Taylor Swift has always been known as a great and feisty feminist. Her outspoken feminist voice is often reflected in the majority of her works. However, Swift's creations cannot be understood plainly by disregarding her personal life. Her songs and videos give insight into her personal life, the challenges she has encountered, and so on. Going through her works can be like having to read her personal diary. This chapter will delve into a number of events in Taylor Swift's life that can be provided as references for her works.
In 2006, 16-year-old Swift released her debut single “Tim McGraw” which also was the lead single from her self-titled album, and became the youngest person to write and perform a No.1 country song. Nevertheless, during her teenage days, Taylor did not actually reflect the feminist perspective which can be seen today. It can be observed that in the song “Tim McGraw”, she plainly labels herself as someone desperate for love. She is portrayed as a girl, longing for a boy, wanting to reignite their romance by reminding him of their similar musical tastes. She was like a hopeless romantic with the notion that her world collapses if she is not accompanied by her lover. Her 2008 song “Love Story” presents herself as “Juliet” waiting for her “Romeo” to come to save her from her misery which is just like every classic fairy tale offering a male hero as the only chance of survival and a “happily ever after” life for the “damsel in distress”. In Washington City Paper, Hess wrote:
“Taylor Swift sings songs about waiting around, being a princess, and crying for her ‘Romeo’ to rescue her from her dad, who is so mean. Then, she makes videos for these songs where she is literally waiting in an ivory tower for her prince to come.”.
Swift was caught up in a life of patriarchal existence, in which women were expected to behave in accordance with men's needs. She had chosen a feminine stereotype when she was a young girl and was frantically struggling to ascribe to it as a method of survival. This is possibly one of the most relatable things for all women who live in a male-dominated world. She found herself being trapped in a society where the dichotomy of 'good girls' and 'bad girls' reigned supreme and this 'goodness' of character was created and decided by none but men.
'The main thing that I always tried to be was just, like, a good girl (Swift,2020)
The men determined who was a good woman and who was not as well as what was good for women and what was not. Women were frequently forced to live and act in ways that were approved by the patriarchal society. The terrifying fact is that these are not just stories of the past but are the harsh realities that continue to persist even today. Women are not completely free from the iron grip of men. The truth is that a life lived under the approval and acceptance of men or society could turn out to be a disaster and that was exactly what happened to Taylor Swift during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Ye, commonly known by his birth name Kanye West (American rapper) interrupted, to be exact, stole the mic from Swift as she was delivering her Best Female Video acceptance speech for 'You Belong with Me' to state that despite her winning, Beyoncé (American songwriter-singer) still had 'one of the best videos of all time'. It is hardly surprising to say that the 2009 MTV incident was such an unpleasant and back-stabbing experience for Miss Swift, a 19-year-old who was accepting her “first” MTV award. A moment that had to be cherished forever became unforgettable, but not on a happy note.
'When you’re living for the approval of strangers, and that is where you derive all of your joy and fulfillment, one bad thing can cause everything to crumble (Swift,2020)
She recounts in her documentary movie 'Miss Americana' that, when she was a child, everything she wished was to be seen as wonderful and admired, and then how fragile one such belief system can be. When the audience at the VMAs started booing at the Ye incident she says that she couldn’t actually detect the unpleasant response as to whether it was being directed at Kanye, or rather at herself.
The year 2015 was seen as one of the most successful eras of Taylor Swift. She released her fifth music album “1989” which presented three US Billboard Hot 100 number ones: 'Shake It Off', 'Blank Space', and 'Bad Blood' along with the other 10 tracks. The record was well-received commercially. The songs are more cheerful, deviating from her prior harsh attitude about unsuccessful relationships. Swift's repeating motifs of sentiments and insights coming from prior love relations are the centerpiece of the songs. However, it was also a period of time when she was constantly criticized by the media for her previous relationships, her physical looks, and so on. She was afflicted with an eating disorder. As she was afraid of being judged for her image, she skipped meals and avidly followed diet blogs. As expected, the media chastised her slim figure, calling her 'too skinny'. The irony is that even after she gained weight, the media did not leave her alone. They suspected her of being 'pregnant,' pointing out her body.
It is evident in today’s life that women begin to apply a set of standards of beauty to their own lifestyles, causing insecurities and mental agony. There are always a set of beauty standards that women are not able to meet. 'Not tall enough,' 'fat,' 'thin,' 'acne,' 'facial hair,' 'pale skin,' and other issues plague women on a daily basis. Companies, beauty publications, and major corporations in the fashion industry base their corporate earnings on these fears and men own a huge percentage of them. It won’t be wrong to say that beauty standard are set by men.
