I thought Lady Gaga should have won album of the year at the Grammys. I wrote about it. I received a few responses via email. One read "quit whining," and another was 8 paragraphs In Defense Of Taylor Swift.
At the time, I did not have the psychogenic energy to respond to this person and explain my issues with Taylor Swift. Thankfully, Riese from Autostraddle has an in-depth, detailed analysis of why Taylor Swift — the product, not the person — bothers her. And it's the same reason Taylor Swift — the product, not the person — annoys me. Riese sums it up thusly:
Taylor Swift is a feminist's nightmare.
I highly recommend you read Riese's entire piece (and be sure to check out the chart of symbolic motifs), but here's the gist of it: Taylor's favorite storylines involve Virgin/Whore dichotomies. She writes about high school issues, but was home-schooled after the age of 15. Also: Her age is not a big deal, yet people keep bringing it up?
[Taylor] is often celebrated as some kind of child prodigy. Twenty isn't young and her talent, while exceptional, is not unheard of. Grammys have gone to Adele (21), Christina Aguilera (20 in ‘00), LeAnn Rimes (16 in ‘97), Mariah Carey (21 in ‘90) and Alicia Keys (20 in ‘02), among others. When Beyoncè was Swift's age, she was onstage with Destiny's Child, proclaiming: "The house I live in / I've bought it / The car I'm driving / I've bought it / All the women who are independent / Throw your hands up at me!"
What's more, while many pop songs are about love, Riese writes:
Swift's lyrical message to teenage girls is clear: BOYS. That's it. Just boys. Crying over boys and feeling broken and/or completed by boys.
The woman who emailed me, upset at "Jezebel's" "takedowns" (?) of Taylor Swift, wrote:
She's telling her story, and, at the same time, she's telling mine. Go back and relisten to 'Fifteen.' Maybe you won't relate to it, but the first time my boyfriend and I heard it, we were both pretty speechless at how accurately it had captured how we'd felt at that moment in our lives. As a writer, you no doubt have some idea of the difficulty involved in pulling that off.
Yes, I listened to the song. No, I didn't relate to it. It's not a terrible song, but it is unoriginal. The writing is simplistic, devoid of metaphor or simile. The result is boring; the song feels like a cloying imagining of a the kind of sheltered high school experience you see on "safe" TV. True, I grew up in New York and spent my freshman year going dancing at clubs, flirting my as off in the hallways, spreading gossip, ranking guys at school on hot lists while simultaneously lamenting how lame/dumb/unimaginative and gullible they were. My best friend and I wrote extensive stories for each other, attempting to create the ultimate fantasy; generally, these dreams involved us having jet-set careers in film directing and bar/club-owning, and movie star boyfriends we barely had time for. For Taylor, fifteen means falling for a boy and dreaming of marrying him. My fifteen was more like: Flirt with this one, make out with that one, try a cigarette, get drunk, lie to your parents, read some Anais Nin, wish you lived in France, attempt to adopt Shakespearean euphemisms for sex into casual conversation ("beast with two backs" was very popular in my circle Freshman year), etc. (I love that Riese notes: "[Taylor has] one song that misinterprets Shakespeare and The Scarlet Letter so criminally I'm certain she's never read either.")
The reader who emailed me asserts: "Because she isn't telling your particular story or the story of the people you hang out with on a regular basis, you've written her off." It's absolutely true that she's not telling my story. But I haven't "written off" Taylor Swift. I simply don't believe her work, as an artist, is better than Lady Gaga's. Nor is it, in my opinion, especially good. In addition, her messages irk me. As Riese writes,
In "Fifteen" — really the only song where Taylor has an actual female friend — [she sings that] "Abigail gave everything she had to a boy, who changed his mind, and we both cried." I'll spare you the time of listening to the song and give it to you straight: Abigail had sex with a boy, and later they broke up. That's right. No marriage. She gave him all she had. That's right. All Abigail had was her hymen.
Still, people find Taylor's writing powerful. According to the reader's email, "She's giving a voice to millions of young women who rarely find they have a voice in popular music. And she's doing it essentially unfiltered by her label." But my question is: Is this voice original? (Riese says no, and gives examples.) And an even bigger question: Is she saying anything? Anything that hasn't already been said in Fast Times At Ridgemont High?
It's been printed on T-shirts and postcards and throw pillows: "Well-behaved women seldom make history." Taylor Swift's Grammy threatens to refute this. I don't care about her personal choices, but her image of being good and pure plays right into how much the patriarchy fetishizes virginity, loves purity, and celebrates women who know their place as delicate flowers. Riese puts it this way:
The rush to exalt Swift is (I believe) a desperate attempt to infuse our allegedly apocalypse-bound country with a palatable conservative ideology in the form of a complacent, repressed feminine ideal… Rather than choosing an established/evolved talent (Beyoncé) or a revolutionary (Lady Gaga), the Grammys chose someone who, according to her lyrics, has spent her entire life waiting for phone calls and dreaming about horses and sunsets.
Taylor Swift sings about being an outcast, sitting on the bleachers wearing sneakers. But all the while, she's wearing high heels, boasting a pretty face and perfectly curled hair. How this is new, original or a effort of artistic excellence is beyond me. And since when did the Grammy Award-winning, classically pretty girl whose father is a stockbroker and whose dreams have all come true need defending? Seems like she's doing just fine.
Update: 10:55pm: comments turned off - we'll re-enable them tomorrow when the moderators are up and about (i.e. awake).
9:41am: comments re-enabled.
Why Taylor Swift Offends Little Monsters, Feminists, and Weirdos [Autostraddle]
Earlier: Lady Gaga Was Robbed