intersectionality (n.) a framework that must be applied to all social justice work, a frame that recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that enrich our lives and experiences and that compound and complicate oppressions and marginalizations (definition taken from Everyday Feminism)
Taylor Swift is popular. The girl went from singing about pitting her high school self against the girls who wore short skirts and high heels, the whole “cheer captain” ideal, to becoming the epitome of that image, complete with a terrifyingly successful and beautiful “girl gang” of her own. But all of the U.S. is also so enamored with her impeccable style and figure and face that we forgive her for a lot of things. And honestly, if I could love this wildly successful, powerful, and beautiful sweetheart of a “feminist icon” too, I would. But I have too many reasons to not support her in the least.
Where to even begin? Well, Swift is widely seen to be very interactive with and loving towards her fans; her “1989 Secret Sessions”, where she invited fans to secret album-listening sessions at her houses in New York, Nashville, Los Angeles and Rhode Island, seem to be perfect proof of this. What has gone under the radar of mainstream US perceptions however is when Swift’s fans apparently go against her agenda. There have been multiple cases by now of Swift suing fans who were selling Etsy fan merchandise with her likeness or lyrics on them. In general, Swift has gone on a complete trademark frenzy ever since her success with the album 1989. Since trademark rights don't require the phrases to be absolutely original, and obtaining the rights mainly requires an artist to prove that they're profiting off of a phrase associated with their brand, Swift trademarking “Blank Space” or “The 1989 World Tour” makes sense. But other trademarked phrases like “players gonna play” and “1989” should not be attributed to solely Swift’s brand; I technically should be adding a ™ or ® each time I reference Swift’s 2014 album. Her legal team also threatened to sue her old guitar teacher for using her name on his website, ITaughtTaylorSwift.com, despite his domain name completely respecting the concept of intellectual property. All of this goes towards making sure that any mention of Swift’s name benefits her directly in revenue.
So I’m not saying that being a raving capitalist, so much so that one goes against people that helped build up one’s stardom in the first place, makes someone a bad person, but personally, it does leave a terrible taste in my mouth.
(It might also be worth noting that Swift attempted to sell apparel with “1989” emblazoned on them in China at one point— It’s taboo to even mention “89” when in public in China, because 1989 was the year that the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre happened. The phrase “faux pas” doesn’t even begin to cover that marketing venture by Swift; cultural sensitivity may never be something that Swift can associate with her brand.)
Also, if Swift’s name alone has so much value and clout to it, why did Swift only donate money to the #FreeKesha fund, instead of throwing her weight into it and actually personally tacking her name onto the list of Kesha’s supporters? Why won’t Swift actively speak up in defense of other women, when her full support could contribute greatly to the cause?
White Feminism (n.) feminism that ignores intersectionality
As a woman of color, I cannot help but always think that the brand of feminism Taylor Swift stands for only benefits beautiful, tall, thin white women like herself. The Kesha case makes me want to add more excluding descriptors to that list. And there is no better example of Swift’s white, privileged feminism than when Swift attempted to center the conversation regarding Nicki Minaj’s MTV 2015 Video of the Year snub around white women (yet again). After a series of tweets where Minaj called out antiblackness, sizeism, and misogynoir in the music industry, Swift replied to one tweet about sizeism in particular with “I've done nothing but love & support you. It's unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot..” In doing so, Swift effectively deflected the attention off of Minaj’s commentary on the industry and turned it back to men, the main problem that faces rich white women like Swift. What she didn’t realize was that black women face different oppressions from white women, and Swift’s later tweet inviting Nicki to come on stage with her if she won was her ignoring the systematic racism that benefits her, as well as maintaining her position of power as a white person.
Although Swift did eventually learn from that Twitter conversation, it’s hard to tell how much she grew, since Swift still remains silent on all fronts regarding any issues facing women of color, or trans women, or any women who aren’t extremely similar to her. And how could Swift have claimed that Minaj “pit[s] women against each other”, when her hit song “Bad Blood” is pretty explicitly about the betrayal of a close (female) friend? Many sources pin the inspiration for the song to be Katy Perry. If she so supports fellow women, why was her drama with Katy Perry worth writing a song about, and profiting off of? Writing cathartic songs without smearing other public figures, especially fellow female artists, seems to be a lesson Swift hasn’t quite learned yet.
And now we come to the issue of Swift’s music videos. It’s not worth it to comment on the faults of her older work, since Swift has gone through a feminist transformation of sorts since the time lyrics like “Go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy/That’s fine, I’ll tell mine you’re gay”. But she hasn’t progressed very far, as was evident with the music video for “Wildest Dreams”. Although it was produced and edited by African-Americans, and actually shot in Serengeti National Park, the video is essentially a resurrected depiction of the White colonial fantasy of Africa. The problems with why a music video for a song named “Wildest Dreams” had to be filmed in Tanzania should be evident. The problems with the erasure of Africans in the video, and the exotifying (to the point of fetishizing) of the African landscape should be evident.
And as a K-pop fan, I have a very different but pretty damning beef against Swift: she has committed plagiarism not just once, but twice now against K-pop acts. Her “Bad Blood” music video, which received so much praise when it was released in 2015, has an overwhelmingly similar aesthetic to girl group 2NE1’s “Come Back Home” from 2014; there are specific shots of Swift’s version that are almost identical to those in 2NE1’s. “Bad Blood” was a music video that paid homage to multiple films, but in 2NE1’s case, it isn’t paying homage anymore. It’s just blatant copying. And the imagery of a double of herself, an alternative self, waiting for her on the beach in the “Out of the Woods” music video was hauntingly similar to that in singer Taeyeon’s “I”; in fact, both videos were shot in New Zealand, with just two months in between their release dates.
Allegations of plagiarism have never been pressed against her yet, but if she claims to be a so-called “feminist”, why does she rip off the creativity of other female artists? And since it happened twice, I’m expecting Swift to be making a habit out of it, so long as she doesn’t get publicly shamed for it. But just because these musical acts are in a different country doesn’t make this okay, doesn’t mean this should just slip by. Swift has not only stolen the intellectual property of Korean female artists (as well as all of the people who developed the ideas for these music videos), she has benefited vastly from them. Despite all of their issues, Swift’s music videos still receive the recognition and praise they don’t deserve.
While we’re on the topic of recognition and praise: just a few weeks ago, Swift became the first woman to win the Grammy for Album of the Year twice. However, Janet Mock noted that no female producers joined her in receiving that award. Despite there being men of color amongst her producers, Taylor Swift was the only woman in that team. Is Swift not even working with white female producers on her albums, much less female producers of color ? As someone who approvingly quotes “There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women", what is Swift doing to help further the successes and presence of women in the music industry? What does the lack of female producers say about how Taylor Swift feels about the musical ability of women? How “feminist” is Taylor Swift” really?