Taylor Swift's new album 'Reputation' says nothing about politics – and that's why it's so good

Let’s make this clear: Swift could not have won Clinton the election. If Beyonce couldn’t do it, Swift didn’t stand a chance

Roisin O'Connor
Friday 10 November 2017 14:24
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‘Reputation’ moves Swift from being an object of male gaze in her narratives about young love and puts her very much in charge
‘Reputation’ moves Swift from being an object of male gaze in her narratives about young love and puts her very much in charge

Taylor Swift’s new album reputation is arguably her best yet. I’ve written a review stating that case, which was published at the eye-watering time of 5.01am.

In it, Swift tackles various public perceptions of her – a human, complex and multi-faceted – that painted her as being different things at different times: victim, romantic, girl next door, perfect, snake. She discards her earlier tropes of doe-eyed girls waiting for handsome princes, proms and white horses, in favour of lyrics and themes that are distinctly adult. She lusts after a man she can’t have. She buys dresses just so she can take them off for said man. She says “s**t” for the first time. Reputation moves Swift from being an object of male gaze in her narratives about young love and puts her very much in charge.

You know she can’t please everyone, though.

Taylor Swift's new album Reputation: Twitter reacts

Fans have to wonder how Swift, who has been called out repeatedly for appearing to be unaware of her own privileges as a white, rich pop star, would be able to make any kind of bold political statement given that status. Should she have enlisted Ed Sheeran to rap about food banks instead of reputation on “End Game”? Maybe that would have kept her detractors happy.

There is nothing Swift could do that would have the same kind of impact or resonance as Beyonce’s Lemonade, Kendrick’s Damn. or Solange’s A Seat At The Table. Swift is not a political artist, in that she has never spoken about socio-political issues in her work and should not have that demand made of her. What she says in the public sphere, outside of her music, is another matter. But even there she seems entirely aware that whatever she says, however well-intentioned, someone – everyone – will find a way to take it out of context to suit their own agenda.

Swift, who has never publicly stated the words “I am a feminist” – only that she realised she’d been “taking a feminist stance without actually saying so” – was attacked repeatedly in 2014 and then again during the presidential election for not endorsing Hillary Clinton because she also happened to be a woman. Let’s make this clear: Swift could not have won Clinton the election. If Beyonce couldn’t do it, Swift didn’t stand a chance.

When she pursued a lawsuit against a DJ who she claimed groped her in 2013, a piece in the Guardian (written by a man) hailed it as the start of her “long-awaited political awakening”. Quite sickeningly it claimed Swift responds to sexism “only when she can leverage social capital from it – when the story is entirely about her”. This about a young woman who was very keen for the case not to be made public because she felt humiliated by it, as her tearful mother told a court, but felt compelled to so the man in question did not get away with it.

When she tweeted in support of the Women’s March but did not attend – presumably due to a combination of concerns for her personal safety in a large crowd and also to avoid detracting attention from the march itself – she was castigated.

Then this year a blog post, published on PopFront, tried to align her with neo-Nazis by claiming that the “Look What You Made Me Do” (LWYMMD) lyrics “reinforced white anger and white supremacy”. The argument seemed entirely based on a bunch of online racists who interpreted Swift – who is white, blonde and blue-eyed – as some kind of figurehead for their Aryan ideals.

Since the release of her video for “LWYMMD”, Swift has been pestered by liberals to denounce those white supremacists. Anyone can interpret a song lyric to fit their own narrative – they teach you how to misinterpret literature aged eight in English lessons. So why is Swift, over any other artist, obligated to denounce people who listen to her music because of values she can’t control? She can’t stop them from listening, just as other artists – Beyonce, Rihanna, Madonna, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry – can’t force homophobes, misogynists or racists to stop being fans.

Her legal team, on the other hand, are obligated to protect her image. That’s where the letter to PopFront came from – but they weren’t the ones to publish it. PopFront, sensing some rare traffic, were the ones who tried to defend themselves by claiming other publications had drawn the same links. In fact, the articles they cited pointed out how ludicrous the link white supremacists attempted to draw between them and Swift was.

“They’re grasping at straws in an effort to maintain relevance, as per usual,” Khal wrote for Complex.

Swift’s stoic silence on the matter is arguably more effective because it essentially no-platforms those neo-Nazis, a tactic that could have avoided the election of Donald Trump had the media chosen to do the same with figures such as Richard Spencer, Nigel Farage and Milo Yiannopoulos.

What she acknowledges in her new album reputation is that, yes, she does make mistakes. Bridges have been burned, enemies have been made. But she’s living a life that she chooses – she’s content, she’s making music. All she wants to do is make music. And you can’t force an artist to make music about politics. That’s just not how art works.

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