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Why do we hate Taylor Swift?

Why do we hate Taylor Swift?

The Taylor Swift bashing train rarely stops rolling. “She’s talentless.” “She’s fake.” “She’s bad for feminism.” “She’s racist.” “She’s homophobic.” “She’s a hypocrite.” “She’s a whore.” And, most recently, she’s unsellable.

Women’s Wear Daily filed a story last week on the cross genre country-come-pop star’s recent slew of magazine covers, how they sold, and, most importantly – because data is nothing without an imaginary cat-fight – how the Swift-covering glossies sold comparatively.

Over the last year, Swift has assumed the title spot on US Vogue, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Vanity Fair, all of which performed below or just-on average, with readers reportedly responding more kindly to covers that sported Adele and Lady Gaga (predictable), and Lauren Conrad, Ashley Greene, and Zooey Deschanel (not so predictable).

Of course, many variables come into play when deciphering and contextualising statistics like these. Firstly, some of those stars covered the Autumn/ Spring issues – seasons that typically sell higher than ‘filler’ months – and graphics, colour schemes and supplementary text all play a part in whether a magazine makes it from the newsstand to the news consumer. There’s also that whole print-media-is-dying debate, but if anything, magazines remain a tactile luxury, and that’s a discussion we can leave for another time.

Editorial rationalisations aside, WWD inadvertently raises an interesting point. Paying consumers have (understandably) tired of the T-Swiz tabloid circus (never mind those dramatic ellipses emblazoned across the songstress’ impeccably enhanced cover shots) and with ‘Definitive Guides to Taylor Swift’s Love Life’ used as daily online click-bait, it appears that pop culture seems, at best, bored, and at worst, offended by Taylor Swift. But why?

With the debut of Red late last year, you’d think with the album that housed the un-ironically addictive “I Knew You Were Trouble” (Taylor is at her best when she dabbles into dirty dub) and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, she’d finally transcend her Kanye-jostled, victim of ridicule persona, and re-emerge as a kind-of funny symbol for anti-hipsterism. But far from being credited for her myriad of brilliant fashion moments, building (or at the very least fronting) a multi-million-dollar empire or, in terms of social currency’s lowest common denominator, gaining recognition for amassing more followers on Facebook and Twitter than the entire population of Australia, she's still a punchline.

Her art has become inseparable from her identity. The signature romantic-turned-reject trope that made her is ironically the force that’s systematically destroying her. In a chicken-verse-egg scenario, Swift’s lovelorn lyrics have been rehashed and re-visited by subeditors (“Taylor Swift Is Trouble”/ “Taylor Swift and Conor Kennedy are Never Ever Getting Back Together” – how original!) in a way that dilutes a smart, talented female into a dysfunctional, destructive mess, with the public barely thinking of her beyond the maybe-manufactured media cycle she's caught in.

This, though, is nothing new. A salacious personal life is the foundation of many extraordinary Hollywood careers so, as I see it, at the crux of Swift’s diminishing public persona lies a collective discomfort in the way she makes us feel. And what does the girl with so many feelings invoke in the rest of us? Confusion. 

Swift is simultaneously a red-lipped vixen and a forgotten poet; someone who dates John Mayer and Harry Styles; a Valentino-wrapped baby-doll with semi-sheer paneling. Is she a virgin or a man-eater? Is she unlucky-in-love or ‘the problem’? Is she an emotional wreck or does she channel her heartbreak into something “productive”? Clearly, there is a disparity between her brand image and her physical presentation.

As Nico Lang wrote in Thought Catalog, Swift’s prior album, “Fearless encompasses the complicated feelings of being a teenager [and] critics were excited to see how she would tackle the experience of being a 20-something. Although her sonic palette is, her good-girl-gone-scorned image hasn’t changed a bit. Swift seems stuck in being a 15-year-old, and when she was an actual teenager, that sounded age appropriate and naturalistic. “You Belong With Me” should have sounded like it was written by a middle-schooler, but on her newest songs, that ersatz teenage vapidity feels catty and forced.”

Now 23, Swift has outgrown her personal brand. While being an overwhelmed (whether it be by relationships, fame or her ever-growing collection of accolades) country sweetheart is a delightful way to springboard yourself into the spotlight, five years into an illustrious global career, insistent amiability doesn’t make sense in the context of $1-million-a-night turnovers. Swift’s simulated sweetness is quickly rotting; she averts recognisable maturation with her ‘fake humility’ signature, and her puzzling underdog/adored polarity. Adolescent ire has stopped being cute, and for onlookers who are uncertain what to make of Swift’s teens-to-twenties transition (a process the non-celebrity is able navigate privately) she is reduced to and defined by her lyrical petulance.   

It’s hard to say, exactly, what people want from Swift (perhaps insight into her insecurities? Her political views? Her struggles beyond errant boyfriends?) but it is worth noting that, more widely, women in their early twenties are always the subjects of tabloid vitriol, and the Hating Taylor Swift trend maybe says more about how culture views young, beautiful and successful women than it does about the hated young women themselves. The WWD article that called Swift publishing’s latest loser noted that Rihanna’s Vogue cover also sold dismally, and you don’t have to look beyond the contempt towards Emma Watson, Kristen Stewart, Lena Dunham and our very own Lara Bingle to think that maybe part of the problem lies with the audience, not the observed. 

Swift looks like a grown-up, acts like a wide-eyed child star, and sings like a sullen teenager. Age has made her brand inconsistent. But she is a person as well as a persona, and unlike logos or signature colours, people change all the time. 

7 comments so far..

  • crystaltowers's avatar
    Commenter
    crystaltowers
    Date and time
    Tuesday 19 Mar 2013 - 2:22 PM
    It's human jealousy, pure and simple.

    Young + popular + talented + beautiful = hated? How so? How is that fair?

