I will start this by saying my fellow Pennsylvania native Taylor Swift’s music is (mostly) not my cup of tea. But I like her.
The latter might seem bizarre, odd, etc., especially coming from a man my age, who was born in 1967. The Most Sacred Rule is as a 50-something I must believe that the music of my youth is the Greatest Music of All History and the creators of it were wholesome folks and that They Don’t Make Music Like That Anymore. Liking someone whose music I do not really enjoy is sacrilege because as an old guy I must not merely dislike the youngster’s music but I must consider their music as something that is trying to fuck with me and destroy our civilization so I must hate the person too. This is part of an overall pet-peeve of mine, where people my age and older have convinced themselves that no matter when they were teenagers, the world was like Leave It to Beaver then and everyone was happy and kids respected their parents and there was no crime anywhere and I am begging some of my fellow people over 50, please at least try to not be so full of shit.
I see Swift’s talent. It is obvious. I really do not think that one needs to like, per se, an artist to recognize that they have talent. I cannot listen to Barry Manilow but to deny the man’s talent would be perverse. I think that it is a little bit childish. I see people say “well she’s nowhere near as talented as (my favorite from my time)” but I do not think much of art as a competitive sport, it diminishes everyone involved and is also a little bit childish (and rather dumb). I noted above that her music is MOSTLY not my cup of tea, but I do find things I enjoy from her, such as a good portion of her stripped-down pandemic-era album “Folklore.” The woman can do quiet as well as she does “We are never, ever, ever getting back together” brash.
I have been thinking about writing a First-Draft blog post about Ms. Swift for a while now but The Bulwark’s Jill Lawrence wrote such a wonderful piece about her this past Friday it pushed me to do it now. Lawrence wrote about her own feelings about Swift and going to see the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour movie with her family. I have yet to see it but plan to, perhaps soon.
I like Lawrence’s point that we have seen pop culture phenomena in the past. There is this very bizarre, unhinged reaction to Swift on the right (more on that below) and some of that is based on this laughable premise that we have never seen young folks lose their mind over a pop star. This is an unbelievably ahistorical take. Before Frank Sinatra was your grandpa’s/dad’s favorite singer with mob associations, he was causing teen girls to riot in the 1940s. Elvis terrified the olds when his fans would rip off his clothes. The Beatles were recruiting for Satan. Madonna’s huge popularity in the 1980s convinced people her goal was to make all teen girls go out and get pregnant.
So, we have been here before, including the overreactions. But to me, what I observe about Taylor Swift is she is a pretty good role model for her fans. As Lawrence writes:
Swift is an icon, a big sister, a mentor. She’s also an emphatic win for second-wave feminism and its legacy of smashed stereotypes, economic empowerment, and anti-discrimination laws. You have to be a woman of a certain age to think to yourself “sisterhood is powerful” as Swift and her female dancers line up onstage, arms across each other’s shoulders, a wall of solidarity; to think “our bodies, ourselves” while watching women of every shape, size and color own that stage.
Beyond all that, as meaningful as it is to second-wavers like me, Swift is a sorely needed role model for our times. Her triumph is not just her well documented business savvy, musical gifts, or the way she has worked for years with the nonpartisan voter-registration group Vote.org, urging her fans to participate in U.S. democracy. It’s even bigger than that, though it sounds so simple: Swift is a nice girl, not a mean girl. A sweet, considerate person who picks up the trash at a family gathering. “I don’t think she got the diva memo,” Ed Kelce, father of current boyfriend Travis Kelce, said this week in an interview with People magazine. She is the girlfriend who meets the parents, whether their famous son is an actor or a football player.
What’s not to like, really? And yes, the shots of her at Kansas City football games cheering on her boyfriend are a bit much, but that’s the media’s fault, not hers.
I especially loved what Lawrence wrote about Swift’s influence in our current times, where everything seems insane and so many Americans are under the thrall of Donald Trump, and openly celebrate his cruelty as the main reason why they love him so much. Not to mention a Republican Party that has as a main message that kindness and empathy equals weakness.
I remember mean girls from junior high school, and I’m sure they’re still around. Swift is the antidote we need, especially now. She shows young girls, women, and her many male fans that you can be a rich celebrity while also treating others with kindness and respect. You can give away extra money to people who work for you, instead of stiffing them for what they’re owed. You can be strong without threats and intimidation. You can show that kindness is not weakness. In the age of Donald Trump, these are all lessons that bear repeating.
Perhaps this is why the most unhinged reactions to Swift come from the right. Professional Weirdo Armond White of the National Review actually wrote, where people can see it, that Taylor Swift is encouraging her fans to be totalitarians and we need to counterrevolution to stop her. Alrighty then, Armond.
This kind of right-wing madness only tells me that Swift is on the right track. I am not always a big fan of glossy pop production, which is why I am a much bigger fan of another female musical act, the three excellent singer-songwriters who make up the less-flashy supergroup boygenius. Speaking of them, I have noticed they are also inspiring their own right-wing freakout (boygenius’ goal, you see, is turning America’s teen daughters into lesbian/queer people).
Why, one might think the real reason the GOPers are raging about Swift (and boygenius, and Oliva Rodrigo, etc.) is not about the music, but about being fussy that smart young women are speaking their minds on being strong and compassionate and encouraging others to do the same. Perhaps, those people who are so bent out of shape about her should take Taylor’s advice to, well, Shake It Off.
The last word, of course, goes to Taylor herself.