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.