by Liza Mackeen-Shapiro
& Saffron Forsberg
Arts & Culture Editor
[originally published November 2021]
Taylor Swift Good (Liza's Take)
When Taylor Swift first uttered the mockingly self-referential ad-lib “Who’s Taylor Swift anyway?” in her iconic birthday anthem 22 way back in 2012, it was already comical enough to imagine someone sincerely possessing such unawareness of her stardom; listening to her sing the same lyric on her re-recorded version of the Red album 9 years later, it is simply unthinkable. Indeed, despite a brief fall from grace at the hands of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian circa 2016, Swift’s career is arguably stronger than ever these days, thanks both to the critical and commercial success of her 2020 surprise albums Folklore and Evermore and public interest in her quest to regain ownership over her back catalog.
Although public opinion towards Swift has certainly become more favorable in recent years, there are still many people to whom her entire existence is grating and cringeworthy. I am not one of those people. Anyone who so much as follows me on Instagram knows that I am a die-hard Swiftie; after being a casual fan of hers all throughout elementary, middle, and high school (with the exception of senior year when I discovered Kanye and subsequently disavowed her — sorry Tay,) I re-discovered her discography towards the end of my first fall semester at Oberlin and have been an ardent supporter of hers ever since. My sincere love for Taylor often surprises people, probably because most people think her fanbase is made up of 12 year olds and basic sorority girls (which is honestly not very accurate, sorority girls all like Kanye,) — not to mention that her now-signature brand of liberal feminism is exactly the type of schtick that typically annoys me.
It’s hard for me to generate any kind of intellectual defense of Swift because my attachment to her is so fundamentally emotional. I do think she is objectively an incredibly talented songwriter (less so singer) who creates sonically engaging, if not exactly groundbreaking, music, and I also think that most people are unwilling to discover this for themselves because they are too embarrassed to be caught listening to her (which is lame.) However, I am not the kind of person who subscribes to a “let people enjoy things” philosophy, nor do I believe that “internalized misogyny” is the only reason one could dislike Taylor, and thus my Swiftiehood often comes into direct conflict with my critical thinking skills whenever I try to come up with reasons why everyone should be obligated to love and respect the multi-millionaire businesswoman who wrote ME!. There are a lot of principled arguments one could make in favor of Swift — she’s a crusader for artist’s rights, a virtuoso giving voice and validity to the emotions of young women everywhere — but I don’t think moralizing is particularly effective strategy for defending her because nearly every principled argument you can make against her is more compelling (i.e. she’s a millionaire with a victim complex who discovered Tumblr feminism in 2015 and has been selectively deploying it in her favor ever since.)
Ultimately, being a Taylor Swift fan is all about experiencing some emotional connection and identification with her, and you either feel it or you don’t. As she astutely observed in one of her recent songs, “I'm a mirrorball/I'll show you every version of yourself tonight,” — through her signature confessional writing style, she has let the public in on just the right amount of her personal life such that people can still project their own lives onto it. That’s the reason there are legions of people online who are convinced that she is gay, and why I feel so strongly that she isn’t; part of being a Swiftie is convincing yourself that on some level she is just like you. Thus, in this article written with the express purpose of defending Taylor Swift, I can’t actually bring myself to offer any official defense of her. All I can tell you to do is listen to her music and hope that you find some piece of yourself reflected back in it.
On Taylor Swift: I Relish in Being a Hater and There’s Nothing You Can do About It (Saffron's Take)
It seems like, every couple of years, the general public —with, of course, the exception of the most doting Swifties —decides whether or not to like Taylor Swift. Love her, even. Sometimes she is hashtag libfem-white-woman-cringe, and at other times she is the face of high butchness for those who have never met a lesbian not currently hoping to earn a clean four on the AP US History exam. Some years, she represents everything mediocre and pumpkin spice about white, upper-class, American womanhood, and other years we decide she stands for the sort of empowerment that decries “let women have fun! Let women like pop music! Nobody has ever let women like pop music before!” Plus, she’s revolutionizing what it means to be a gay little freak. As it turns out, gay women don’t have to look like hairy, man-spreading weirdos; they can look normal too! In the last couple years — or something; god knows I’m not doing a lick of research for this tirade — Swift’s mild and innocuous queerbaiting has turned into full-scale homo allegations, as she’s decided to quit capital letters cold-turkey, hug her female friends, deny her Republicanism, and act sort of like she goes outside and wears regular clothes sometimes.
But, Saffron, you cruel, generalizing, little dirty dyke-man, you! Haven’t you ever read her lyrics? Let the polish of her lab-spawned production wash off your shoulders like a sweet, cottagecore rain? She is a poet, a speaker for sentimental women everywhere, not to mention an LGBT icon on par with Baldwin and Feinberg. Because of T-Swift, women can act acceptably bonkers when men split; they can wear knee socks beneath little ankle boots when it’s kind of nippy out; they can be silly with their herd of supermodel besties. Plus...she’s fun. Haven’t you ever had any fun? I feel like you’re maybe exhibiting signs of internalized misogyny — dare I say homophobia — in declaring her fame pretty grating. Maybe you should listen, really listen, to her again. It’d do you both good. Underdogs like her need the streams.
And to answer you: yes. I have heard Taylor Swift. Thoroughly. I’ve let the subtle intellectualism of her genre-bending brand of earworm Top 40 drill itself into my skull while clocked into every one of my many shitty retail jobs. And all my childcare gigs. And every time I ever tried to befriend a straight girl with an in-ground pool. And, fine, I’ll admit it: I was the sort of little girl who shied away from things I found pink and vacuous. I was a stick-in-the-mud about boybands, High School Musicals, Hannah Montana merchandise, and the Twilight industrial complex. I acted like a little bitch when my friends recruited boyfriends in the seventh grade and insisted I stop “hurting their feelings and pushing their fingers back too far.” Kim Gordon was my Harry Styles, and I spent my childhood idolizing Ghost World’s snide, misguided cult heroines. Yada yada yada. I was insufferable in my own right. I, without a doubt, unknowingly had a severe case of I’m-Not-Like-the-Other-Girls Syndrome.
But, I must point out that I’ve never spent a minute of my time defending one of the most famous pop stars in history. She need not be defended. She’s Taylor Swift. She doesn’t give two shits about whether or not I, a person currently receiving text alerts from “McHire”, is mildly depressed by her fame-to-mediocrity ratio. She’s like six feet tall or something. She’s fine, man.