Friday, April 22, 2016

Who is Taylor Swift?

*This piece was originally written for an NYU class and turned in as part of my personal schoolwork.*

The first image that comes to mind when I think of Taylor Swift is either a band of skinny twenty-something pop stars and supermodels flaunting machine guns, decked out in shiny black leather, or a bleach blonde, straight-haired girl screeching sad and unoriginal breakup lyrics in pink lingerie at a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Although I do appreciate some of her older songs, I’ve never called myself a “Swiftie”—in other words, a Taylor mega-fan. In Taylor’s popular 2006 single that pushed her into the spotlight, “Teardrops on my Guitar,” she croons about a boy named Drew whom she has a crush on. Apparently he is in love with another girl, and this leads to heartbreak and more than a couple teardrops on her guitar. I remember the first time I heard this song and watched the music video. I thought to myself, “Ugh, country-pop. This is the worst. Look at her fake hair, fancy dress and overdone makeup. And is she caressing her guitar?? This girl cannot sing, or act. Ugh.” It is safe to say that I did not have a great first impression of Taylor Swift.

However, when her second album—Fearless—came out, my opinion of Taylor drastically changed for the better. The middle school, preteen girl in me absolutely worshipped songs like, “Fifteen,” “You Belong With Me,” “Love Story” and “The Way I Loved You.” As most young girls do, I loved all things love-related, especially Taylor Swift’s acoustic songs. Yet, my view of Taylor changed again when she released the album Red in 2012. Suddenly, girly Taylor ditched the fancy dresses for skinny jeans and dark makeup. What became of Taylor? What was with that random, bass-heavy dubstep break in the middle of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together?” What happened to her soft, slow acoustic guitar-playing? Why did her new songs sound more like a Skrillex remix than a Taylor Swift ballad?? Her music style continued to change throughout the years, and even now, fans have critiqued Taylor for her drastic physical and stylistic changes. Taylor Swift was once a genuine, relatable musician. But to many of us now, she’s known as that teenage country singer-turned-ringleader of the famous T-Swift “squad.”

Now let’s talk about her Queen Bee status. Taylor Swift not only altered her entire appearance—dumping the curly hair for straight hair, switching out the sparkly dresses for leather holsters—but she’s also the woman who inspired the term, #SquadGoals. Taylor and her crew of models, actresses and singers are redefining the definition of female friendship. In 2015, Taylor swaggered into the MTV VMA awards with nine friends from her squad—celebrities like Lorde, Hailee Steinfield, Selena Gomez, Karlie Kloss—parading their girl power and proving to us that yes, women can actually come together and empower one another.

However, critics of Taylor claim that her feminist theatrics were for the sake of racking up those Instagram likes and enhancing popularity. Some have even compared Taylor’s sisterhood to a “Stepford Wives-style cult,” arguing that squads create exclusivity. In an interview, actress Rowan Blanchard states that “Feminism is so multilayered and complex that it can be frustrating when the media and the celebrities involved in it make feminism and ’squads’ feel like this very happy, exclusive, perfect thing.” Simply wanting to be Taylor’s friend is not enough; one must possess enough money, popularity and social media followers to contribute something to Taylor’s image in return, whether that be through posing in Instagram pictures or making appearances in her “Bad Blood” music video. So who is Taylor Swift? Is she the fame-obsessed, fake person we think she is? Or are these just assumptions we make about Taylor based on what we’ve seen on the media?

Although Taylor’s image is almost always the talk of the town, most never discuss Taylor’s personality and her philanthropic efforts. In December 2015, named Taylor Swift the most charitable celebrity in the world. In addition to supporting various foundations and charities such as Broadway Cares and Equity fights AIDS, Taylor also gives directly to her fans. She has donated over $100,000 to families in need. Some of these include Naomi, an 11-year-old fan battling Acute Myeloid Leukemia and the family of a Texas firefighter Aaron VanRiper, after they were injured in a car accident. In February of 2015, she gave $50,000 to NYC public schools, and in a performance over the summer, Taylor sang “Ronan,” a song dedicated to a three-year-old boy who died in 2011 from Neuroblastoma.

And Taylor is not just charitable. When it comes to her personality, many celebrities have stood up for Taylor, saying only great things about her character. According to an interview with People, Martha Hunt explained that Taylor “has such an infectious personality. Everyone just wants to be around her at all times. She really brings out the best in everybody.” And is Taylor’s squad really so bad? America seems to love watching women tear each other down, as we’ve seen from shows like “The Bachelor” and “Real Housewives.” In contrast, T-Swift’s friend group—which includes women of various ages, gender expression and ethnicities—makes headlines for supporting one another.

We are always so quick to judge without really educating ourselves on the matter. My assumptions about Taylor Swift’s image, character and music are a reflection of yet another female playing into the endless cycle of women hating on other women. Maybe it’s time we stop asking, “Who is Taylor Swift?” and instead ask ourselves, “Why the f*** do we care so much?”

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