Words by: Atara Thenabadu Art by: Ruth Ong
Like many young women in their early twenties, Taylor Swift has prominently featured on my Spotify playlists for many years. Ever since I first searched up ‘You Belong With Me’ on YouTube, I fell in love with Swift’s songwriting and storytelling.
Fast forward to 2021, I am still crawling through her social media quotes trying to decode her music videos to see if I can spot any clues regarding her next creation.
Taylor Swift is a pop icon and one of the greatest musicians of our generation. However, just like everyone else, she is not a perfect human. Knowing this, it has always amused me why we, as society, put celebrities on a pedestal and give them titles such as the ‘role-model feminist’.
It is important to first acknowledge that throughout Swift’s whole career she has been a victim of misogyny within the entertainment industry. The constant commentary and accompanying slut-shaming she receives 一 stemming from her dating life and her decision to feature details of them within her songs 一 is a prime example of this. The criticism she receives is a stark contrast to the limited commentary experienced by male singers who also write about heartbreak, like Ed Sheeran.
In 2008, Taylor Swift and Joe Jonas had a short-lived romance from July to October. Swift shared in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres that Jonas dumped her via a 25-second phone message, when she was only 18 years old. Jonas proceeded to date Prada to Nada actress Camilla Belle soon after this breakup. Swift’s third album Speak Now was released the following year and featured a song titled ‘Better than Revenge’.
The song featured the lyrics: “She’s not a saint / And she’s not what you think / She’s an actress, whoa / She’s better known / For the things that she does / On the mattress, whoa.” The decision to feature pointed misogynistic lyrics directed towards Belle is still puzzling to this day. At the time of the release Swift was criticised for slut-shaming Belle and has since justified the lyrics by explaining that at the time (Swift was 18) she believed that ‘someone could steal your partner’ and convince them to leave your relationship and be with them instead. However, as she grew up, she realised that no one can be ‘stolen’ from you; it is their choice to leave.
When music tycoon Scooter Braun bought Swift’s old record label Big Machine Records he proceeded to sell her previous albums master copies for $300 million dollars, even after Swift herself tried to acquire them off him. Braun threatened to disallow Swift from using and performing her own music, but Swift vowed to re-record them. Swift’s decision to re-record Red before Speak Now has left many fans intrigued as to whether she will record the song or remove it completely from the album as a sign of personal progress and understanding.
She has still, to this day, never formally apologised to Belle.
Fast-forward to 2015, and Swift again found herself in hot water after a Twitter spat with Nicki Minaj.
In 2015, Minaj criticised the MTV music awards for not nominating her ‘Anaconda’ music video with a tweet that read, “If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year” and “When the ‘other’ girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination”.
Swift felt that these tweets were directed at her and directly responded by tweeting, “I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot”.
Minaj’s initial tweet was never directed at Swift and was instead meant to criticise the racist undertones of the music industry. Swift, in examples such as this, does occasionally make herself out as the victim — a common trope that white feminists find themselves in when confronting intersectional racism. Intersectionality can be considered the ‘intersections’ between and within forms of societal oppression. As seen within this example, women of colour such as Minaj can be subjected to different forms of oppression, such as racism and sexism, simultaneously.
Within the current climate, there is a hesitancy to acknowledge the presence of intersectional discrimination, as it means individuals and industries have to admit that they themselves have benefited from oppression within their industry.
Minaj’s original tweets were not intended to portray herself as being a sore loser. The music video for ‘Anaconda’ did contain female nudity, however music videos created by White artists, such as Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ and Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, which featured female nudity were still acknowledged with nominations. The mark of Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’ video on pop culture is still visible to this day, yet because it made people uncomfortable through embracing Black women’s sexuality, it was ignored.
Swift is a cis, slim, White woman who failed to recognise her privilege and role as a beneficiary of the oppression present within the entertainment industry. She went on to apologise to Minaj soon after their initial exchange, acknowledging that she failed to understand the original motivation behind Minaj’s tweets.
These two examples prove that, like the rest of us, Swift has made errors. It is evident that she has reflected on her past and used them as key learning experiences. However, just because an individual is a prominent celebrity doesn’t mean that their behaviour should be emulated by the rest of society.
Her recent decisions to publicly declare herself an ally of the LGBTIQ+ community, as well as encouraging her followers to participate in the 2020 American federal election, highlighted how she is using her influence to make a positive difference. Swift has proven she has been able to learn from her past and make better decisions on similar issues.
It is clear that there will never be a perfect feminist, let alone a perfect famous feminist. Hence, we as fans have a responsibility to call out behaviour that is misogynistic and ignorant. However, we can also create an environment where we encourage education to allow every woman to have a place on that stage.