Taylor Swift's "Reputation" was all about celeb drama, but she doesn't owe us anything else
Taylor Swift is polarizing, if nothing else. When it comes to her public image and her music, you’re either Team Swiftie or Team Hater. With the release of her sixth studio album this week, both camps were ready to pounce when the full album finally dropped. While most fans raved, some critics were quick to note that Taylor Swift’s Reputation was all about celeb drama and lamented that she had nothing else to offer in the controversial times of Donald Trump. But what else were we all expecting from Swift, whose most lasting legacy is that she writes albums strictly about her personal life?
One of the most treasured pastimes for Swift’s fans is to pick through her music, lyric by lyric, and make assumptions about who she’s singing about, going with what they think they know about her love life. Reputation was no different. If anything, it was made explicitly for people to go through and try to crack some code that would give insight into what Swift has been thinking for the past two years, when she was arguably everywhere in media, be it running around the world with former former boyfriend Tom Hiddleston, feuding with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and stirring the pot on social media with her then-ex Calvin Harris.
Hey, it was 2016 and no one thought that Donald Trump was seriously going to win an election. Simpler times! Following the very vanilla, very performative comings and goings of T-Swift was a welcome distraction, if anything.
That, critics might suggest, is the problem with Swift’s persona and approach to the world: Taylor Swift’s music is about Taylor Swift and nothing else.
Right now, with white supremacy on the rise, Muslim bans, climate change denial — we could sit here all day and do this — her approach to the rest of the world seems naive or irresponsible in some way. Either way, some would reasonably argue that her drama in the midst of all of this makes Swift a little irrelevant. It’s not like musicians or celebs have to pick a side when it comes to politics, but it feels like everyone has been activated in some way since the 2016 election and finding the courage to stand up for their values. That Swift is still writing songs about Kanye West and reigniting the rumors that she cheated on Calvin Harris with Tom Hiddleston at the 2016 Met Gala has some fans (and definitely her haters) wondering if she’s been sleeping under a rock for the past year.
Does she really have no opinion at all about what’s going on the world? And absolutely no desire to use her platform and the immense amount of adoration she has from fans for good? Seriously — there’s not even a cheesy “girl power” banger on Reputation. She could have done something, right?
Instead, she made an album built around “pushing back” on the media’s obsession with her personal life (and by extension all of our “obsessions” with her). To do that, she made an album that pretty much begged critics and fans to go back and relive an entire like, six months of major press attention and paparazzi pics of her in 2016. If you want to move on from a feud or a certain image of yourself — why go and publicly dredge through it?
On Reputation, Swift isn’t even dredging through her issues in a particularly new or unique way. The album is essentially 1989 just with different fights and boyfriends, much like all of the albums before it. The first single of Reputation, “Look What You Made Me Do,” opens with Swift saying that the “old Taylor is dead.” But there’s nothing transformative about this album, musically or in terms of her public persona. Taylor Swift hasn’t reinvented herself in the wake of a really tough year being picked apart by the media and peanut gallery on Twitter.
The “New Taylor” is the “Old Taylor.”
For that reason alone, it’s futile to want the pop star to have pretty much anything to say about politics or current events. Because she just doesn’t. Swift has always existed in a bubble of privilege and, while it’s definitely a bummer to watch if you’re a politically engaged fan, it’s a bubble she appears intent on staying in. Swift has never been and likely never will be “woke.” Her brand of “feminism” has nothing to do with an intersectional, political movement and is more about female friendship than anything else, which is not the same thing.
Swift still hasn’t divulged who she voted for in 2016, which has led some people to speculate that she might have supported Trump. (Though she lauded the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and wore a Hillary Clinton-esque sweater to the polls last year.) Earlier this month, Swift’s lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to writer Megan Herning of PopFront after she wrote a piece examining the imagery in “Look What You Made Me Do” and compared it to Nazi propaganda. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a case against Swift and her legal team on behalf of the writer. Swift has not made a public statement about the article, the letter, or the ACLU’s action, though it stunned some fans that instead of denouncing white supremacists, she threatened a writer for tarnishing her image.
Herning isn’t the first one to make those kinds of political connections either. Swift has been adopted by white supremacists as an example of a “perfect Aryan goddess,” and there are articles out there in the darkest corners of the internet suggesting that Swift is the perfect spokesperson for the white nationalist movement. Disgusting, right?
So, Swift hasn’t publicly denounced those white supremacist fans or been open about her political views. As her lawyers wrote in their letter to Herning, she also doesn’t have an obligation to. How about this for a theory, though? It’s not all that complicated.
Instead of assuming that Swift’s silence is an endorsement of white supremacy or Trump, it might just be that Swift doesn’t give a crap about politics.
Sure, Swift is a pro when it comes to burying Easter eggs and hidden messages in her music, videos, and even Instagram posts, but maybe it’s simpler than that.
Because of her privilege and place in the world, Swift’s major traumas seem to be common heartbreak and people talking about her behind her back, even as a grown-ass woman. Hey, we all have problems, right? Denouncing entire subsets of fans, even white supremacists who blog about her, just isn’t good business for her. So she doesn’t do it. Maybe she really just doesn’t see the point of political engagement or how effective it would be if she used her Big Sister-like status with some young women to empower them, since silence, when it comes to racism and sexism, is always acceptance, if not straight-up endorsement.
The most likely explanation? Taylor Swift just doesn’t care.
It would be awesome if Swift used her massive power for good, but she doesn’t have to. If that’s not how you take your pop culture, and prefer that your faves are paying as much attention to the rest of the world as you are, just let T-Swift be. Actually, not paying attention Taylor Swift might be the best way to silence her. What will she write about next if we all stop clicking on the headlines? Maybe she’ll have to stop and finally wonder what we’re all paying attention to instead.