Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Taylor Swift Is Obviously Ruining America

I never did post up my entry on Taylor Swift, but I may not need to, as I need to smack down Sady Doyle’s She Pop post on the singer, for her wildly inaccurate and frankly insane criticisms of two of her songs, “You Belong With Me” and “Fifteen”.

The inflammatory post, titled “Taylor Swift Wants To Ban Access To Your Lady Bits,” tries to explain, if you can call it that, how the singer is a pernicious influence on young girls today, that she reeks of moralizing and superiority because she dresses in white, sings pop songs about love, and is so submissive, innocent, and virginal. Now, this would make some sense if she was talking about “Love Story”, and how everything gets tied up in a bow—an ending that also appears in “You Belong With Me”—but that’s not her argument.

Sady criticizes Taylor Swift for promoting abstinence and being anti-sex, as well as sexist. Her analysis, however, takes everything out of context, makes incredible assumptions, and positions everything that Taylor Swift does in terms of sex.

(I’d also like to point out that when criticizing a song of an artist, you actually should, you know, MENTION THE TITLE OF THE SONG. So that your readers don’t have to look up the song in question, and you should be aware that just because you post the video doesn’t mean that the video will work or that your readers will have any idea what you’re talking about. Also helps, Sady, if you do a bit of research into your subject before you start ranting like an out of touch madwoman.)

Sady goes off on “You Belong With Me” and her new single “Fifteen”, which was well-received when she sang it on the Grammys with Miley Cyrus. “You Belong With Me” tells the story of a girl who likes a boy with a girlfriend who doesn’t treat him right, and she contrasts the two of them. In the video, Taylor pulls a Mariah Carey and plays both the “bad” girl (the girlfriend) and the “good” girl (the protagonist). Sady twists this into girl-on-girl hate, because the girlfriend doesn’t find his jokes funny and she does. No, she doesn’t call her a bitch or a cunt—but why should she? That would be too obvious, something that Sady finds fault with in the oversimplified, trite video.

"You Belong With Me” isn’t even Swift’s first single on unrequited love; that would be “Teardrops on My Guitar.” Taylor has a few others, but if you listen to any random collection of songs on any given day you’re bound to find a few on this topic, and if there’s a third party in the picture, damn straight you’re going to get some sort of comparison, usually with a reason attached why the singer is better than said third party. It’s called a love triangle. They exist. They aren’t pretty, and yes, nasty exchanges are part of the deal.

But why is Sady hating on Taylor’s narrative, when all she does is provide a descriptor? Carrie Underwood sings nastily about a tramp in “Before He Cheats”, and Haley Williams calls her rival a whore in “Misery Business”, but clearly Sady doesn’t take issue with these artists for their name calling, both of which are far more problematic than the situation presented in “You Belong With Me”. What about “Girlfriend” or “Sk8er Boi”?

Sady calls the comparison between the two girls “girl-on-girl sexism”. What Sady forgets is that this is what people do. That is what girls do, that is what teenage girls do, this is what girls do when another girl has they guy they like. It’s tame, and pretty damn fair. Sady clearly doesn’t realize that just because Taylor’s remarking that that girl is known for being a cheerleader and wearing high heels that she’s automatically calling her a slut, and that because she wears glasses in the video, she’s ugly while the other girl, Taylor Swift in a brown wig, is hating on girls that are prettier than she is, and that it is an example of the limiting beauty standard that women are expected to fall into. What the hell.

Sady’s biggest problem is that she is reading the music from a very adult perspective, completely forgetting that Taylor is singing from a teenage girl’s perspective TO teenage girls. That’s why she’s so off her rocker. Although “Fifteen” can be schmaltzy, it is a parable, telling bits and pieces of her story and her best friend Abigail’s story. There’s not even a suggestion of sex in the song, and while the video does have a scene where it could be hinted at, it’s a stretch, and Sady blows everything up. She takes the lyric “and Abigail gave everything she had to a boy/ who changed his mind” to mean that she lost his virginity to him, and that’s bad and that you will be successful and happy and wonderful if you don’t have sex. Does this make any sense? Seriously, what the hell is up with this woman? You can completely give everything to someone without it being about sex at all, and haha, no, sorry, your jokes about Jonas Brothers posters aren’t witty.

The whole point of “Fifteen”, which Taylor Swift has said over and over, and which is pretty clear from the lyrics, is that you grow up, and you realize what’s important and what’s not. When you’re in high school (and even sometimes after it), the things that are going on at that moment are the biggest things ever, and it’s hard to conceptualize the future, when these things won’t matter. That’s the point of the line “In your life you’ll do things that are greater than dating the boy on the football team.” That’s someone with some perspective—like an older sister, or a teacher—telling a girl who’s just had her heart broken and can’t see the forest for the trees that things change and this isn’t the end. It’s not that dating this boy—or any boy—is the sum of the girl’s accomplishments. And again, Taylor Swift has been very vocal about these things: marriage is “not my ultimate goal in life”. As she put it in Rolling Stone:

"I'm fascinated by love rather than the principle of 'Oh, does this guy like me?'" she says. "I love love. I love studying it and watching it. I love thinking about how we treat each other, and the crazy way that one person can feel one thing and another can feel totally different," she says. "It just doesn't take much for me to be inspired to write a song about a person, but I'm much more likely to write that song than do anything about it. You know, self-preservation."

Her interest in love is obvious from her songs, and at times it does border on the fantastical (“Love Story”). But in other songs, like “White Horse”, she knows it’s over and deals with the pain head-on. Taylor is famously unrepentant, and it is also well-known that she uses real names and real situations in her songs. That’s one of her many selling points, because she has the guts to say “You suck, and you hurt me badly”, and immortalize what that guy did into a platinum-selling song. Sady calls Taylor Swift calculating and artificial, and this makes her noxious. But Taylor Swift has always come across as earnest and sincere, not to mention hardworking. She’s always been in charge of her career (she turned down development deals when young because she didn’t want to be in limbo), and is very big on personal responsibility. These are traits to admire, but because her outward appearance—her image—is sweet, wholesome, and very teenage, she gets flack for being “innocent”. Sady is doing what she hates: reducing Taylor Swift to a caricatured Disney Princess, ridiculing her for who she is because she finds her too limiting and shallow, without even bothering to understand her.

1 comment:

Tiffani said...

This is a great reaction to that blog post, and wonderful insight into Taylor Swift's image. You summed up very well a perspective that I also share. I feel like some of her songs are a bit...fantastical, but that's kind of the point. And she makes some great comments about life being more than romantic love. If anything, she strikes me as a pretty feminist public figure.

I don't want to devolve into name calling, but it seems like some 2nd wave feminists will dismiss someone just because she's young or conventionally pretty or wants to get married and have kids. It's so judgmental and elitist. I can see how someone would look at a young, pretty, modest pop-country singer and assume that her songs are all about chastity, but that's building a caricature of people and is totally contrary to the whole point of equality and liberty.