An Eye On Culture
Switch Out Swift
Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
“Ah, your name is Taylor! Like Taylor Swift?” The amount of times I’ve heard this phrase would shock you. “No, she was actually named after me.” That response doesn’t get as many laughs as I would hope, but it is the first thing that pops into my head to say during these disappointing moments. I lack a filter.
What troubles me about this is simple: the fact that my androgynous name automatically evokes an almost instant connection to a celebrity that I not only don’t listen to, but also don’t respect.
Swift makes money (lots and lots of it) off of girls and young women. She has proudly boasted herself as a singer-songwriter, and this is what concerns me. Swift writes all her own lyrics, yet they’re almost all about men: the wrong that they’ve done, break-ups (with her as dumper or dumpee), cheating, etc.
Granted, I haven’t listened to every single Swift song—maybe there is a random tune that addresses larger social issues of injustice, poverty, or politics that hasn’t yet hit the Billboard chart, that I just haven’t heard.
Love is an unavoidable theme of all music, regardless of genre or the sex of the singer or composer. It’s a human experience that is felt by all. Love is an intensely felt phenomenon that engages all the senses. It can evoke the most extreme level of unimaginable euphoria or pain.
What concerns me is the model of a young woman that Swift illustrates in her songs—and as we all know from every magazine or blog, this hypothetical “woman” is very closely modeled after her own lifestyle as a blonde serial dater who seems to nab every eligible bachelor in the limelight, but is, unfortunately, promptly dumped.
This woman in her songs is mostly weak or crying, when she’s not seeking spiteful, somewhat immature revenge on an ex. Again, these are all valid concerns in a woman’s world. But her execution is all off. I guess my disappointment peaks when I listen to the female musicians that have come before the Taylor Swifts of our generation. My question is, where did all the female fire go? Debbie Harry, Pat Benatar, and even Stevie Nicks all sing about these tough relationship issues, and are, at different points, both the powerful and the powerless in the relationship. No female captures the kick ass attitude better than Joan Jett (except maybe her group The Runaways), and she sings about her fair share of frustration toward men. Yet the attitude and persona these women embody through their lyrics is so incredibly different from the young, meek woman that Swift presents to her young female listeners.
While this issue could no doubt be the topic of an extensive thesis in the field of music and its cultural implications through a feminist lens (which I plan on writing), I can put forth one simple example.
Two breakup songs. Two women. Two mean, mean men. Both women are down and out, except one is truly on top. Swift’s “Picture to Burn” and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts’ “I Hate Myself for Loving You.”
Swift’s first verse eloquently states, “So go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy / That’s fine I’ll tell mine that you’re gay!” The solution to this situation isn’t to go around lying, claiming that your ex-boyfriend is a closeted homosexual. “I’m planning my revenge / ... nothing stopping me / From going out with all of your best friends.” Hmm….
She later says that if her ex-boyfriend comes around her, her “daddy will show [him] how sorry he’ll be.” Joanie teaches that lesson herself. Even though Jett depicts a similar situation, she articulates this feeling differently. Joan’s straight up: she feels DUMB, she’s been left hanging and messed around with. But her anger and sexuality makes her a woman in charge.
“Hey man … treat me right / You just don’t know what you was missin’ last night / I wanna see you beggin’, say forget it just for spite.”
Whether you’re going through a break-up, or just pissed at your boyfriend, pump the classics, not the overdone sappy Swift songs. You’ll feel better about yourself, and he’ll probably be intimidated once you’re listening to a band called The Blackhearts.
Keeping with the androgyny, I wish I was named Stevie.