In late August, a Facebook user named Anna Torres wrote a post titled "Why I Can't Stand Taylor Swift." As of today, it has been shared almost 30,000 times, with the vast majority of comments expressing agreement. You can read her full list of reasons here, but I'd like to highlight four and discuss them. The italicized text belongs to Torres.
1. "She [Taylor Swift] consistently uses black and brown bodies as props in her music videos to look diverse. Her videos are full of cultural appropriation. “Shake It Off” was mocking black hip-hop culture, while “Wildest Dreams” romanticized the colonialism in Africa."
2. "At an awards show, when Nicki Minaj pointed out how the industry looks over women of color, she invalidated her and accused her of “pinning women against each other.” And her group of friends that she refers to as her “squad?” Every one of them are straight, thin, white women that could pass as her siblings. So denying micro-aggressions and racism in the industry, all while having no diversity in friendships: peak PoC exclusionary feminism."
3. "She only started supporting drag queens after they’ve become mainstream, and it’s very obviously performative, so using the LGBTQ+ for attention."
4. "She hijacked #MeToo and positioned herself as the face of the movement, as if Tarana Burke, another black woman she’s stolen from, hadn’t founded the phrase and movement 10 years beforehand. She even posed on the cover of TIME Magazine as one of the “people of the year,” with absolutely no credit to the originator."
Torres goes on to list other instances of Swift being deceptive or petty, but I think these four reasons are more significant to the larger issue of Swift's growing "problematic-ness" among her progressive critics.
I'll come to back to that in a moment, but first I'll confess that I've never liked Taylor Swift. I've never been impressed by her music, and I've also never liked her persona -- the whole innocent-country-girl-turned-jaded-vixen thing. To me, she's always seemed somewhat unoriginal and needlessly opportunistic given her massive success. This opportunism is most clearly seen in her strange, damning decision to pander to progressives in the more recent years of her career despite being one of the targets of their unending ire as a straight white woman. That decision is the reason why she will never win the kind of validation she desperately wants.
Like most criticism from the progressive lens (which is largely informed by shaky theories like Critical Race Theory), Torres' reasons for not liking Swift are mostly based on subjective interpretations of Swift's motives, music and image, but they're still helpful in understanding why one can never truly appease progressives, no matter how much they may want to.
For example, Torres' first reason for disliking Swift is her alleged frequent use of "cultural appropriation" -- a concept that is easily challenged -- as well as what she and others see as Swift "romanticizing" colonial Africa in Swift's Wildest Dreams music video. That is certainly one interpretation of the video, but other more positive interpretations (some of them made by people of color) are arguably just as valid. Additionally, the claim that the vision for the video was inspired by some kind of insensitive white colonial ideal falls a bit flat when one learns that the director is Asian, and the editor is African-American.
Torres' second strike against Swift is that Swift "invalidated" Nicki Minaj (even though Swift apologized to Minaj within a week and subsequently changed her views on "white privilege"), as well as the fact that Swift mostly hangs out with women who are like her. Regarding the latter issue, having a circle of friends with multiple commonalities, including skin color, is a global reality and there's nothing inherently wrong with it, but it does become a problem if you subscribe to an ideology that obsesses about perceived social hierarchies and visible diversity (i.e. diversity of skin color rather than diversity of perspective). Swift has supported that kind of progressive ideology (at least verbally) since 2018, but like most white liberals she has still not made "enough" efforts to include the people she claims should be more included. But, given Torres' first issue with Swift, one has to wonder: if Swift did include black and brown women in her "squad," would she be accused of using them as "props?" That seems likely. So what's a poor, pandering progressive girl to do? The answer is unclear.
Her third and fourth reasons are similar -- essentially that Swift is exploiting something that is currently trendy (drag queens) to get more attention and also "hijacking" a popular movement (like #MeToo) to use them to her own advantage. That kind of obvious opportunism is certainly off-putting but fairly commonplace in the entertainment industry. Swift isn't the only artist to do this, nor is it a problem limited to "privileged" white women. Oprah Winfrey, for example, went from dear, decades-long friend of serial rapist Harvey Weinstein to spokesperson of "Time's Up" in a matter of months. Given the gravity of Weinstein's crimes (and the widespread knowledge of them), that kind of opportunism strikes me as even more troubling than Swift's.
Let me pause here and say that I think some of Torres' reasoning is valid. If Swift is going to position herself as a progressive activist (which she's been trying to do since the midterm elections), she should be playing by progressives' rules, which means obsessing about her race (more!), groveling for forgiveness for her many problematic qualities (more!), and dedicating her life to the singular cause of making other progressives feel better about themselves, even if what they demand is often fickle and contradictory. Swift desperately wants to be part of this strange, insatiable movement, so it's hard to feel much sympathy for her now that she's fallen into its web.
I also think that Torres is probably correct in her assessment that Swift's political and social statements are largely performative given their timing and presentation. If they are sincere, it's likely the same shallow sincerity that most white liberal women have when it comes to issues of identity and power. Lena Dunham, Anne Hathaway, Alyssa Milano and Debra Messing all come to mind -- women who I think, on the most superficial level, desperately want to keep the public's attention when they stir up some controversy about their whiteness or femaleness or whatever immutable identity is currently in vogue to criticize. On a deeper level, they seem to be seeking some kind of self-justification in the form of self-imposed guilt and pushing progressive politics on others. Their self-justification is made to look like concern for other people, but their concern is more deeply rooted in themselves than they are willing to admit.
I think these criticisms of Taylor Swift should be a lesson to all the women who aspire to be like her. From most people's perspective, Swift has already won in terms in worldly success. For years, she has had millions of dollars, millions of fans, and more opportunities to positively impact others than most of us could ever dream of -- and yet, something was still missing in her life. So much so that she was willing to sacrifice herself on the altar of progressivism, where no amount of change or penance will ever be enough, to find it. The standards are too slippery. The gods are too vindictive. Taylor is too imperfect.
She will never win.
Swift, like most of us, is looking for her justification in the wrong places. It's not found in what's momentarily popular or vilified, and it's not found in fame or platforms or magazine spreads. It's definitely not found in strangers on the internet singing your praises or tearing you down. It is only found in honest self-examination and the painful but realization that in your own strength you will fail to meet your own standards, let alone anyone else's -- no matter who you are or how much power you have.
What you're looking for is ultimately found in the God who will justify you, if you will only seek Him.