Donning red lips and a blue seagull sweater on the cover, Taylor Swift released her fifth album, 1989, on October 27. Since then, it sold over a million copies in its first week, making it the most profitable first week for an album since 2002 (a time when no one had to compete with music freely floating around the internet).
With 1989, Taylor Swift has left the era of branding herself as “not like other girls” and writing nasty songs accusing other women of stealing men from her. She has left the era of homophobic lyrics. Is she perfect? No. When she released 1989’s first single, there was controversy over her music video for “Shake It Off,” and she faced accusations of racism that are dishearteningly routine for white female artists.
But that’s a different conversation. Perhaps more interesting to analyze than Swift herself has been the media reaction to her. Her new album analyzes that conflict as she finally acknowledges and challenges the misogynistic portrayals of her. And with this, the public, once so critical, is beginning to shift its view.
Taylor Swift is an easy target for ridicule because she writes openly about her feelings, and her fanbase is primarily young women. That’s the bottom line. Both of those things are seen as inherently useless in a capitalist, patriarchal society. Emotions = feminine = weak. It’s an equation we’re all far too familiar with.
From the start, Swift has been marketed as the awkward, innocent girl, never cursing in her lyrics, never referencing anything sexual. This was presumably her team’s quiet way of quelling accusations of promiscuity. Everyone has heard Swift condemned for dating “too many” men because she is honest in her lyrics and while speaking about her music. This made her a canvas onto which young girls could express their own internalized misogyny. Decoding the male inspiration for every one of her songs has practically become a sport, but what artist doesn’t use personal experience in their music?
1989 marks an important step in a new direction. Instead of continuing to retract further into her good girl persona, Swift takes on the task of acknowledging the way the media portrays her and saying enough is enough. Particularly triumphant in this respect is the track “Blank Space,” a tongue-in-cheek song in which she pokes fun at the way media presents her while attempting to shed an innocent persona in favor of that of a powerful woman. The chorus playfully proclaims, “So it’s gonna be forever / Or it’s gonna go down in flames / You can tell me when it’s over / If the high was worth the pain / Got a long list of ex-lovers / They’ll tell you I’m insane / Cause you know I love the players / And you love the game.”
Whether you like her music or not, it clearly resonates with a lot of people, enough that her fame has only continued to grow over the years. People are becoming cognizant of the trick that has been played on them; they’re not buying it anymore and neither is Swift. Just in my own experience, I’ve seen several people go from irrationally hating Taylor Swift to liking her and/or her music. The general mood shift among the public, particularly girls, seems to be in this positive vein. Thus, 1989 marks a clear turn in her career, and it will be interesting to see where she goes from here.