There is something that has been spawning in my brain all day — ever since I listened to Taylor Swift’s new single. I should probably begin by saying, I am a reluctant Taylor Swift fan. There is something about her I love to love, that also nags at me until I decide I actually can’t stand her, until I can again, and then I begin the cycle all over. It has been this way since I listened to her album on Spotify a few years ago. (Before she removed everything from Spotify, and then put everything back on Spotify.)
The narrative of Taylor Swift, Icon, is that of a privileged, white female with no quarry of relatable pain (Notice how I don’t say real, all pain is real, all pain is valid.) Taylor mines the only thing she can: her heartaches and feuds. And because society has told her — and women, overall, as a gender — that flaws are for the supporting characters and not the ingénue, Taylor continues to play victim in the story of her celebrity life. (Notice, also, I do not say actual life. What she is behind closed doors isn’t up for debate here. I can’t speak to it.)
Last year, I had a falling out with a friend. It was the worst few months I’d experience in a long, long while, and it came on the heels of a very painful injury that had me out of whack for weeks. During the friendship break-up, I wanted to bad-mouth this woman. I longed to spit fire in her general direction. Poke her like a bear in hibernation. I wanted to blame her for my pain, and the subsequent threat to my reputation. But I didn’t. I never once spoke to our mutual friends about the falling out until the relationship ended and I had to explain why I could no longer be in a room with her. When someone is dead to you, they become a ghost on the edge of your life. No reason to live with ghosts.
I was at fault. So was she. There is always fault on both sides of a feud.
Today, as I listened to Taylor’s song “Look What You Made Me Do”, I realized that what Taylor hasn’t done — and may be incapable of doing — is wearing the cloak of her choices into the battle for her image. She has drunk the white, female, ingénue Kool-Aide, and right now, in our current world climate and culture, that is alienating.
The world is a shit show. There is real hardship facing not only individual people, but our nation as a whole. Taylor’s narrative needs to dig deeper. To extract jewels of real humanity from the depths within her soul, and not the superficial vengeance dialog she has thus far been intent to sell.
Last year, her image tanked. Thanks to reporting about how she was a “fake feminist” and a “liar” and on and on. The weird romance with Tom Hiddleston we all know had to be staged. The shit with Kanye and Kim. But something hit me today as I — annoyingly — couldn’t stop thinking about Taylor and her single.
How different, really, is the way Taylor handles her public image from the way Trump does? (Though with very different stakes.) Both are debilitatingly aware of who actually writes their checks. And when you are in the position of answering to a majority, it has a tendency to make your tongue double-sided. It makes you duplicitous. It makes you stay silent in the face of a chance to speak from your heart. It makes you choose your place in the spotlight over your conscience. The idea that anyone in power can speak their absolute, genuine truth (without violent repercussions) is something created in fiction.
I would venture to say that almost every person in a place of power – celebrity or political or whatever— has experienced this duplicity.
So, what can Taylor do to prove she’s not just another out of touch white performer?
Think bigger. Take a page out of Angelina Jolie’s playbook — master of manipulation that she is. Look at Adele, who left the blame behind and became a woman of meaning and consistent vulgarity. Become more than a white ingenue who thinks being a perfect victim and being a spotless hero are the same thing.
Remember that, among the Taylor Swift fanbase, there are people who want real honesty, dangerous vulnerability, actual transparency. And then, Swifties, realize this is never going to happen to the degree we deserve as her fans because even Taylor answers to somebody. Our celebrities, or heroes in most cases, are rarely who we wish they were, but that does not make them bad. It does not mean they are unworthy of our love.
It means they are human, just like us, but richer and hotter and with their name up in lights.
(Just to be clear: I am a Swiftie. Not a Trump supporter.)