by the world for something she had no control over, shamed and derogated for another man’s actions. Mass animosity is bound to make someone feel like a victim. In her documentary “Miss Americana,” Swift talks about the pressures of her career, the journey repairing her negative self-image following an eating disorder and the mental reparations following a sexual harassment case.
Swift talks about her greatest obstacle in the interview “Taylor Swift on ‘Lover’ and haters”: “There’s a different vocabulary for men and women in the music industry … A man does something, it’s strategic. A woman does the same thing, it’s calculated. A man is allowed to react, a woman can only overreact.”
There’s also the negative connotation around Taylor Swift, the unfailing romantic. Why do we admonish women for singing about love and praise men who do the same? Think of Ed Sheeran, Swift’s good friend. Sheeran’s biggest hits focus on matters of love. We should ask ourselves why it’s acceptable for a man to do something we reprimand women for.
Thinly veiled sexism aside, as a devoted listener, I can say that a significant portion of Swift’s music does not center around the concept of romantic love. Her most recent albums emphasize the range of her lyrical prose and ability to shift genres expertly.
Take “The Last Great American Dynasty,” which follows the story of Rebekah Harkness, the woman who used to occupy Taylor’s Rhode Island residence. Or “My Tears Ricochet,” which documents Taylor’s narrative following the manipulation and subsequent fallout concerning her old manager, Scooter Braun. A personal favorite, “This Is Me Trying,” illustrates the mindset around addiction and feelings of inadequacy. “Epiphany” and “Marjorie” are tales about her grandfather and grandmother, respectively. “Soon You’ll Get Better” is Taylor’s emotional tribute to her mother’s battle with cancer.
Swift has grown tremendously as a songwriter, which I feel is important to acknowledge given she writes or co-writes all of her songs. I concede that early tracks like “You Belong With Me” and “Better Than Revenge” fall prey to the putting-other-women-down trope, scrutinizing women for acting one way while Swift proves she stands apart. But take recent tracks like “Betty” and “Cardigan,” two perspectives from the fictional folklore love triangle: She writes from the perspective of two women who have been wronged, who carry a degree of maturity and introspection that defy preconceived notions of the scornful, rejected woman.
Thus, Taylor Swift is one of the many women to whom the music industry, and society in general, got wrong. We so easily discredit women for things we uplift men for, and as a result, women have to work harder to reinvent and outperform themselves to stay relevant and entertaining to the public. Because we hold women to higher standards, they have to work that much harder to please an audience. It’s on us to change our mindset instead of expecting performers to change themselves constantly to be more acceptable. Once we confront our internalized misogyny, we can practice being more thoughtful with ourselves and other women.
Shay Suresh CM ’24 is from San Jose, California. She loves literary fiction, indie music and making Pinterest boards.