If you’ve been paying attention at all to pop culture of late, you know that Taylor Swift is in kind of a weird place right now. Whether you love her, hate her, or fall somewhere in between, you can’t deny that her public image is going through somewhat of a transition, and I don’t think she’s completely figured out yet where she’s headed. Early on in her career, Taylor was rock-solid on her persona. She was this young girl writing all her own songs, a little 15-year old David against the Goliath of the music industry with its Britney Spearses and Rihannas, bravely baring her soul without caring what the world thought. She was honest and open at a time when most people were polished and professional. She was that teenager inside of all of us who’s all big dreams and awkward elbows and has absolutely no idea that she might be beautiful. It was a persona that I think worked because it reflected who she really was, and it made people root for her and want to see her succeed, particularly when people didn’t take her seriously or tried to take advantage of her. It was rewarding and refreshing when she turned the tables and made a place for herself instead of playing the victim.
But gradually, as she got older, that stuff stopped working — some of the luster rubbed off. She was still that same plucky girl, but it wasn’t as new or surprising, so her audience stopped responding the same way. And especially as she grew more popular, she wasn’t really the underdog anymore, so the ‘me against the world’ thing wasn’t as genuine. The stereotypes she was pushing up against started to get more contrived and of her own making. For the same reason that the sassy little kid gets written off the sitcom, Taylor’s antics stopped being as well received: she’s old enough to know better. The things that three year olds can get away with saying on a TV show are very different from what eight or nine year olds can get away with saying. Things that used to be precious and refreshing quickly transition to bratty when the kid is mature enough to know what he or she is saying.
In short, the ‘girl power’ wave that Taylor’s been riding since she first started getting famous is finally losing steam, and I can tell by her behavior in the media that she doesn’t completely understand why. It’s like she remembers the high of that first time the public was universally outraged on her behalf, and she’s been chasing it ever since. It felt so great to have everyone united behind her in indignation against Kanye West or Joe Jonas, and she doesn’t understand why when she puts herself in the same situations with Connor Kennedy and Harry Styles, they don’t yield the same results. It’s a giant game of Jenga where she’s pushing on the same blocks she always did, trying to release that same upwelling of human emotion, but instead she’s just gradually losing stability, and the whole structure she’s built is threatening to come tumbling down. So let’s take a walk through memory lane and examine Taylor’s best and worst attempts at playing the victim card, to see if it gives us a glimpse of what must be going on in her head.
1. The Kanye West debacle. This is the hit of victim-heroin that Taylor’s been chasing for her whole career. Do you remember that moment? Taylor was giving her speech after winning Best Female Video for ‘You Belong With Me’ when Kanye stormed the stage and interrupted to take the mic from her. Oh holy backlash. There was absolutely no question that she was the victim; even Beyonce brought her back onstage to finish her speech. Taylor was so clearly blameless that all she had to do was smile in interviews and avoid saying anything bad about Kanye and she was heralded as a little lady saint. This seriously could not have gone better for her.
2. ‘Teardrops On My Guitar’. The earliest iteration of Taylor Swift getting our sympathy! Her first really popular song was all about the guy she liked at school who never even noticed her, and wasn’t it brave of her to put his actual name in! She had the balls that we never had in middle school, and we flushed with pride to see her sending such a public ‘I like you, do you like me?’ note and inviting the guy to check yes or no. And who could ever dislike Taylor Swift? What a fool that boy was! And what a victim Taylor!
3. The Joe Jonas breakup phone call. According to what she told Ellen DeGeneres, Joe broke up with Taylor in a twenty-seven second phone call. I mean yeah, I’ll definitely get behind that, that’s super shitty. Joe apparently wasn’t willing to be seen in public with her, and with so many celebrities keeping their personal lives secret, it was really refreshing to see someone who was willing to speak up about it. So she put the song ‘Forever and Always’ on her album and we all wished that we had the songwriting skills to publicly chastise our exes the same way for their bad behavior.
4. Jake Gyllenhaal. They dated, but apparently it didn’t go super great, since it inspired the song ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’. Definitely a successful song, but started to be a little off-putting that we knew what it was about and were able to intuit details of their relationship. And that spoken word bridge? Okay, Taylor. We’re behind you, but maybe start learning your lesson with these older guys?
5. John Mayer. Okay this time you simply should’ve known not to date him. You’ve had a few experiences of your own with being taken advantage of, so maybe avoid a guy who’s not only a lot older than you, but who has a reputation for being a womanizer. But she dated him anyway and blindsided him with the breakup song ‘Dear John’ which was so obviously about him that it was uncomfortable. And not just for me. Here’s what John himself had to say about the song:
“I never got an e-mail. I never got a phone call. I was really caught off-guard, and it really humiliated me at a time when I’d already been dressed down. I mean, how would you feel if, at the lowest you’ve ever been, someone kicked you even lower?”
It’s definitely a turning point in your career when your attempt to garner public sympathy actually makes me feel sorry for John Mayer and his feelings. Pump the brakes, Swift.
6. Harry Styles. Okay so now we’re gonna date a guy younger than us, so it’s important to be especially careful that you don’t take advantage of them the same way you feel you’ve been taken advantage of. Oh, you’re not gonna worry about that? You’re gonna mock Harry at the Grammys even though you only dated for like two months? British accent and all? I don’t know if that’s the best idea, particularly since you’re bragging about OPENING THE GRAMMYS. You have no leg to stand on, sympathy wise. He’s done nothing to you except not want to be your boyfriend for reasons that should probably remain private. Be reasonable.
7. Connor Kennedy. Oh good, another high-schooler. It’s getting ever harder for Taylor to play the victim card because these guys are all younger than her, now, and she keeps buying houses near them. If you’re not learning from your mistakes, don’t expect me to keep getting on board with your ill-advised breakup songs, y’know?
8. And finally, your comments against Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Saying there’s a “special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” because of their one or two gentle jokes about you at the Golden Globes? Let me be neither the first nor the last to warn you that you are treading on very dangerous ground, Lady Swifty. These are not hateful women who were trying to cut you down; these are kind-hearted beloved women who were hosting a show and legitimately didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. They’ve both apologized, and your anger at them is as confusing as it is ill-advised. Start a beef with literally anyone else in the industry if you must — Betty White, Josh Hutcherson, a litter of puppies — but don’t go knocking on Tina and Amy’s door with your fiery indignation if you want to retain any credibility as a victim in this industry. Trust me.
When you’ve gone from tactfully maintaining your silence when Kanye interrupts your Grammy’s speech to speaking out against an offhanded joke from the most beloved award show hosts in recent memory, you have to admit that you’re losing your edge, Swift, and it’s probably time to reevaluate your image. You knew he was trouble when he walked in, right? So start acting like it.
(Image: Daniel Deme / WENN.com)