    It's not just "hate" though. Hate implies intense dislike of no specified cause. It's jealousy. Young, pretty women are held up as an ideal. But the problem is, everyone else wants what they've got - in one sense or another. And at the slightest sign or falt or weakness, many take pleasure in cutting them down.

    Just wait until current "it girl" Jennifer Lawrence says or does something remotely wrong. Maybe she'll dump someone or spit near a fan. Or say something politically incorrect. There'll be a tidal wave of jealous backlash for her too. In fact, she won't even need to do anything. Nobody's career is filled with Oscar winning roles or perfect body image - it'll be as simple as having a few less successful movies, or putting on a few kilos. And through no fault of her own, people will tire of loving her and decide to hate her.

    TLDR: most people are fucked in the head.
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  • Jon23's avatar
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    Jon23
    Date and time
    Wednesday 20 Mar 2013 - 1:04 PM
    Here's a thought: Most big celebrities find themselves the target of both adoration and hate. Which one wins out can sometimes depend on how they respond to it. Taylor Swift's choice was to, e.g., suggest Tina Fey and Amy Poehler should go to Hell because they made light of her very real long string of broken relationships, something that might not be so noteworthy if it weren't for Swift's choice to make them central to her career. Does jealousy sometimes play a role? Undoubtedly. But celebrities make their own beds too. Keep a pet monkey, dangle kids in masks off balconies, get constant plastic surgery, sleep with young kids (when you're not in a hyperbolic chamber), etc, and people will rightfully target you as a bizarre public figure. Interrupt an award ceremony to think some crappy little amateursh video should have won because there was shaking booty in it, and people will make fun of your arrogance. Write songs about your constant break-ups, and people will make fun of your dysfunctional private life. Live with it.
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  • the watcher's avatar
    Commenter
    the watcher
    Date and time
    Wednesday 20 Mar 2013 - 2:34 PM
    Sure sometimes it may be jealousy because of the target demographic, well they are pretty young and immature in some respects. You look at the girls around the same age as her e.g. Miley Cyrus, she also get a lot of hate founded or unfounded. I'm not a Miley Cyrus fan by any means, but she gets a lot of bad flack being called a SL_T and all, but look she's engaged and has been with one guy. Whereas Taylor who's been with countless men and has always made it very public is treated like a perfect darling. How is that fair? Which emphasizes the point that the demographic is immature.

    I'm a guy, I reckon Taylor is very pretty. Young and beautiful yes. Talented, I beg to differ. Honestly I've tried to listen to her music, but all the songs are the same, but it appeals to that age group - so maybe she's talented enough to know what they want, maybe? Nontheless she has not demonstrated the ability to sing other types of songs other than those about her "private" relationships. For me it's her lack of maturity in the way she handles criticism and also the ability to diversify her songs. I don't hate her, nor am I jealous. I just don't think she's worth listening to. Kanye, now that's talent. Don't agree with everything he does, but can he write and produce! I hope I haven't lost all my credibility by saying I like Kanye.
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  • freetulisten's avatar
    Commenter
    freetulisten
    Date and time
    Thursday 21 Mar 2013 - 12:02 AM
    At some point teen angst becomes adult whiney. If she keeps singing about broken relationships, one is tempted to ask if maybe it's her?
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  • expatseek's avatar
    Commenter
    expatseek
    Date and time
    Thursday 21 Mar 2013 - 4:42 AM
    Jon23 deals harshly with celebrities. Citing bits and pieces of the most outrageous celebrity behavior, he seems to suggest that one of the prices to pay for life in the public eye is to be ridiculed when you do something silly. Celebrity merely magnifies those unusual habits we all have. Mr West's 'inexplicable' rant on that infamous awards night is exactly the sort of inappropriateness most people have indulged in and regretted, just not in front of an audience numbering millions. It is hard to apologise when you're under siege. That incident serves not as an illustration of celebrity ego largesse but of how the curse of celebrity can create storms in teacups. Ms Swift's problem is nothing more than that base art we call Tall Poppy Syndrome, and indicts our culture more than it does her career.
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  • Jon23's avatar
    Commenter
    Jon23
    Date and time
    Thursday 21 Mar 2013 - 11:02 AM
    Nonsense, expatseek. I see nothing wrong with celebrity, and believe they can do whatever they want so long as they don't harm others and are willing to accept the consequences of their acts just like the rest of us. Actively promote how messy your social life is, either in front of millions as part of your art, or privately within a small group, and people will respond. You have to live with how you decide to express yourself, and who you express yourself to. Most people fail to air their dirty laundry in front of audiences of millions, so comparing that to the regular embarrassments of so-called sufferers of Tall Poppy Syndrome is tenuous even when you dismiss the fact that probably 99 out of 100 people you speak to won't be able to admit to running up and interrupting an awards ceremony of any size, or the fact that if anyone else regularly slept with young kids and was addicted to plastic surgery that it would be considered dysfunctional as opposed to the mere eccentric quirks of the famous. Do celebrities deserve contempt OR praise because they are famous? No. Tall Poppy Syndrome is impossible to justify, but neither is fawning sycophancy, nor absolving people from the mess they create for themselves merely because they are famous.
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  • Jon23's avatar
    Commenter
    Jon23
    Date and time
    Thursday 21 Mar 2013 - 11:07 AM
    PS expatseek, if you don't think Kanye West is an egomaniac, that would put you in an extremely small minority, and, yes, the "incident' is very much an illustration of that particular celebrity's ego largesse. The fact that there was a lot of publicity over it merely reflects the fact that it was a very public act to which much of the public was exposed. I don't think anyone gave undue weight to the incident, e.g. equating it with war or genocide, but considered it the amusing incident it was, thus it was never a "storm in a teacup".
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