“If you’re thin enough, then you don’t have that ass that everybody wants, but if you have enough weight on you to have an ass, then your stomach isn’t flat enough.” (Swift,2020)
Swift's song 'Blank Space' was a smack in the face of the media, which has long been critical of her dating life. She wrote the song's lyrics as a humorous self-referential gesture to her notoriety as a seductive lady with a string of love relationships that tainted her “innocent-good girl” persona that was once attributed to her. The media has always attempted to reach a consensus on her character, characterizing her as a 'serial dater' and condemning her dating choices. Swift detested how the media portrayed her, believing it affected her professional career, and she grew hesitant to talk about her private affairs in public. In addition to her conventional love themes, the sensational criticism of her image drove her to produce sarcastic songs about her false picture. She put into her lyrics everything the media or society criticized about her. Swift,2015 writes in her song:
'Got a long list of ex-lovers They'll tell you I'm insane But I've got a blank space, baby And I'll write your name,' (28-31)
Taylor's life took a drastic turn on February 11, 2016, when Ye released his new song 'Famous,' which was highly misogynistic in nature and included a highly contentious lyric about her. Ye used an explicit term to describe Taylor, and the song also included lyrics that said it was he who made her famous, implying that his interruption at the VMAs was what made Taylor notable. According to Taylor Swift’s spokesperson, he did not run the phrase by her. He did inform her that the line about him making her famous would be used, but he never stated the explicit word that characterized her. The music video also included a naked Taylor Swift dummy sleeping next to Ye. In response, Ye's then-wife, Kim Kardashian (an American socialite), published an edited recording of the phone call between Taylor and Ye, which seemed like Taylor approved of the lyrics. Taylor's life turned upside down after that. People began calling her a snake and used snake emojis in their comments on her social media pages. The media as a whole turned its back on her. “#taylorswiftisoverparty” got trending. She was labeled a liar everywhere. Although later, the original phone recording was leaked, revealing that Taylor was speaking the truth over not knowing about the explicit term. But it was too late, as the emotional damage had already been done to Taylor. Taylor vanished totally from the spotlight in November 2016. There was no way of knowing where she had been or whether she was planning a new record. It was speculated that her disappearance was due to the negative publicity she was experiencing throughout the summer of 2016 as a result of her open quarrel with Ye and Kim Kardashian.
The year 2017 saw the rebirth of Taylor Swift, not only as a powerful unapologetic person unconcerned about criticism but also as a bold feminist. Taylor's latest album 'Reputation,' released that year, showcased a far more mature feminist phase of her career. Her works addressed all of the criticisms she'd received throughout the years. They were not just a depiction of her personal life, but also a powerful feminist message to the rest of the world. Her songs and music videos dealt with a variety of feminist issues.
Her entire internet presence was wiped out in the days leading up to the release of 'Reputation,' with the exception of several cryptic video clips sent to her Twitter and Instagram accounts, allegedly displaying a slithering serpent. After her publicized spat with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, some speculated that Taylor was seeking to recover the 'snake' image she had been labeled with.
The track 'Look What You Made Me Do' from the album “Reputation” is a sarcastic parody of false media assumptions about her genuine motives which were never taken into consideration. According to Swift, much of the music video's storyline is built on the concept that if what others say about her is genuine, this is how ludicrous it seems. The video also features various hidden messages and connections in addition to the lyrics. The lone one-dollar note in the bathtub loaded with diamonds represents the dollar she received after winning a sexual assault trial earlier in 2017. Taylor Swift won symbolic money in her countersuit against a DJ named David Mueller whom she accused of groping her in 2013. David Mueller began the legal battle with the artist in 2015, when he accused her of spreading false rumors that ruined his profession. Taylor gave a bold and unwavering testimony during the trial. The incident is especially significant in the #MeToo era when women have been stepping forward with their own accounts of sexual harassment in the hopes of encouraging other women to do the same. Swift is enraged that not only are women abused but that the victims are often pitted against each other. Swift's testimony has encouraged several other victims to speak up about sexual assaults, even though they didn't have the financial or public backing that she had.
