Taylor Swift & Being Normal

This is a spiel. A good and proper ramble. I didn't go back over this. I don't like you that much, except for you.

Taylor Swift is—was?—the biggest pop star of the years immediately following the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not that she came out of nowhere. Obviously, unless you lived under a rock during the last two decades, she enjoyed a wildly successful career from teen girl country to pop proper (with a notable transition album in RED, my personal favorite). I could tell you my favorite singles from each of her albums up to the point where it seemed like she fell off for good, and so could most people who were around. That’s probably why The Eras Tour was so popular: the mediocre reception to her latest albums weren’t drawing crowds, but we all have more-or-less fond memories of Taylor Swift as a pop artist who “grew up” with us from our childhood (with whatever caveats apply; I’m guilty as charged of being white). Her sudden explosion in popularity is not so much a discovery or even a redemption but an encore. Who here is raving about The Tortured Poets Department? In contrast, the Renaissance World Tour served fresh cunt on a silver platter. Beyoncé could probably do her own eras tour, exploring a greater variety of time periods and musical genres than Swift ever could, but she hasn’t yet. It’s hard not to read The Eras Tour as a last hurrah for Taylor Swift, the last star of the monoculture.

Still, Taylor Swift has provoked a strange sort of culture war over her re-popularity and continued existence. I remember circa 2014 that people (especially men) kept shitting on her for (supposedly) constantly dating new guys and writing about them. Simultaneously, white nationalists tried to claim her as a volk icon—culminating in her albums Reputation and Lover, in which she tried to quell these rumors by showing how much she likes rap and gay people (?) as well as being in a committed relationship but in some sort of sexy slutty way (?). Lately, after a controversial two-week run with English rat-boy shithead Matty Healy of The 1975 (following Swift’s long-term relationship with English actor Joe Alwyn), she’s been in a publicized relationship with football player and good ol’ American boy Travis Kelce who played (and won) the Super Bowl at the same time Swift played at The Eras Tour. You know what they’re saying: all the self-embarrassed middle class white mothers are obsessed with her; all the right-chauvinists are decrying her for making frivolous female music; and all the left-chauvinists are decrying her for making problematic white woman music. From Swift’s perspective, it might feel like she can’t catch a break. One year she’s a slut, and another year she’s an idol to white womanhood-as-expressed-through-marriage-and-motherhood. I’ll spare y’all from a Freudian reading of this.

My partner, as she often does, put it best: “Why can’t people be normal about Taylor Swift?” Although this had been on the back of my mind for as long as Taylor Swift has been popular again, what triggered me writing this was a Twitter thread from the artist-author of web-comic Haus of Decline who (for context) recently came out as a trans woman:

Had cis woman explain Taylor Swift to me and I get it now

After actually engaging with the music, it’s less mediocre than how I imagined it. Sort of hinges on whether you interpret her self obsession as toxic or relatively innocent and relatably [sic] charming. If you do the latter, the music will dig its hooks into you

The lore is also a huge part of it. There is so much goddamn lore but it’s all scattered and you have to piece it together. She’s like a Dark Souls character [?!]

I’m trying not to read Haus for filth, so please bear with me. As someone who didn’t have many cis male friends growing up—and the ones I did have even had generally positive opinions about Taylor Swift—I never understood why it seemed men were so hostile to her and her music. In my experience, they always dismissed women’s pop art (or their art in general) as mediocre, self-obsessed, and/or toxic. It wasn’t until recently that people starting dogging on Swift specifically for being a white woman. Here’s the thing though: she’s obviously a white woman, everyone knows it, and everyone rightfully clowned on her for trying to incorporate trap music in a conscious effort to seem less culturally white (I still like Reputation, as a sort of guilty pleasure). It seems like it wasn’t until liberal white people became embarrassed of being white that they reinterpreted their irrational hatred of Swift through the lens of their own embarrassment (that is, of course, white people who were already predisposed to expressing irrational hatred of her). Do they listen to non-white female pop artists, being racial connoisseurs? Do we not see the same dismissive attitudes from men towards black female artists, like Megan Thee Stallion or Cardi B or Doja Cat? Taylor Swift’s music is informed by her class and racial position, being from the beginning a fake country artist imported from Pennsylvania to Nashville. Yet, it seems like anyone who says they dislike her for that reason is a total and complete liar. Is she not an authentic expression of the culture she claims to represent, as much as one can be? Who were her biggest fans in 2008? Who are her biggest fans in 2024? She chose them, and they chose her! It's the fakest culture there is!

