Why I won't shut up about Taylor Swift
I don't hate women, I hate boring things.
I suspect some of you might be wondering why I keep railing on about Taylor Swift, a person I purportedly am not interested in. Well, I suppose it’s because it is strange to watch billions of people become brainwashed into not just believing but insisting that a thing that by all objective standards is neither good nor interesting is amazing, groundbreaking, and worth freaking out over.
But also, music matters to me.
I realize this doesn’t make me special. (Oh you like music? Incredible me too!) But, despite my lack of originality, this is actually not true of everyone.
I am ever confounded by the awful lot of people in this world who don’t love music. These people are aware music exists, they often listen to it, but what it sounds like seems to be of little significance. It plays, they know it is a thing they should enjoy, so believe they do. Repetition seems to be a factor — I know this, I have heard it, it is familiar, ergo I like it — but there are other influencers: This is popular, others like it, I am told it is good, ergo I like it. I am having fun — fun is what people have when they listen to music, ergo I am enjoying this music. This is a sound playing in a place associated with fun or dancing, ergo I like the sound that is happening with the supposed fun and apparent dancing.
These kinds of people are the primary consumers of pop music (possibly of electronic music as well, but that’s a whole other enemy-making post.). They are fed music which they assume is “good” because, well, it’s playing all the time, so people must like it, and I am a people.
Yes, many of these people are children or teenagers, but adults participate as well. Even when I was a child and teenager, while I may have listened to some pop music, my obsessive passion was in anything but. I spent hours and days and weeks making mix tapes, planning the perfect segues between some old soul track, 90s R&B, then onto TuPac, Biggie, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest or something of the like. I wasn’t the only one but I also wasn’t everyone. I had plenty of friends who just turned on the radio, determining their favorites based on what came out (or whatever played at the club).
This is not necessarily a screed against pop music, either. I have my guilty pleasures. Singing along to Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud makes me feel emotional in ways that are perhaps shameful. I have no idea where I developed a passion for playing Rude on repeat or why I’m the One is still my hype track. I am just as embarrassing as the rest of you, not to worry. I think the difference is that I don’t think Justin Bieber is a brilliant mastermind whose music will stand the test of time.
I’m no music snob. I don’t care about impressing anyone with my playlist. I really don’t care what the rest of you are listening to. I listen to what I like, end of.
What I am judgemental of are those who ingest what is given to them and don’t seem impassioned about any of it. The music I listen to is chosen or sought out, not forced down my throat, alongside billions of other throats, beaks stretched wide, awaiting whatever bile comes down the pike.
I love music, I have loved it since I was a child. It moves me, it brings me joy, it is important to me. It can make or break an evening, vibe, bar, shower, workout, wine night, road trip, walk, even a drive to the grocery store.
This isn’t about status or snobbery. I’m not and never have been some hipster who knows about the thing no one else knows about first. My opinion that The Beatles are the greatest band of all time matches the opinion of millions of others. Those who are more snobbish in their tastes tend to argue with me when I tell them this, insisting on something less conventional as their GOAT choice. Loving The Beatles is unoriginal for a reason: the music is universally loveable. It is good in a way that allows the most basic to enjoy it alongside the music nerds. You can pretend to not be impressed by them, but the sheer quantity of high quality albums and joyful, beautiful songs is difficult to argue with.
Do I have impeccable taste in music? Probably not. I mean, I was arguably too young to even have taste when I started loving The Beatles, alongside The Beach Boys, The Supremes, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, Simon and Garfunkel, the Stones… I have great memories, as a child, of singing and dancing to my favorite records and tapes, most of which were produced many years before I’d even been born. Even as I began to find current music I loved, I maintained my passion for oldies and classic rock. I still listen to The Allman Brothers, The Band, and Faces all the time. The “newest” music I love is 90s hip hop — now three decades old — where I apparently got stuck. Biggie, Nas, Outkast, Wu Tang, and Big L will always feel modern to me, hilariously.
I know I sound like an old person when I say that new music sucks, but new music sucks. Where is the Ready to Die — an immediate and permanent anthem — of the 2020s? It doesn’t exist. It seemingly won’t. Will there be another Beatles at this point? Surely not.
Instead, we have Taylor Swift.
I have never understood any aspect of Taylor Swift fandom. Not only are her songs dull as bricks, but she is dull as bricks. She’s just some boring, dorky blonde girl, not even beautiful, never mind talented or interesting, manufactured into stardom.
Really. Here is the Taylor Swift story: she wanted to be famous so her rich parents (who had to have been connected — sorry, this all just happened too fast) made it so. She doesn’t have country music in her heart and soul, she took acting and vocal lessons in New York as a kid, and decided she wanted to be a country singer, so her parents took her to Nashville and got her a record deal. (You can learn more about Taylor faking her country music persona via the Your Favorite Band Sucks podcast. The Taylor Swift episode is highly entertaining and informative.)
She is not a musician, she is a pop star. Her goal was never to be an amazing musician, but to be famous. And I’m afraid that is never going to be a respectable aim to me.
