Saturday, October 27, 2012

Love is Better Than Fluff, Cotton Candy, and the Music of Taylor Swift


Taylor Swift writes her own music; and because young singers in the mainstream have earned the reputation of letting their studio teams do all the work; she has received much praise from her audiences.

She has also earned praise but mostly intrigue for writing lyrics about ex-boyfriends. The fact that her exes are well known is part of the reason that her songs have become so popular. This has had me scratching my head in frustration from the beginning. Taylor isn't doing anything that is particularly daring or inventive. Writing from personal experiences is an essential part of storytelling and it is a concept that has been going strong for ions.

The degree to which Swift is praised, suggests that it is almost unbelievable that a young woman, who also happens to be a pretty woman; might possess the ability to write her own music. It is apparently even more unbelievable that she might have an opinion or two about the inner workings of relationships. That's called sexism and it is prevalent within the music industry.

It's unfortunate, however, that Swift chooses to write fluffy; surfaced tunes. Swift is certainly her own person and she can write whatever it is that she chooses. My issue is that she is a 22 year old woman who presents herself as a teen or even a tween, in her music.

My first experience with Swift's music took place when I was driving along a freeway in Los Angeles. Across a wall I saw the words, "No amount of vintage dresses gives you dignity", in spray paint. I decided to Google it. I learned that it is a lyric line that belongs to a song written by Swift, entitled, "Better than Revenge."

I went through a few other lyrics from various songs, and found them to be quite empty. What bothers me about Swift is that her lyrics reflect a damsel in distress character and when she sings about heartbreak she is some how a scrappy damsel in distress character. Both are alluring to young men (and evidently some older men) and women alike. Either way, she is reduced to a figure of innocence. Insulting or no; ignorant or no, Swift pushes easy come, easy go, messages.

Natalie Reilly had me beaming when she finally put into writing, what I have been thinking, ever since I heard Swift sing songs about how she was "meant" to be with this guy or that.

“it’s interesting to note how many girls fall so willfully and deeply into ‘the-helplessly-in-love-do-anything-for-a-relationship’ narrative – seemingly without understanding or knowledge, or probably, (truthfully), any care of how destructive this can be.

If this narrative was simply part of growing up; part of being a teen, then we have to ask: why don’t we hear more songs, hell, more Facebook posts, more confessions from boys about the heartbreak that comes from a broken promise, a missed meeting or indeed, A MISSED TEXT? Boys fall in love, boy bands sing about love, but the 'lover as victim’ trope is not half as pronounced as it is in lady music. I would argue it’s because girls are socialised to believe – from the time they are very young – that a boyfriend, no matter how horrible = a life made. And no boyfriend = a life not worth living. With the stakes this high, it's hardly surprising that Taylor Swift’s lyrics resonate with so many teenage girls."


So there you have it: patriarchy. It's something that affects us all and it is evident that Swift has not escaped.

In Spark's Fly, Swift sings:

Drop everything now
Meet me in the pouring rain
Kiss me on the sidewalk
Take away the pain.

In Enchanted, she sings:

Please don't be in love with someone else

Please don't have somebody waiting on you

This night is sparkling, but don't you let it go
I'm wonderstruck, blushing all the way home.
I'll spend forever wondering if you knew

I can't speak to Swift's personal experiences. I imagine her legions of fans feel they can relate to her music. Although, 22, is considered young, I think she is old enough to have had some authentic experiences. I know, I did. None of us know the ins and outs of her relationships or her worldview of men -- but the qualm I have with her music is that men are the focal point and the running theme of her music floats in a pool of love sick romance.

Reise from Autostraddle makes some good points when she identifies that not only does Swift's music push forward the idea that a woman minus a prince charming leads to impending doom, but her music videos drive this message home through Madonna/Whore scenarios in which blonde equates to good and brown equates to bad. Glasses equal geek and red lipstick equals maturity.

All of this makes Swift more adorable as she rides side saddle on the horse that was Britney Spears' "Not a girl, not yet a woman." As she ages perhaps we'll begin to see that Swift's views on love actually have three dimensions. Until then, the radio waves will by plagued with the misguided notions of cotton candy love and shallow views that are in keeping with the social construct of the feminine.

Parents are often up in arms about the supposed dangers of rock music -- I'm starting to think that it'd be more appropriate for parents to discuss the difference between authentic relationships and teen dream, rather than warn against subliminal messages or ghostly makeup.

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