What my partner and I decided was that anyone who has a strong opinion on Taylor Swift, negative or positive, is a weird ass. Her art is a simulacrum of white upper-middle-class lifestyle, indulging the listener in a fantasy of living the manufactured life-image of Taylor Swift. Her biggest fans indulge in this fantasy and live vicariously through her picture-perfect American life. Her biggest haters however indulge in typical misogyny, elevating Swift to an idol of female self-obsession and mediocrity (often, not always) under the guise of criticizing her for her classist or racist bias. I think it's telling that it took Haus only one conversation with a cis woman to understand Taylor Swift's popularity, without surrendering her initial and uninformed conception of Swift, and she only articulates her understanding through her own special interest in Dark Souls lore. Would one say that women enjoy Taylor Swift for the lore, or because her work relates abstractedly to a least common denominator of women (autistic trans redditors notwithstanding) about/for whom being white and bourgeois is assumed or aspirant? Being also Latina, I can tell you how many Latin kids also idealize white bourgeois culture. It's literally hegemonic! Non-white people strive for personal whiteness just like non-bourgeois people strive for personal bourgeois-ness, particularly when there's a chance in hell of them attaining it. I already said I'll spare y'all from a Freudian reading, so I'll just gesture vaguely in the direction of Fanon.

The only appropriate opinion to have on Taylor Swift, in our view, is a strictly moderate opinion. She is simultaneously fine and not that good. She's a talented singer-songwriter, and she has never really gotten better at it. Her songs evoke childlike innocence, and it's strange that we've grown up and she hasn't. She's a rich white girl (how old is she again?) who perpetuates misogynistic fantasies, and she's a socially acceptable target of sexism on account of her individual visibility and cultural ubiquity. There is much to criticize about Taylor Swift the social institution, the particular celebrity-object who fulfills a fantastic function for certain members of our spectacular society. As an individual, she also shouldn't be taking as many private flights as she should, and probably has unconscious biases resulting from her particular position in the social matrix (sex, class, race). As an artist, I've liked a good number of her songs but she's nowhere near my top 10 list. Despite all this, I can't help but feel like there's something insidious about the willingly ignorant vitriol directed towards her. It's not like I see it often or seek it out but, every time I do see it, it's like I'm sailing past the tip of an angry iceberg poking out from hell. Why can't people be normal about Taylor Swift?

Here's a chaser for that shot. Although The Tortured Poets Department was implied by marketing to be a breakup album about Joe Alwyn, feeding rumors about toxicity in his and Taylor Swift's relationship, it turned out to be more of a love album about Matty Healy and Swift's resentment towards her fanbase for pressuring her to break up with him on account of his being a shithead—while he was the only person to really objectify her and, in that sense, make her feel desirable. For the third time, I will spare y'all from a Freudian reading.


  1. In terms of "I am stuck listening to car radio", you can do worse than Swift. At the very least she's not behind the terrible Bad Wolves cover of Zombie or the updated We Didn't Start the Fire that doesn't even scan properly.

  2. What if you have intensely conflicted feelings about Taylor Swift that average out to somewhere in the middle? Unable to deny the fact that she is consistently in your Spotify wrapped each year but also unable to call yourself a fan or get excited about her new music. Constantly feeling the urge to jump to her defense against the torrent of fucking idiotic criticisms against her yet also harboring a litany of other equally petty and stupid criticisms of your own.

    That's totally a way to be normal about Taylor Swift, right?



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