Taylor may not be perfect, but her place as a popular figure entails a certain level of awareness.
We all know Taylor Swift. In fact, it would be more of an effort for you to not know who she is, because she’s just that popular. But here’s the thing: do we really know who Taylor Swift is? Sure, we know her through her public persona — the one that she, and her her PR team, allow us to see by way of social media — but only her closest friends and family know who she really is as a person.
A couple of weeks ago, when the nominees for the MTV Video Music Awards were released, the side of the Internet that’s been waiting for a hole to be made in that carefully calculated image finally got its way.
It all started when Nicki Minaj weighed in on her Anaconda video’s lack of a Video of the Year nomination, tweeting, “If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year.” Taylor, who was nominated in said category for Bad Blood, replied to Nicki by tweeting, “I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot…”
She eventually apologized for the blunder, but the damage was done. Thanks to having the Internet in this hyper-critical world, fans and haters were suddenly whipped into a frenzy. How quickly the tables turned, with everyone suddenly RT-ing links to articles questioning Taylor Swift’s genuineness and feminist ideals.
Most of the backlash came from the critics who argued that she was being a hypocrite for endorsing the whole “women helping women” part of feminism, especially when the Bad Blood music video (with its premise of women fighting each other) and her actions (in light of the Twitter situation) said otherwise.
Dayna Evans of Gawker wrote how Taylor was presenting herself wrong, saying that “the underdog narrative that the Swift machine has built is one of forced falsehoods; Swift is not coming from behind. She’s been ahead since she started. And watching her collect best friends during a moment in history when womanhood is finally beginning to feel valued does not only feel uncomfortable — it feels evil.”
One of the lines from The Lucky One, a track off of her “Red” album goes: “And now my name is up in lights, I wonder if I’ll make it out alive.” In an interview, she said that the song was about one of her greatest fears. Told through the stories of some musicians she was inspired by, she uses shrill vocals and a haunting melody to express how she’s scared of “getting caught up in this whole thing, kind of lonely and misunderstood.”
It is an inevitable cycle that all pop stars struggle to delay, and given the recent hate aimed at Taylor, one might ask: has the downfall that she so very well articulated in The Lucky One begun to take its course?
The thing about Taylor Swift is that she’s usually perfectly aware. She knows that pop stardom has an expiration date, and is making the most of her time on top. Taylor is on a level unlike many of the celebrities who came before her, simply because she got to where she is without having a breakdown or doing anything that counts as technically wrong. She’s maintained her status as a household name, all the while keeping her reputation intact in spite of present circumstances, and all the boyfriend drama of previous years.
It is precisely because of this — along with the magic of her PR team — that the media and the public have continuously been building up this image of Swift that’s become so unattainable, it’s as if she can do no wrong.
And as a card-carrying T-Swift fangirl who’s amassed merch in the form of all her albums and a pair of sparkly Keds, I took that image and believed in it. Like me, many other fans on Twitter and Tumblr aren’t sure what to think at this point, with conflicting views like “Someone stop Taylor Swift” while, on the other hand, you have videos and posts from fans talking about how genuine and nice she is; then on the other hand, you have all of these articles talking about how self-serving she is.
Once you get to separate the idea of Taylor Swift the unreachable celebrity who plays sold-out shows and is friends with supermodels from that of Taylor Swift the human being who cackles at funny Tumblr posts and makes mistakes, it becomes clear that she, too, is in the process of learning.
Taylor was definitely wrong in thinking that Nicki’s tweet was directed at her, and it sure didn’t help that she responded to it using feminism when the issue was clearly about race. So yes, she still hasn’t gotten a grasp of feminism. Do any of us fully understand it?
Remember, it wasn’t very long ago when she said that she didn’t identify as a feminist. Later on, she came out and clarified that she didn’t understand what feminism meant as a teenager, citing friends like Girls star Lena Dunham for explaining that it’s all about equality. Her recent stance on the subject (read: women helping other women) may come from a privileged place right now, but with the proper education, it may soon change. The first step came when she apologized to Nicki, saying that she “missed the point, misunderstood, and misspoke.”
So to Taylor: I know that you aren’t perfect, but your place as a wildly popular figure entails a certain level of awareness and responsibility. You can keep bringing supermodels and A-list celebrities onstage with you, and even shut down catfight rumors by doing duets with Nicki Minaj and Avril Lavigne — as long as you make sure that you keep yourself informed. You can’t please everyone, but the next best thing to do would be to read up on feminism and intersectionality, and maybe even speak up on the feminist issues that don’t only concern yourself. (It’s also not too late to take your money and your dignity and get the hell out.)
And to the rest of us: no matter how much we think we know about celebrities, we can never be completely sure. If anything, this teaches us that everybody makes mistakes (and everybody has those days). Remember that even our faves are problematic too, and it’s our choice whether or not to accept them as they are.