One of the biggest artists of the decade, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has gone from being in the public's favour, to one of the most hated topics on twitter rapidly. A question arises of why does the media continuously go after successful women in the industry, like Swift.
Taylor Alison Swift was born on December 13th, 1989 in Reading, Pennsylvania. Ever since she was a child, she always had an interest in singing, inspired by her Grandmother who was an Opera singer. Early on at the age of 10 she began to show her talents in several public events in Wyomissing, where she resided at the time. Quickly, at 12 years old, she also discovered her passion for songwriting, and learned to play the guitar. Her passion was so grand her family moved to Nashville in Tennessee where she was discovered singing at a local cafe. Suddenly, Swift was signed to Big Machine Records a very short time later, and from then on her career in the music industry took off. Since 2006, Taylor Swift has been releasing several successful albums earning a stream of awards at the Grammys, AMA’s, and VMA’s. Her albums include the debut Taylor Swift (2006), Fearless (2008), Speak Now (2010), Red (2012), 1989 (2014), Reputation (2017), Lover (2019), and Folklore and Evermore (2020).
Throughout her many years in the public limelight, Taylor has always been in the eye of the storm of many controversies, against large names such as Kanye West and Katy Perry, and there have always been those opposing her during those times. Her first public ‘scandal’ was in the 2009 VMA’s, when she was receiving her award of Best Female Video with “You Belong With Me”. As Swift was onstage to deliver her speech, Kanye jumped on and removed her microphone from her, proceeding to state that Beyonce had one of the best music videos of all time. Later in the same night, after Beyonce won Best Video of the Year, she invited Taylor on stage to finish her speech. Initially it’s believed that when this happened the general public would side with Swift, and many did, but many also took the opportunity to poke fun at her and make jokes of the situation. At later dates Taylor even went onto claim about the effects it had on her mental health at the time, and how she felt people were laughing and booing her, not Kanye. Ye’s outburst at the VMA’s was a nod to what would follow in Taylor’s career.
Another constant discussion that surrounded Taylor Swift for years, has been her love life. Throughout her career, she has always been romantically linked to different celebrities, ranging from John Mayer in 2010, to Harry Styles in 2014. The singer’s varied list of partners have also been inquired as the different inspirations behind many of her songs in her chart topping albums. Songs such as “Dear John”, “All Too Well”, “Style”, and “Getaway Car”, have famously been about some of the songwriter’s public affairs. Despite the great music her relationships have rendered they have also rendered a lot of public shaming. Through all her years in the spotlight people have found particular interest in her private love-life, even when she was very young. The connotation was always to emphasise how Swift behaved negatively and shamefully for having many partners, there were even incidents where sites would add a picture of her sitting next to a person and claim it was her new boyfriend. It became an issue in which in most interviews regardless of what she was there to discuss, reporters would pry into her life. Swift also spoke, in a 2019 interview, about how her career suddenly became reduced to this, as critics took the opportunity to criticise her over her dating history.
Critics have also encountered ways to minimise Taylor Swift’s talents, the method chosen is to criticise the subject of a lot of her music, which are breakups. Artists have been known to channel their negative emotions after ending a relationship through song, or whichever artistic method they chose too, yet some critics don’t view it as valid given the amount of succes Swift has acquired from it. Taylor herself has claimed that the focus on her relationships and dating life rather than on her actual work, allows for a woman who is doing her job successfully to be shrunken down to her relationships to men. Over the years, she has been the victim of persecution from people in regards to who she dates, which raises the concern that, especially with female artists, there seems to be a greater focus on their relationships to men than their actual work, and even their successes become attributed to those men rather than their efforts.
A beyond famous example of that, is none other than Kanye West’s song “Famous”, which came out in 2016. After their previous feud with each other, back in 2009, had been resolved with an apology from West, the former and Taylor Swift seemed to have put the past behind them. That was until the release of the song ‘Famous’, in which Kanye inserted a line in which he made an extremely misogynistic remark about Taylor, and credited himself for her fame. Not only did the line take the format of an insult, but it completely dismissed all of the singer’s hard work over time, simply because of the VMAs incident. Majority of people seemed to side with Swift, remarking that Kanye was out of line, but many of his fans didn’t hesitate to chastise Taylor. The conflict only worsened when the star stated she never gave West permission to include the line in the song, and warned him of doing so, but his ex-wife Kim Kardashian illegally recorded a phone call and edited it to seem like Swift did in fact allow the line. As a public response to Swift, Kardashian called her a ‘snake’, which was a term that later on became the most common description of Taylor throughout 2016. Kanye’s insensitive remark belittled the singer and made it so that any of her fame was in any way his doing. It makes for the question of why it has become so common for some men to take credit for women’s achievements within society, and why that continues to be allowed. Not only does it remove any achievements from the woman, but it makes it so that others see her as someone who cheated their way up, relying on more successful men to help them.
Even though most of the public’s issues with Taylor Swift happened in 2016, her public image has always been something that she would tweak with. A specific example was her music video, “Bad Blood”, for the song that featured in her ‘1989’ album, which was about her public feud with Katy Perry. Throughout both their careers the singers were constantly compared to each other due to having similar personas, of being very sweet all-american girls. A friendship between them was never confirmed, they just seemed to get along well, but in a later interview Swift claimed she never knew if they were friends or if Perry was just harshly insulting her. The incident which sparked the fight was when Katy attempted to hire dancers from under Taylor, sabotaging an entire arena and performance. During the time public discourse ranged from support to Swift and a general disdain of her. Nowadays, both stars bear no ill will towards one another, and have publicly made up in one of Taylor’s music videos. This made for public perception of Swift to be as a vengeful woman, so she created a character for her music video named nothing less than Catastrophe. At that point, it had been common for Taylor to use her public perception to her advantage in her music videos, again in her video for “Blank Space” playing the man-obsessed jealous girlfriend, which she had been called before. For years, Swift had been able to control her own narrative and manipulate the way she was viewed by others, which hadn’t yet been criticised, but things began to change in July 2016, when it shifted from praise to calling her manipulative.
