Ever since the release of Taylor Swift’s new single Look What You Made Me Do and it’s accompanying video, she has been EVERYWHERE. To call the reviews mixed would be something of an understatement, but overall it seems to have added fuel to the ‘we hate Taylor Swift’ fire and it’s a bit unfair really. The internet has been awash with people branding her petty and crazy and accusing her of, as they have over and over again, ‘playing the victim’. “Calm down, Taylor” seems to be the overwhelming sentiment- a particular tweet that stood out suggested that Taylor should try meditating- but aren’t we past telling women to calm down? Songwriting is a form of catharsis for most artists- Beyonce wrote about her husband’s infidelities and Jay Z recently addressed them in his own work and no one was calling them petty for airing their dirty laundry.
Whatever you want to say about Taylor, she is the undisputed queen of reclaiming the narrative and twisting it to suit her. She did it with Blank Space, assuming the role that the media had written for her of a deranged, obsessive, vengeful serial dater, one that she denounced as sexist and unfair, and she has done it again here. The final scene shows all the ‘old Taylors’ lined up, dressed in exact recreations of outfits and hairstyles Taylor had worn at iconic moments in her career. They snipe at each other with jabs taken right out of the tabloids “stop playing the victim” and “you’re so fake”. The Taylor that was interrupted by Kanye holds her Moonperson and asks to be “excluded from this narrative”, directly quoting a statement Taylor made last year about the Kimye feud, before all the other Taylors tell her to shut up. It’s all very meta and all very clever, once again playing right into the fictionalised persona the media have created for her. Maybe Look What You Made Me Do pushes the line between genius and petty but the satire is undeniably addictive.
Even if we put the song aside for a second, which to be honest I straight up think is a tune, Taylor’s return to the spotlight has earned her a storm of criticism I find hard to swallow. Just weeks ago she was being sued for $3 million in damages by a radio DJ who groped her during a meet and greet, and the support was frankly lackluster.
She won the case, and acknowledged her privileged position, recognising that she was immensely lucky to be able to shoulder the cost of court expenses, asking only $1 from her accuser and pledging to donate to organisations that help survivors of sexual assault to defend themselves. Her counter-suit clearly wasn’t for money, rather a statement that girls can and should stand up for themselves in any situation. Whatever Taylor’s reputation might be, however much anyone might accuse her of selling an exclusive, white brand of feminism, how can the rest of us call ourselves feminists if we left her out to dry? Whatever Taylor’s faults, she has promoted one basic feminist principle above all else- the importance of girls supporting girls. Celebrities who who are happy to embrace the word ‘feminist’ as part of their image (admittedly something Taylor can also be guilty of) were all too quiet during Taylor’s case. You don’t get to criticise Taylor for not marching in the Women’s March or not explicitly opposing Donald Trump and then stay silent yourself.
Taylor Swift spoke so bravely and gracefully about the actions of her accuser, standing in solidarity with every other girl who has been made to feel small by an unwanted and uncomfortable advance, no matter how extreme. Of course, it’s barely been 3 weeks and people are once again armed with their pitchforks and torches to go as far as branding her a white-nationalist and a Trump supporter. What??????????????
I understand it is easier for Taylor Swift, as a white, heterosexual, beautiful woman, than it might be for the likes of Kanye West. Perhaps him interrupting her speech all those many moons (pun intended) ago was a well-meaning protest against the unjust tradition of black artists being overlooked at such awards shows. It is, by all means, vital for someone to do this- to stand up against systemic racism in any industry- but that doesn’t mean Taylor Swift should bear the brunt of the blame. Just because we wish Taylor Swift would engage more deeply with politics and be a stronger advocate for feminism it does not mean we drag her down.
So, like everyone else, Taylor Swift has flaws. The tides of opinion seem to swing in and out of her favour every few months, with the internet hopping on whichever bandwagon seems to be in fashion. It has become something of a trend to either hate or love Taylor Swift at any given time and it’s distinctly unfair and anti-feminist. In any case, Look What You Made Me Do has shattered records, brought Taylor a storm of media attention, dominated twitter threads and celebrity news outlets and completely stole the show at the VMAs yesterday. I don’t think she’s all that worried.