why does everyone suddenly hate taylor swift?
As public opinion curdles, we ask how, when and why we fell out of love with pop's most divisive woman.
Image via Twitter
Until about halfway through last year, Taylor Swift was golden. She was the country star turned pop idol who loved animals and her girlfriends. What could be more palatable? The release of 1989 saw her emerge as a glossy crusader of women's rights and the darling of other darlings. Tavi, Lorde, Cara and Karli tripped over themselves to tell you she was as perfect in real life as in her videos.
But roughly seven months ago, the love started to curdle. Articles began asking "Has the Taylor Backlash started?" and fatigue set in. Of course, her albums and concert tickets continued to sell, her fans remained dedicated as ever, but by February of this year it seemed official: the people were over Taylor Swift.
It's hard to pin down when we turned the corner, but the criticism that followed giving Kesha a quarter of a million dollars to support her during her legal battles was a clear indication of how distrustful people had become. Taylor gave a sexual assault survivor a quarter of a million dollars and we still think she's fake.
Prior to that, things were hardly peachy: when she won the Grammy for album of the year and used the opportunity to encourage girls to not let people encroach on their success people scoffed. They asked why none of her producers were female, bristled that Kendrick Lamar should have won and joked about her haircut.
Similarly when her feud with Kanye West reignited over his Famous lyrics, "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / I made that bitch famous", people were slow to take her side. For context, the above was unfolding around the time Kanye declared Bill Cosby was innocent. That was forgotten as soon as Life of Pablo dropped.
Being hyper judgemental of female celebrities isn't new. You could spend the rest of your life unpacking the toxic mix of internalised misogyny, tall poppy syndrome and long-digested media narratives that make us skeptical of successful women. From Raquel Welsh to Anne Hathaway, there have always been female villains who don't deserve the venom spat at them. But the emotions Taylor evokes feel different; not only did public opinion turn fast, but it turned especially nastily.
Taylor gave a sexual assault survivor a quarter of a million dollars and we still think she's fake.
Most adults have more of an opinion about Taylor than their politicians. When I asked my friends about their misandry towards a 26-year-old woman they'll never meet their reactions were uniform: she's fake, stuck up, she uses people and social causes...Bad Blood was a banger though.
Many pointed to her business dealings as the source of the scorn. She did refuse to stream her music, and threatened legal action against her old guitar teacher for buying the domain ITaughtTaylorSwift.com. There was the suing her fans for selling Swift products on Etsy thing. Yes it was cringe, but it was also Taylor protecting her image—one of the few things young women in the spotlight can take ownership of. Also remember she is famously good to her followers in other, non copyright infringing ways: try watch the Taylor Swiftmas video without tearing up.
Also, isn't Taylor deserving of every dollar she earned? In many ways her quest to get hers echoes Jennifer Lawrence's struggle with the Hollywood pay gap. Sure, she is extracting cash from studios not fans, but they're both obscenely wealthy women talking about money. For their efforts Jennifer was lauded and Taylor was called greedy.
Next to her proclivity to sue, her quest to be a feminist icon appears to be the source of much the unease with many feeling she's using it as another cog in her PR machine.
Look, Tay's feminist journey hasn't been faultless: she's been accused of not promoting females within her own production team, attacking other women in her songs and embracing a Diet Coke version of the movement. Her feminism is more Spice Girl than Riot Grrrl; it suggests being a feminist means hanging out with your (very rich and beautiful friends) and telling everyone girls rule and boys drool.
Her feminism is more Spice Girl than Riot Grrrl.
It's easy to assume when Taylor calls herself a feminist, she's not thinking about how that links her into bigger conversations. The one area where her behaviour can't be blamed on context is her inability to understand how race intersects with her cause. Her Wildest Dreams clip—filmed in Africa and lacking a single person of colour on screen—was an awkward colonialist fantasy. The year before Shake It Off drew criticism for racial cross-dressing by way of hoops, gold chains and awkward twerking.
Following that double-punch, most commentators came to the same conclusion: she probably isn't racist, but she is clueless. At the same time as our love of Taylor waned, discussion of gender in the media, and within our personal lives, deepened. We asked questions about how our voices were valued in relation to our finances, race and sexuality. We became sensitive to how we use, and misuse our own platform and increasingly critical of how others used theirs. Amidst this maturation Taylor Swift's message began to feel hollow.
Now I can only really speak for myself, but I doubt my experience is singular. As a feminist in the public eye, I carry a considerable fear of saying the wrong thing—of being called out. It makes me careful with my words and regrettably critical of the words of others. I judge opinions that are more misplaced than offensive because I assume that seeing fault in another's rhetoric suggests mine is faultless.
I'd argue that skewering Taylor's opinions is all too often a way of proving we know and care more. She's a public receptacle for our insecurities, our sensitivity to how she uses her fame is reflective of our own fears of saying the wrong thing.
Yes she is beautiful, rich and successful, but she is also a lot of things we don't want to see in ourselves: tone-deaf, late to the party, a try-hard. She is our fear of "not getting it".
Taylor falls victim to our critique more so than other celebrities because she appears to want to "get it" so bad. She wants to be the tastemaker, the commentator, the voice; and this desperation paired with any misstep turns our stomach.
In her perceived slowness to pick up on cultural trends and causes, we recognise the same anxieties that keep us up at night, wondering if we said or did the right thing. Maybe the Taylor backlash isn't about her, it's about us proving that we are in a position to be offended. She's a glittering martyr to our own good thoughts and intentions. It's just a pity another woman had to fall this hard for us to prove how much we care about the rest.