As previously mentioned, the released phone call between Kanye and Taylor, Kim Kardashian posted it onto her Snapchat account and left out some parts where allegedly Taylor didn’t give permission for the line. The problem was that, a few months earlier, Swift had made a powerful statement in her acceptance speech for an award, in which she told women to not allow other people to take credit for their accomplishments, a valid statement. Immediately after the release of the phone call, even some of Taylor’s fans began to turn against her, seeing her as fake, and people began to accuse her of victimising herself whenever she was involved in an incident. People began to question her talents and paint her in the light of someone who is cunning and controlling. Sadly, in a matter of days, the singer went from being loved, to despised by the public. Adding on, her fallout with ex Calvin Harris and her sudden romance with Tom Hiddleston, sparked shock and even disgust in some of her fans, questioning if they even knew who she was. It indicates an alarming nature of the society we live in today, where it is so easy for people to completely shift their opinions on others and begin to spew hateful comments online, rooted in many prejudices.
Though, it wasn’t just in 2016 that existed people who disliked Taylor, as throughout her career many just seemed to disagree with her existence, which has become incredibly common for female artists to go through. There seems to be a recurring theme of women in the entertainment industry, and in life, that are disliked by many, regardless of any ‘valid’ reasons, meaning they haven’t done anything outright wrong, their existence alone is reason enough to annoy the public. The likely cause of that is, within our society there is a constant need to pit women against each other, through direct comparisons or subtle comments, yet, the idea becomes fermented in women’s minds to automatically compare themselves to others. There is a recurring fear that if one woman is doing well, then immediately she turns into competition rather than inspiration. The toxic culture surrounding female accomplishments has always existed, especially given that others begin to look at successful women as direct competitors in the line of success as well, because some believe there isn’t enough space for women to have success together. The constant pitting against one another only adds to the stigma that essentially, women will just tear each other down.
Unfortunately, in Taylor’s case, it isn’t just toxic female habits aiming to diminish her, it is the entire public. After the massive media fallout in 2016, she took almost a year to return to the spotlight, and only did so with the announcement of her album ‘Reputation’, whose main focus was exactly that, her seemingly ruined status. With iconic songs such as ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ and ‘Ready For It’ this was by far the singer’s darkest album yet, and she even played with the concept of snakes in her music videos. This era marked a change in behaviour for Swift, seemingly, she’d no longer allow people to take control of her story, or to make herself seem like a victim, directly placing herself as the ‘villain’ here. She played into the names and the idea people had of her. Given that at the time the songwriter was also dealing with an immense sexual assault trial, times weren’t easy for her. Having her truth be questioned by a jury, judging if she was being truthful about her accusations, is one of the things the singer claims to have been the hardest she’s ever had to deal with. Thankfully, she won the case and got paid a total of 1$ as a symbolic act, from the man who accused her of lying. Even better, Reputation was an extremely successful album for Swift, and helped smooth out her comeback.
Just as things settled, more hardships appeared for Swift to deal with, as in 2019, her old record label was sold to Scott Borchetta, more commonly known as Scooter Braun. Taylor and Scooter have been known to dislike each other and not have a good relationship, the singer felt especially betrayed no one warned her that her work was being sold alongside the company to Scooter. Since that incident, Swift had been attempting to buy back her life’s work from Braun, but after almost being forced to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement, that’d essentially be silencing her for good, she decided to instead re-record all of her old albums, and release them with time. Since then the singer has released Fearless T.V and Red T.V, which stands for ‘Taylor’s Version’. The name directly ties in with the singer taking back her work, making this one her version, including new and old songs she couldn’t previously have released. Despite the horrific nature of this incident it points to the matter of how someone’s entire work can be taken so quickly, and calls for more young artists to beware of contracts that would trap them for life. The problem that happened to Swift can be transformed as a way to call out other producing companies that create complicated contracts to exploit young and naive artists.
None of this is to say that Swift has never really messed up. Her lack of voice for important causes such as LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, and her political stances have been the cause of concern for fans and critics alike. The singer has never been known to speak up much against specific things and for long periods of time allowed herself to be the poster child for white-christian republicans, something she herself stated she regrets in her Miss Americana documentary. But, in recent years, especially after 2016, Swift has been vocal about her defense of LGBTQ+ rights and how she feels about feminism, which shows she has matured and found a way to speak on her opinions without fear of being torn down. Her finding this courage, also points to a maturity, not allowing for others to silence her and control the way she could be perceived, even if her speaking out damages her reputation.
In summary, Taylor Swift is regarded by many as the Artist of the Decade, to which she even won an award for, and her mistakes and wrong-doings have shown that she has since grown and learned from them considering her current behaviours. Unfortunately, all of the things that many criticise about her such as her romantic life, the subject of her music, and just the surplus of success she has, may stem from society’s need to question the merit and how much a woman deserves all that she has earned. Despite any valid critiques of this artist, a lot of the hatred for her, such as calling her a snake or making comments on the men she’s dated, are rooted in misogyny, as male artists who’ve made similar mistakes don’t receive as much backlash. It is rooted in the inherent sexism within the society we live in. The artist herself wrote the song “The Man”, with this message in mind, provoking the question to listeners, if she were to be a Man, would she be criticised for the actions she was judged for, or would she have been admired and praised?