“For young fans of Swift’s, hearing a beloved artist speak candidly about the emotional damage of sexual assault and stand up to a courtroom of men trying to prove her wrong could be a formative moment for their developing ideas of gender, sex, and accountability.” (Cauterucci,2017)
In the video, there is a scene where a snake crawls over into the throne on which Taylor is sitting to offer her some tea, echoing Swift's famed label as a 'snake' during her absence. Her rebirth into a first woman is reflected in the lyrics of the pre-chorus and bridge:
“But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time” (9,10)
“I'm sorry, the old Taylor can't come to the phone right now Why? Oh, 'cause she's dead!' (56,57)
The lyrics and the video brim with numerous references to her life as well as many rhetorical themes. The following chapter will deal with the various significant themes in detail.
The music video ends with an assemblage of 'old Taylors' conversing amongst themselves making snarky comments about the various bogus and inflated media representations of her during her career.
The lyrics to the song 'I Did Something Bad' tend to be hinting at a connection to her personal life. The song can be seen as Swift's response to the stormy public criticism of her personal affairs and popularity, which has been influenced by reported feuds and romances with other celebrities. She depicts a self-assured figure who is unapologetic for her success and fights her critics in the song. Swift makes references to Ye and Kim Kardashian West, as well as her ex-boyfriends Calvin Harris (Scottish DJ) and Tom Hiddleston (English Actor) in her song. He has been referred to as a narcissist in the media on several occasions, owing to his character. Through her song, Taylor describes how Ye and Kim lied openly to the public and herself in order to clear their names, on the issue where he used the explicit word to refer to Taylor in his song without her approval.
“I never trust a narcissist, but they love me” (1)
“Cause for every lie I tell them, they tell me three” (4)
Swift's affair with Calvin Harris as well as the truth that she co-wrote the verses to his smash song 'This Is What You Came For' with Rihanna are also mentioned in the song. Harris, on the other hand, removed her name from the songwriting credits and claimed complete ownership of the song. She expresses her strong disdain for his actions in the lines:
“He says, 'Don't throw away a good thing” But if he drops my name, then I owe him nothin’, And if he spends my change, then he had it comin'” (25-27)
Swift's existence as a hypothetical male equivalent, 'Tyler Swift,' is explored in the satirical music video “The Man”. The video discusses sexual objectification of women, male entitlement, misogyny, and false allyship, as well as other common examples of double standards in society. The male version of Swift has seen throughout the video harshly offending others around him, living a wealthy and reckless life, manspreading, and earning applause for the bare minimum. The end credits listing Swift as Director, Songwriter, Performer, and Executive Producer is an underlying message that women's achievements should never be overlooked but rather acknowledged. It is common knowledge that the music, film, and other entertainment sectors are frequently criticized for their lack of opportunities and recognition for women.
The song 'Mad Woman,' from her album 'Folklore,' discusses gaslighting as well as the sexist stigma around women's fury. The song contains satire and a witch hunt narrative, presenting an aged widow shunned by her village, and is inspired by Swift's recent dispute with American businessman Scooter Braun in 2019. Scooter Braun, an American Executive, bought Big Machine, an independent Record Company, from its owner Scott Borchetta. As terms of the contract, Braun acquired all of Big Machine's master recordings, including those from Taylor’s first six studio albums. She had tried for years to purchase the masters, but Big Machine insisted on onerous terms. Swift claimed that Big Machine was preventing her from playing her earlier works for the 2019 American Music Awards and the documentary Miss Americana (2020). Swift, on the other hand, fought back by declaring that she will re-record her first six studio albums in order to produce new masters, thereby giving her entire control over her previous repertoire. The first few lines in the song refer to her fight with Scooter, in which she basically wonders what else he expected her to do after he messed her up. She now intends to retaliate.
“What did you think I'd say to that? Does a scorpion sting when fighting back? They strike?to?kill, and you? know I will” (1-3)
Taylor uses her newfound voice in politics to address many of the atrocities that women suffer. Many of Swift's troubles are really not caused by her celebrity; they're caused because of her gender. Swift may be dealing with these challenges on a much larger scale due to her circumstances, but most of her problems are universally applicable to women in America, particularly young women. Taylor takes advantage of her celebrity to highlight a strong concept of feminism. It's great to see a public figure step up and explain how and why her stance on a critical topic has evolved, especially in light of her anti-feminist statements from earlier. Personal ideology is thus intriguing and significant. With time, people's perspectives may shift, develop, and evolve more sophisticated. Taylor Swift exemplifies this point.