I realize that celebrity status has been turned into a fair goal in and of itself by the younger generations, but it isn’t. Developing real skill and talent and living with authenticity and integrity is a respectable goal that will also (conveniently!) make you like yourself. Celebrity, in and of itself, is toxic and pointless. Not only as a thing to put out into the world, but for your own development, priorities, and mental health.
Being watched by the entire world, who believe they know you, but don’t, is not healthy. Yet this is what Taylor Swift has cultivated: legions of fans who are heavily invested in the intimate details of her life, who believe she is their bff. It’s weird.
But the key word here is cultivated: I suppose if we can attribute a skill to her, it would be her ability to make her fans obsess over her and believe she is some kind of “relatable” close friend. She seems to have accomplished this by planting “easter eggs” and puzzles in her albums for her fans to solve, by having a bunch of boyfriends she feels sad about post-breakup, by using TikTok, and by playing an innocent victim all the time — of Kanye, of the music industry, of the boyfriends and the mean girls who steal her boyfriends, of the cameramen at football games… Is this the strong female rolemodel we’re told we must be enamoured by? Ok. I guess writing a teenage revenge song every time you break up is relatable if you are a teenager. But Taylor Swift is 35.
I have mentioned my bafflement at Taylor Swift fame numerous times at this point, not because I think she’s necessarily a bad person (unlike the rest of you, I don’t know her), but because I am baffled.
Often what fans tell me in defense of her is that she is being “torn down” because she is “a successful woman,” which people apparently hate (Do they? Because Beyonce seems to be doing fine…); that we should celebrate her because “at least she isn’t singing about porn with her vagina out,” isn’t a drug addict, and is a “positive role model;” and (this one’s the real kicker) that she is a brilliant songwriter. One person told me that “she is an every woman,” which is deeply insulting to me, as a woman. I do not fake accents, to start.
People go on about Taylor Swift’s lyrics being amazing and poetic, but these are, I am informed, some of her best lyrics:
“I’m only 17. I don’t know anything, but I know I miss you.”
"You can plan for a change in weather and time / But I never planned on you changing your mind.”
"You said it was a great love, one for the ages / But if the story’s over, why am I still writing pages?"
She is also fond of rhyming “car” with “bar” (or “far”).
Now, weak lyrics can exist in great songs. They do all the time. But if that’s your purported talent and the excuse for insane, cultish fandom, I feel like you need to introduce yourself to Joni Mitchell (who, in classic queen mode, rejected Taylor’s attempt to play her in a film with a hilarious, “If she’s going to sing and play me, good luck”). I also feel like you need to stop exclusively writing whiny songs about boys.
Taylor Swift does not write great songs. She does not have a single great song. She writes bland songs about bland themes and sings them in bland ways. Is the epitome of modern creative genius really producing album after album of “I’m mad my boyfriend broke up with me” revenge songs sung in a breathy voice, then auto-tuned, to disguise the fact you are not a good singer?
And you know what? There are plenty of good musicians who are not great singers. You can be a compelling, talented, engaging, interesting, fun to dance and listen to artist without being an amazing singer (or lyricist). But Taylor Swift is none of those things. She is boring as fuck. Her personality is boring, her face is boring, her life story is boring, her boyfriends are boring, her style is boring, and her music is boring.
Am I a misogynist for saying so?
Taylor Swift will be forgotten in 20 years, which cannot be said for Janis Joplin, Carly Simon, Etta James, Leslie Gore, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, or Tina Tuner, who have been remembered and celebrated decades after their heyday for good reason. And none of those women made it on account of being beautiful or having a string of celebrity boyfriends. Certainly they will not be remembered for their ability to command the hysterical attention of legions of young fans. They were just very good.
That list could have been a mile longer (and I could have included some modern wonders like Amy Winehouse). My point being that there are literally thousands of female artists who are literally a thousand times more talented, compelling, and enjoyable to listen to, in a wide variety of ways, than Taylor Swift, yet apparently she is a “mastermind” who is breaking all kind of records, even (depressingly) beating out the ever-glorious and hot Bruce Springsteen in terms of highest grossing tours and breaking the Beatles’ record for the fastest accumulation of three No 1 albums.
This does not make Taylor Swift impressive, it makes the world’s music listeners people who do not like good music.
Will anyone remember the names of the three albums that “smashed” that Beatles records in 60 years? No. Does anyone remember the names of those albums now? No.
I am aware that the next common defense against my vicious attack on America’s sweetheart (anti-hero my ass) will be “but you have to at least respect her business acumen.” Well no, in fact, I don’t. I don’t respect anyone’s “business acumen.” “Business acumen” does not make a person interesting, respectable, compelling, or fun to dance to. It makes them probably good at marketing and making money, which is a thing I don’t care about, in as far as what I value in a human goes. In Taylor’s case, it more likely makes her good at having a team to sell her product, which is even less respectable. Maybe she’s good at selling her own product, but selling yourself as a product is not cool or commendable. It’s sad and makes me feel sad about the state of the world. And before you get insulted and but at me: I will concede that creating a good product can require skill and talent — possibly even intelligence. But that’s not the same as creating a product that will make you rich. Which is what Taylor Swift and her team did: create a boring, poor quality, disposable thing that would make a lot of money.