Monday, February 8, 2010

Taylor Swift: Feminist's Nightmare

I've kept pretty quiet about Taylor Swift. I've opted to ignore her Grammy clean-up and avoid talking about how unspeakably bland I find her. Luckily, Jezebel pointed me in the direction of an extensive essay penned by Riese from Autostraddle that details why Taylor Swift's inability to put in a decent live performance is much less an issue than, well, her Grammy canonization into the ranks of music's elite and her overall image as a whole. Riese has managed to pin point exactly what makes me wary of Taylor Swift and the brand image she projects. It's not her as a person, I have little doubt she's a perfectly decent human being. It's what she offers up as art and the acclaim that she has obtained outside of the realm of the teenybopper.

You should read the piece in its entirety whether or not you're a Swift fan Riese's stance, that Swift is "a feminist's nightmare" is well-thought out deconstruction of the media blitz surrounding the pop country princess. She covers everything from the unoriginality/copycatting of older songs and teen genres, to the lack of authenticity surrounding Swift's high school lyrics (she was home schooled from age 15 on). If you find the work too daunting, however, I've isolated a few cutting soundbites:

On Swift's repeated award undermining of artists like Beyonce & Lady Gaga:
"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. It’s working ’cause Swift writes good songs and America is terrified that its children have been scarred by Britney Spears’s psychotic vagina and Miley Cyrus’s obnoxious adolescence. Rather than choosing an established/evolved talent (BeyoncĂ©) 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."

On the repeated attempts to build Swift into a wunderkind:
"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. Until there’s evidence Swift can sing live, she’s not uniquely qualified as a musician. Why does Swift seem, at 20, a decade younger than Lady Gaga? ‘Cause Swift’s package is “Purity Sue Ingenue”: eternally childlike, obedient and one-dimensional. Mothers love this package, and teenage girls are hypnotized by her simple songs & pretty hair & propensity for crying on her instruments. Listen up! 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!”"

On the VMA controversy:
"Never was this bunnyrabbitchild persona more exploited than it was after the VMAs. If Kanye had snatched that mike from Lady Gaga, she would’ve snatched it right back, called Kanye an asshole (he is), admitted he was right (he was), and the whole thing would’ve been done and DONE. She certainly wouldn’t have needed — or wanted- the entire country’s fawning faux-sympathy for months afterward."

On Swift's supposed songwriting abilities:
"Swift’s songwriting is as thematically ambitious as a 15-year-old’s LiveJournal, which is to say, like a 15-year-old’s LiveJournal, it never strives for thematic weight or challenges ideas not already covered by Sweet Valley High or The Children’s Illustrated Bible.
If Swift’s work connects with teenage girls, it does so on the most simplistic, reductive territory of all: pining for boys, walking in the rain, kissing in the rain, crying drops of tears on her guitar, driving in trucks with cool boys, wanting boys she can’t have, more rain, more letter-writing, more stalking, more broken hearts, breathing problems as a side-effect of broken hearts, fairytale princess this, white horse that, more pining at the window, more psuedo-stalking, more incomplete hearts yearning for your touch, and one song that misinterprets Shakespeare and The Scarlet Letter so criminally I’m certain she’s never read either."*

On what's at the core of Taylor Swift's rainbow & sunshine lyrics:
"This is perhaps her music’s most grating sin: the sex-shaming girl-bashing passed off as outsider insecurity. Boys are angels lit from within with cool hair, fast cars, and eyes that often resemble light sources (stars, sunbeams, etc). These boys never grow beyond metaphor into humanity. If they did, we might have to confront the very idea that Taylor Swift’s entire career is designed to destroy: that teenagers want to have sex. And that wanting is confusing."

*The song in question is "Love Story", you can find the lyrics here. I would agree that it seems she hasn't read either work of literature. Her version of Romeo & Juliet suggests that the story is a fairy tale that ends with her putting on a white dress and gettin' hitched. Basically, the only similarity is that Daddy doesn't want Romeo coming around. The line about the Hawthorne work is "you were Romeo/I was a Scarlet Letter" which would point towards her belief that these two works are in some way related and also indicates that she likely has little understanding of what Hester's red 'A' stood for and the way in which it was used. Let's face it, if she knew the book was about adultery, a girl like the one she claims to be (and likely is) wouldn't throw it around her high school white wedding song.

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