The Debate of Our Times: Taylor Swift

| March 5, 2013
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tay-demon-angel

Certain things get people really riled up. Bad grammar, toilet rolls that face in, Goop.com. But nothing is as divisive as Taylor Swift, the love-obsessed songbird that inspires strong opinions on either end of the spectrum. The debate over whether Swift is a feminist or the worst person ever born has been quieter than usual as of late…until news broke that she took a shot at Tina Fey and Amy Poehler this morning (somewhere everyone’s-favorite-punching-bag Anne Hathaway is breathing a little easier). So let’s take a stroll down memory lane and remember all the times Tay Tay has won and lost the culture’s favor.

IN DEFENSE OF TAYLOR SWIFT:

KanyeGate!

Taylor Swift has been making a name for herself since her country music days in 2006, but it wasn’t until Kanye West decided she wasn’t worthy of an MTV Music Video Award that most of us became familiar with her. Whether Kanye was right about Beyonce having the better video or not (she totally did), the public consensus was that Kanye was in President Obama’s words “a jackass.” Taylor instantly became our bullied little sister and America’s sweetheart and all those other roles that are impossible to live up to and will eventually lead people to tear you off the pedestal they put you on (just ask Britney).

Pop Music Prodigy!

In these modern times, it has become increasingly difficult to separate an artist from their output due to the constant influx of paparrazi pictures and personal tweets and Oprah sit-downs. But when you peel away her public persona, it’s pretty remarkable that someone as young as Swift can craft such catchy earworms that have even the snobbiest audiophiles proclaiming “never ever ever!” when they think no one is listening. She writes her own lyrics and plays the guitar, when most pop starlets rely on teams of writers and producers. That deserves some credit, even if you think her eyes look “squinty” or whatever.

Sexist Double Standards!

A lot of the discourse over Taylor Swift revolves around the revolving door of her lovers. Granted, by writing popular songs about each and every one (Jake Gyllenhall was an indie music elitist! John Mayer was mean! Taylor Lautner was just too nice! etc.), Swift is putting a spotlight on the subject, but the intense scrutiny over her speed dating rings of sexism. Why is George Clooney a playboy while Taylor is a desperate floozy? She’s in the prime of her life and should be allowed to casually date whomever she wants. She can have her freedom fries and eat them too, y’all.

INDEFENSIBLE TAYLOR SWIFT ACTS:

I’m Not a Feminist!

In a recent interview with the Daily Beast, when asked about whether she identified as a feminist, Taylor Swift joined the ranks of great philosophers like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga in proclaiming that she does not consider herself one. “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.” Ugh. Ok, since everyone in the entire world will read this blog post, I will use this space to once and for all clarify the meaning of a feminist. It’s not a boys vs. girls thing. Boys can be feminists too! Because all that being a feminist entails is the belief that women are equal to their male counterparts and deserve the same political, social, and economic equality that has been bestowed on men since some Disney villain came up with patriarchy. Damn, girl, read a book!

Slut Shaming!

Source: tumboy.tumblr.com

Boys don’t get off easy in Swift songs, but Taylor saves the most lethal venom for “the other woman.” Even when Taylor is trying to steal some girl’s man on their wedding day (seriously), she derides the woman who stands in her way solely for having something Swift wants too. That’s not very neighborly. While lyrics like “She wears short skirts/I wear t-shirts” and “Was she worth this mess after everything and that little black dress” are bad, the most egregious instance of Taylor promoting the tiresome Madonna/Whore paradigm can be found in a song called “Better than Revenge:”

She’s not a saint
And she’s not what you think
She’s an actress
She’s better known
For the things that she does
On the mattress

When I think about Taylor’s confusion about what feminism means or falling into girls vs. girls tropes, I try to remember all the stupid things I said when I was in my teens and early twenties. The difference is no one was putting them on record (although certain AOL chat transcripts and one very unfortunate I’m-drunk-for-the-first-time-and-doing-a-Real-World-confessional recording do exist somewhere out there). Despite some poorly worded answers and snarky lyrics, Taylor Swift probably is a feminist and, surprise surprise, a person just like you or me who does as best as she can, but still makes mistakes and then learns from them and grows to be a better version of herself every day. So let’s cut her some slack, okay?

