In the summer of 2019, when Taylor Swift released her album “Lover,” I reacted the same way to it as I have since about 2014: I listened to the entire album, absolutely loved it, but insisted to anyone who was willing to listen that I hate Taylor Swift, and that her music is simply a guilty pleasure. Here’s the catch: I couldn’t really explain why I hated her — at least not without applying a handful of double standards, or just leaving it with “she’s annoying.” And I wasn’t alone on this.
There are a number of common reasons that many cite for their dislike of Miss Americana. Just about all of them fall into two categories: critique of her personality, and critique of her personal choices. Critique about her music has been less common, which is part of the reason she has remained on top, but for one of the most popular musical superstars in the world, she has simultaneously been a widely unpopular celebrity. Considering the explanation of what Swift went through in her Netflix documentary “Miss Americana,” it’s clear that it’s not about the music, nor is it about her personality, or about her choices. It’s about us, the audience. It’s about our expectations of women, and the double standards that we’ve become too comfortable with applying; the very double standards, in fact, that Swift sings about in her song “The Man.”
When we critique Swift’s personal choices, two popular topics are her love life and her feuds. Yet, there are a handful of male musicians who frequently sing about their love lives, and plenty of male celebrities that publicly feud with other celebrities. An article by NPR dives into Swift’s music and style, and how both mirror hip hop and rap music in many ways. This is part of where the double standard comes in. As Journey Magazine explains, misogyny and rap music have been intertwined for a while, so why can men rap about women in a misogynistic way, or have public dating lives with a handful of women, without millions of “fans” publicly disapproving of that artist as a person? When it comes to feuds, Swift has been involved in a couple, but a quick Google search shows multiple top-10 or top-20 lists of rapper feuds — as entertainment, rather than as something to scoff at, as many do with Swift’s feuds.
When it comes to her personality, critics call her fake, shallow, self-absorbed and, very frequently, annoying. The media, and the world, seem to jump on any opportunity to attack. If she spoke out for a political or social cause, it was deemed fake or for her own profit, but if she didn’t speak out, which she didn’t for years, then she was deemed a coward and a fake for even attempting to act like a feminist. This incredibly harsh critique begs the question: Why? Why is Swift any different than any other female musician, or any musician at all? Why do we hold her to this impossible standard?
In my own experience, my negative perception of Swift ended when I saw her documentary. I used to view Swift as a once-sweet, young country music artist who sold-out once she entered the world of pop, and I wasn’t alone on that. In an article for popdust.com, Eden Arielle Gordon refers to this new, pop-Taylor as “a cheerleader” and a “white feminist figurehead.” Once she was no longer a young girl, it seemed like the world, myself included, wanted her to drop the “good girl” act. Only it wasn’t an act, and it still isn’t.
Upon watching her documentary, I realized that any assumptions I had about her were completely wrong, and that the ways she presents herself are not only authentic, but also up to her, and I have no right to decide that it’s insincere.
Swift is allowed to be sweet and kind, a little bashful even, and still be a strong, passionate, smart woman. She can come off as a “good girl,” and she can still have relationships, she can speak out politically, she can feud a little if she wants. Women are allowed to do any of those things, and that doesn’t preclude Swift. It was never really about her, or her music. It was about us.
Taylor Swift creates art. Her songs are unique, complex and pretty much a guaranteed billboard hit. The 30-year-old singer has been nominated for 32 Grammys, and won 10. She will be known as one of the most talented musicians of our generation. Let’s all just agree to stop subjecting her to our patriarchal biases.