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Is Taylor Swift revolutionary or is she just white?

With the upcoming reissue of Taylor Swift’s award-winning album Red Friday, it’s time to investigate the exact reasons we love this white woman and her mediocre singing voice so much.

The simplest conclusion would be that we like his catchy music; but that’s not hard to achieve when she has experienced writers and producers like Jack Antonoff and traditional country producer Nathan Chapman on her team. Maybe it’s because of her country roots, which really aren’t all this country when you realize she was born in pennsylvania.

It could even be his songwriting, which from the very beginning of his career has been devoted to narrative storytelling that appeals to listeners. She makes us feel like we are there with her, experiencing and struggling against the same things.

The point is, Taylor Swift is a white feminist who exists in a bubble where race, class, and all that is different from the white, straight, privileged status quo is swept under the rug. She favors a narrative where only cardigans and “champagne problems” count. Fortunately, that’s the reality of many Swift fans: young white women.

It has become increasingly common for Swifties to praise and revere Swift as the pinnacle of contemporary feminism, and on the surface, it’s not hard to see why. Early in her career, she faced backlash for writing about her past romantic relationships in her music. Swift pushed back on those criticisms by continuing to write music about what she wanted, no matter what the consequences.

While commendable, many female artists, especially from historically marginalized groups i.e. Janet Jackson, Tina Turner or any other female rapper, have done the same. Yet none of these talented performers received the same level of praise as this white woman. Taylor was called a “feminist icon, was the very first recipient of Billboard Woman of the Year Award in 2019, and has always been supported by his fans against the direct misogynistic comments. What is the merit of these accolades when women of color have done the exact same things (and more) with little or no recognition and, in some cases, strong criticism?

Not to mention that each of the previously named artists was able to do so without relying on aesthetics. Taylor went from country, to princess of pop, to bad-girl during her era of reputation, and finally the reinvention of the cottage-core used to label albums “folklore” and “evermore”. These transformations look less like a natural artistic evolution and more like meticulously curated identities that prove painfully inauthentic and consumer-centric.

Plus, it makes me wonder if everything Swift does is performative. Does the malleability of Taylor’s musical identity have any implications for her ability to isolate her white female identity from the intersectional feminism that I understand as gender equity? Is Taylor’s activism still real?

In some ways I am tempted to say yes. Swift is a victim of sexual assault who continues to proudly defend victims of sexual assault today. While I honor Swift’s experience as a woman and a survivor, Swift has failed to recognize the privilege she holds as a white woman. Her ability to verbally express her anger at her abuser in her testimony, using harsh language and swear words, would have been problematically viewed as stereotypical and prejudicial in the case of a black victim.

Instead of acknowledging this inherent injustice, Swift claimed a place on The 2017 issue of Time Magazine’s Personality of the Year, “Silence Breakers”. The cover sparked particular controversy in its erasure of the experiences and efforts of BIPOC activists, one such figure being Tarana Burke, the founder of the #metoo movement.

And who can forget the feud of 2009 on the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards, when Kanye West stepped in to applaud Beyoncé’s video over Swift’s. Yes, West’s actions were disrespectful, inappropriate, and had a lasting effect on Taylor’s career. However, there is something to be said about her argument that in this world, white women are consistently recognized for half the work that a black woman does, while she receives little or no recognition.

Swift has been keen to use black women when it benefits her career. In the music video for her most-released song to date, “Shake it Off,” Swift saddled herself with gold chains and a leopard-print puffer jacket and crawled under a line of twerking asses with the Black on the leash. ‘front and center. If this isn’t a blatant perpetuation of black stereotypes to appropriate and profit from black bodies and cultures, I don’t know what it is.

The same goes for her music video “Wildest Dreams”, where Swift romanticizes colonialism and perpetuates the erasure of African culture in favor of unique history. One in which the culture and people of Africa are an uncivilized monolith in need of romantic guidance from the Aryan saviors. But don’t worry, because at the end of the video it is noted that all profits from the video go to wildlife conservation efforts through the African Parks Foundations of America, thus nailing the coffin in promoting neo-colonization by Swift.

Sure, Taylor Swift is a feminist, but she’s a feminist with no explicit connection to the connection between feminism and race, class, gender, or disability. We applaud him for his appropriation, for his erasure of diverse identities and for his only white experience of gender inequality. Without a real attempt to understand, address or defend an intersectional view of the marginalization of women, can we really call it feminism?

I understand why his music is popular. Like most of you, I too shouted the lyrics of “Mean” to my cheating and lying boyfriend. I sobbed to “Teardrops on My Guitar” and cried the lyrics to “You Belong With Me” with my friends at sleepovers. I threw up my iPod touch to the throbbing bass sound of “I Knew You Were Trouble”. I know the classic pop feel of “Style”, the intense and endless sense of madness in “Out of the Woods” and the lovely painted dream landscape of “Wildest Dreams”. Just like you, I know and love everything.

This is not a call to dismiss nostalgia or ignore an artist you love for the sake of my opinion. It’s a call to inject nuance into the things you love, to work on honestly criticizing those things and understanding why you love them. In my own case, I’m a low-income, cis, straight 19-year-old black woman, and I loved Taylor Swift because she talked about things in her music that were comfortably inaccessible to me.

His music was an opportunity for me to escape to a privileged alternate reality where my biggest worry could be getting noticed by the guy I loved and dancing in the light of the stars. Maybe you like Taylor because she spoke about an experience that was primarily yours, or because her music became a specific form of expression for you. Either way, it’s important to ask yourself honestly: why you Do you like Taylor Swift?


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