But the slack-cutting ceremony will have to wait until tomorrow because today Taylor Swift has turned me from this rabid fan:

To this:

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Have a One-Way Ticket to Hades!

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Taylor was asked her opinion on a joke Tina Fey and Amy Poehler told while hosting the Golden Globes about her staying away from Michael J. Fox’s underage son and instead taking some “me time.” What Taylor should have said:

“I was honored to even be mentioned by them! Tina through her writing and Amy through her Smart Girls at the Party web series have done so much for women and young girls and I hope I can enact positive change like they have someday.”

What Taylor actually said (brace yourself, it’s the worst):

“You know, Katie Couric is one of my favorite people, because she said to me she had heard a quote that she loved, that said, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’”

I’m not sure how you’re feeling, but I’m somewhere in the neighborhood of feeling like the man I’ve been married to for years is actually an ax-murderer who eats puppies alive and was the reason Arrested Development was cancelled. I recently received a Taylor Swift pin for my jacket as a gift and I have worn it with pride and echoed Lena Dunham when people question Taylor’s artistic value: “Anyone who tries to debate Taylor Swift with me, I’m like, “You are an uninformed consumer, and you will be shut down. You’re not doing this.”

But this gives me great pause. A harmless joke lands you in hell?! I can’t defend going after two of the most brilliant women on the pop culture circuit (who’s next? Sasha Obama?) and all I can do is send a message to Taylor in animated gif form:

So there you have it: Taylor Swift is not a demon or a saint. She’s somewhere in between like the rest of us and the real problem isn’t that she lets us down occasionally, but that we expect public figures not to.

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About the Author ()

Emmanuel Hapsis studied creative writing at University of Maryland, College Park and went on to receive his MFA in the field from California College of the Arts. After a few years of odd jobs, he landed at KQED, where he worked his way up from an intern to being the lead producer of a literature podcast and then the creator and editor of KQED Pop. In his free time, he teaches yoga and sings his heart out at karaoke.
  • Carrie Leilam Love

    Your Gif pairing powers are unparalleled. I want to come in for a tutorial.

  • kfarr

    nailed it

  • http://twitter.com/angcomand Angelina Comando

    Quote of the month: “I’m not sure how you’re feeling, but I’m somewhere in the neighborhood of feeling like the man I’ve been married to for years is actually an
    ax-murderer who eats puppies alive and was the reason Arrested Development was cancelled.”

    This was a good read, especially for “on the fence about Taylor” kind of gal like myself.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RG2AOE66PESVP5K53EP5HKGNFA A.M

    Great article. I don’t think Taylor deserves all the criticism she gets. With that said, she doesn’t deserve all the praise and awards, either.

  • http://www.facebook.com/miachristopher Mia Christopher

    THIS IS THE BEST

  • http://twitter.com/LauraMorland Laura Morland

    Brilliant piece. Very impressive.

  • Karmen AuPierre

    Good points. The only thing is the Amy/Tina thing wasn’t actually said about them. After seeing that, I bought the magazine and in the article it clearly states that she said that about mean girls in general. VF twisted the words on their site to sell more copies. Sad. And the feminist thing…she came across as very feminist in the article actually. I don’t think she has a full understanding of what the term means.

  • Cutiehandsome

    You don’t insult to Buddhist Monk if you are a righteous author, Emmanuel
    Hapsis. How will you feel if someone insult your Father with a devil horn on
    the head like a Buddhist Monk above? blogs.kqed.org/pop/2013/03/05/…

    I am so disappointed of you. You
    should have good teaching from your parents.

  • Cutiehandsome

    You don’t insult to Buddhist Monk if you are a righteous author, Emmanuel
    Hapsis. How will you feel if someone insult your Father with a devil horn on
    the head like a Buddhist Monk above? blogs.kqed.org/pop/2013/03/05/the-debate-of-our-times-taylor-swift/

    I am so disappointed of you. You
    should have good teaching from your parents.