2014 was a glorious year for pop culture, peppered by celebrity scandals and the SONY hackings, it was the gossip gift that kept on giving.
It would be impossible to guess how many hours were spent trawling Buzzfeed or gazing in derision (or delight) at Kim Kardashian’s desperate attempts to ‘break the internet’. It’s been a year of explosions-Solange Knowles- and implosions-Justin Beiber-but one figure has managed to step over the rubble that is celebrity gossip and truly break the internet: Taylor Swift.
Yes, like it or not, one of the most influential figures in 2014 pop culture is Taylor Swift.
With her army of famous friends and impossibly successful album 1989, Swiftie has been almost everywhere, from our TVs, twitter and instagram. In a world that celebrates ignorance and shuns feminism, Swift’s success is refreshing. A song writer from the age of 14, the star is at the forefront of artists who rely on more than their looks to forge a career in music.
Often the target of abuse due to her rather complicated love life, Swift promised an entirely new sound to her album 1989, abandoning the familiarity of country music for the unpredictable world of pop. The decision was hotly contested, many accusing Swift abandoning her musical roots for commercial success. Of course this was misplaced as Swift’s last country album Red was a smash hit selling 1.2 million copies in the USA in its first week, winning critical success and producing one of the most successful worldwide tours in history.
The criticism of Swift stems from the problematic trend of ‘slut shaming’ which is prevalent in on and offline life. To put it simply: according to the internet Taylor Swift has had too many boyfriends, or not enough depending on what website you’re on.
According to some it’s insane that a woman dare write a song about a relationship, while others claim that Swift’s relationships are short lived because she’s frigid and ‘doesn’t put out’. It’s a case of having too much or not enough sex. It’s easy to take pop-shots at a young woman with a well publicised love life but it’s also cruel, if we can slut shame Swift for writing We Are Never Getting Back Together can we condemn Jason Derulo for the banal Wiggle which includes the lyric “I can make you famous on instagram” and a chorus consisting of 1 word repeated constantly?
Wiggle is a song about a faceless woman, only worth anything because of a “fat ass“, Derulo’s idea of romance exploiting somebody on instagram. It’s hardly Shakespeare is it? Like other songwriters Swift takes inspiration from her personal life and experiences, as a young woman still finding herself, love and all the confusion that comes with relationships plays a huge part in that. The common complaint that Swift uses her love life as a tool for attention, seems rather silly when it’s pointed out that even if Swift wrote endless songs about her cats, the tabloids would still endlessly write about her break ups. standing in the bleachers Swiftie is merely playing Hollywood at its own game.
Songs such as I Knew You Were Trouble, This Love and You Belong With Me are all from different albums and while they all reek of heartbreak, they are by no means the same. They represent a growth in song writing, from singing about “standing in the bleachers” to a mature look back on a past relationship, a teenager’s point of view slowly growing and maturing. Swift hasn’t changed her subject matter, just her outlook.
This is what makes 1989, the fastest selling album of 2014, such a triumph. A fast paced, sensitive pop record full of songs anyone can sing along to, it was a refreshing burst of energy in a lacklustre year for pop music. Katy Perry’s Prism, a follow up to the best selling Teenage Dream, was deeply disappointing, Lady Gaga’s Art Pop was a bloated mess of self importance and Beyonce’s visual album was problematic on many levels. Pop music’s old guard all stuttered to a halt, making room for Swift to reinvent herself as more than just a chick with a guitar.
1989 is a deeply personal album, after listening to the whole thing it’s hard not feel like you know Swift a little better. Starting with Welcome To New York, it’s an emotional and music journey and, most importantly it’s fun! Pop music as of late has become so auto-tuned, so severe that it’s hard to get any enjoyment from it. Pop music seems to be less something to listen to but something to endure on a night out, it’s hard to imagine anybody listening to Britney Spears’ Work B*tch outside a nightclub or gym.
The lead single Shake It Off is a prime example of the inoffensive, feel-good sound Swift has perfected, while Blank Space is a pleasantly macabre look at the common myth that she’s a crazy cat lady and downright awful girlfriend. The video sees Swift and a generically handsome man date and then break up, Swift responding with melodramatic tears, ripped clothing and minor physical charm. With lyrics such as ‘got a long list of ex lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane’ it’s clear that Swift doesn’t care what the internet thinks of her love life and neither should you.
Despite the success of 1989 it still seems it’s fashionable to hate T-Swift, it’s almost as if the internet has conditioned us to be naturally suspicious of successful women. Gossip sites, blogs, youtube all encourage women to rate each other, to compete when there does not need to be competition.
In the last 18 months several high profile stars have shunned the term feminist as something negative. Katy Perry, Lana del Rey, Kaley Cuoco, Shailene Woodley and several others have either claimed that it’s not needed or that they love men too much to be a feminist. Worse still Beyonce, who previously said she was not a feminist now uses the term to sell her brand of sexy! feminism, which promotes the right to photo-shop your instagram. In an interview with the Guardian Swift finally confirmed what the internet hotly debated: was she a feminist?
“As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means.
For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all. Becoming friends with Lena – without her preaching to me, but just seeing why she believes what she believes, why she says what she says, why she stands for what she stands for – has made me realize that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so.”
Swift has identified the troubling way that young women see feminism, admitted her ignorance and has identified as a feminist. You’d hope in the 21st century we’d be beyond applauding people for merely saying they believe in equality of the sexes but, as 2014 proved, we’re a long way from equality.
It’s important to see Taylor Swift for what she is: a young, female musician struggling in a male dominated environment. She writes fun pop music for the masses and her love life should be neither here nor there. Instead of getting angry about who a pop starlet dates, we should focus on actual problems in 2015, like the glaring gap in gender pay or the ongoing mess that is the Ched Evans rape case.
It’s easy to target female celebrities, but it’s not always right.
Written by Saskia Van Emden