Are We Really Supposed To Be Impressed With Taylor Swift?

Are We Really Supposed To Be Impressed With Taylor Swift?

On Sunday, Taylor Swift decided an Instagram post would be a great place to announce her first-ever political opinion!  She’s been a huge pop star for well over a decade, but has never expressed political leanings one way or another before now.  Not when the first-ever Black President was on the ballot; not when every sane person in the country came out in public support of Hillary Clinton in 2016; not to support gay marriage, or even against Brett Kavanaugh.  Nope. Just now.

Why now?  Well, it’s a matter of what it’s always about with Taylor Swift: her reputation.  She seems to have made her post in reaction to her sudden realization that neo-Nazis were claiming her as one of their own, calling her an “Aryan goddess” and predicting her future public support for Donald Trump.  Honestly, if I were her, I would have predicted this outcome of her supposed apoliticism.  After all, next to fascism, neo-Nazis love the apathy of the populace best of all.  And who better to represent the apathy and mealy-mouthed pseudo-principles that are necessary to support a fascist groundswell than a beautiful, self-centered celebrity unwilling to argue about anything that actually matters?

If it seems like I’m a woman with a grudge against Taylor Swift, that’s because I am.  I’m about to lay down some truths for you that I’ve been irritating my friends and family with since 2008.  If you’d asked my sixteen-year-old self what annoyed me most (beside the Republican Party and people who were shocked that Dumbledore was gay), I probably would have mentioned Swift’s then-new single “You Belong With Me.”  In this puerile and toxic song, Swift complains of her (male) crush’s girlfriend, “She wears short skirts/ I wear t-shirts/ She’s cheer captain and/ I’m on the bleachers.” This “not like other girls” sentiment is not exactly rare, of course — in fact, it’s a well-worn cliche.  But what bothered me was the utter adoration she received for expressing it. Taylor Swift was a “good role model for young girls” and she was “strong” and…well…”not like other girls.” That’s what my friends told me. And meanwhile, the ideology she perpetrated helped perpetrate through her songs, pitting women against women in order to appeal to men, was tearing down my friends’ self-image and, though I didn’t realize it at the time, my own.

Taylor Swift was young then, but still three years older than me.  At sixteen, I was campaigning for candidates I wasn’t old enough to vote for, risking the few shreds of social capital I had to promote the school’s nascent Gay-Straight Alliance, and being laughed at by my teachers for expressing opinions in favor of women’s rights and animal rights.  I have never held to the doctrine that being a child or adolescent excuses you from being responsible for your actions. Taylor Swift had a platform I would have killed for, and she used it to harm young girls instead of empowering us. I don’t think her apparent ignorance excuses her — especially not now, when she’s a full-fledged adult, and her message remains the same.  

Of course, Swift did win a very public case against a man who sexually assaulted her, and that’s an achievement I don’t want to overshadow.  That takes courage, and I can only imagine how difficult it was. The problem is, that was the first time she showed courage of conviction, and we all lauded her more than we did other survivors — say, Kesha — because in Swift’s case, we didn’t know she was capable of it.  

I agree with the things Taylor Swift said in Sunday’s Instagram post.  I think she said them reasonably well. And yes, I’m grateful that the post may have caused a spike in voter registration among those shallow young liberals who value celebrity social media posts but not the incredible civic milestone which is reaching voting age (none of my friends celebrated my enfranchisement in the way I felt was appropriate for such a solemn occasion, so I get that).  We can use every vote, and young people’s voices matter, and those whose interest is shallow now have every opportunity to grow and become more engaged.

Taylor Swift, however, will always be shallow.  I think she’s proven that pretty thoroughly over the years.  For a decade, she has had millions of young people looking to her for guidance and for advice, and she has offered none.  She comes out as a Democrat now not in a bout of sudden honesty, not in concern for the future of the nation, but to protect her image from further damage.  I can acknowledge that Swift has done a good and useful thing, but I reserve the right to remain unimpressed.

Addendum: Also, her cats are purebred.  If you need me to explain to you what the problem is with supporting the heinous practice of cat breeding, catch me on Twitter.  I will throw hands.

Evangeline Van Houten

Daughter of a high school English teacher and an English professor, Evangeline is a survivor of Academia and an aspiring elegant person. She lives in St. Louis with her family and a lot of books.