I love Taylor Swift.
Part of me feels guilty saying that, as if I have to hand in my strident feminist card for admitting as much.
A much louder part of me thinks that’s utter nonsense.
When Red, her latest album, came out last year, she was quoted in an interview saying she didn’t identify as a feminist, and plenty of people came down quite hard on her for that. This is a trend I’ve noticed with Taylor Swift; actually, people seem to come down hard on her for a lot of things. I confess, I was initially disappointed myself. Sure, part of me wishes that someone I consider an enormously positive role model for young people generally and young women particularly would say, very loudly and in no uncertain terms, that she is a feminist, thanks very much, and what’s wrong with that? But on consideration I’ve revised my opinion. What’s more, I don’t see that she owes it to any of us to identify as anything. There seems to be this undercurrent that because she’s done ridiculously well for herself in her chosen career, she somehow owes it to the world to declare herself a feminist, and if she doesn’t, well, clearly she’s not on side.
My response is also a key reason I love Taylor Swift as much as I do: look at her age. She’s 22. Now, I hear lots of you cry that you are 22, or younger, or not very much older, and you’re clued up on patriarchy and kyriarchy, intersectionality and systemic oppression. To which I say, genuinely and without a trace of condescension, I swear, good for you. I wasn’t at 22, it’s taken me till now, and I am still learning. Possibly my favourite thing about Taylor Swift is watching her grow and her ideas change through each album. She already has an impressive ability to spin a coherent narrative within the confines of a 3-4 minute pop song, this is evident throughout her discography. So while I enjoy her current chosen topics, I am very excited to see what she’s going to come out with in a few years’ time as she accumulates more life experience. I can’t believe the person who wrote ‘Change’, a song about fighting for a better world, and the struggle that can entail, but knowing that ultimately you will triumph, knows nothing about the importance of equality.
I’d also say one can see she’s already developing if one compares ‘Girl at Home’ from Red with ‘Better than Revenge’ from Speak Now. ‘Better than Revenge’ is about getting revenge on another girl for stealing a boyfriend, and is full of some pretty ugly, slut shaming lyrics. Not great, but sometimes standard teenage girl stuff. On the flip side, ‘Girl at Home’ is about being faced with a guy in a relationship looking to cheat and talks about how the singer won’t do that because she doesn’t think it’s right to the aforementioned girl at home. I’m super excited by what I see as tangible evidence of personal growth from album to album.
Another song of hers that makes me think she’s more clued up than she’s given credit for is ‘The Lucky One’, also off Red, which manages to tell a story about what one has to give up to become famous and successful without coming off as ‘it’s so hard to be rich and famous and successful’.
It also irritates me when people argue she only writes about boys and break-ups. Firstly even if that were true, so what? Breaks-ups are horrible, I know I had plenty of emotion to spare after mine, and I think the ability to turn that emotion into several songs that, judging by her sales figures, resonate strongly with a lot of other people is an enviable ability. Art exists, in part, so we can look at what another person’s created and say yes, I can see myself and my experience here. Secondly, it’s not even true. Among other things, Taylor Swift has songs about her relationship with her mother (‘The Best Day’), how much she values her band (‘Long Live’), how much she loves hanging out with her friends (‘22’), and as mentioned earlier, revolution (‘Change’), and problems with fame (‘The Lucky One’).
Finally, I’d argue that just by her success, Taylor Swift is a great role model. She worked out what she wanted to do in life, she worked hard, and she achieved it. And good for her. If her music isn’t for you, fine, we all have different tastes. If you disagree with her individual actions or things she’s said, by all means, be critical, and vocally so. But you can do all those things without the ludicrous amount of bashing she seems to come in for.