It’s no secret that people in the public’s eye get criticized for every seemingly conspicuous eye-twitch. However, it is an undeniable fact that some public actions hit harder than others in the media world. In the face of this knowledge, I propose that before we pass fleeting judgement on a successful woman and her chosen career (already inevitably skewed by the biased journalism/news reporting processes in this country) we think for a moment about the elements that have gone into the newest additions to the radio and truly reflect on what it means, in the twenty-first century, to not only be an artist in search of honest expression but a woman in the professional world.
Taylor Swift, from the beginning of her career (whether you consider that to be the official release of her first album or the day she picked up a guitar and taught herself to play), has faced opposition. From her teenage, country break-up songs to her young adult, speculative and gentle ballads to her angry, vituperative attacks through lyric, she has never failed to bring opinion in this media-obsessed, drama-feasting culture.
But what is often overlooked and even forgotten completely is the motivation behind every word said—whether on or off the radio—by a soul who is unfortunate enough to experience something that affects them.
When was the last time you were affected by something caused by an outside source?
More importantly, when was the last time you reacted to something that affected you?
We’ve all been there. That overwhelming, claustrophobic feeling of misunderstanding, confusion, and regret whipped together and then baked at 350 degrees and left to cool is very isolating and yet very universal. Why then, if it is so universal, must we, as a society, continue to make statements on the coping of a fellow cake, placed to rise in the same musty oven as ourselves?
Swift’s newest music video, ME! ft. Brendon Urie, makes a lot of statements. The pastel colors, butterfly motif, and Beatle-esque scenes of heart tunnels and melting dresses all paint a very bright and very confusing portrait of modern art. But this video, like all forms of expression, has meaningful purpose. (Not to mention the uncanny and plentiful easter eggs—google them.)
Beginning with the first scene, a pastel pink snake slithering across a pastel brick road echoes the theme of her most recent album, “Reputation”. “Reputation” was characterized by angry white-girl half-rap and indignant, non-subtle accusations of the headlines she and her colleagues had been making about a year before. This album was released in November of 2017, three years after her previous album and one year after being absent from social media, headlines, reporters, and seemingly the whole world. She later told press that she moved to a small town, told only a select few her new address, and hid from any and all cameras.
The blow Swift took after the Kanye-Kim scandal, the Katy Perry scandal, and the very heart-wrenching, very public break-up with Tom Hiddleston, was widely ignored and often criticized by the public—even during her year-long black-out. The most telling statement from Swift about this time period is found in the second to last song on “Reputation” entitled Call It Want You Want, reading, “My castle crumbled overnight, I brought a knife to a gun fight/They took the crown, but it’s alright/All the liars are calling me one, nobody’s heard from me for months/I’m doing better than I ever was.” I hope I don’t have to explain the sobering undertones of those phrases to you.
Now, this essay probably seems silly. It probably seems a little pointless. I’m asking you, for just five minutes, to put aside any opinion, any reaction, and any judgement you could or have made about Swift’s music, lifestyle, and cats, and simply reflect on how life-changing it must be to feel so trapped by your career that the only feasible escape is isolating yourself from the very dream that built you.
Hence the vicious snake theme.
The abrupt change from the Slytherin snakes and glittering black pumps of Reputation to the whimsical candy clouds and Grease-like music numbers of this next album represent a mature metamorphosis from a power-bent revenge act to a statement on personal expression and self-empowerment. It is not only a humor-based video, with her own cats referred to as her “young daughters” and refusing a wedding ring for another kitten; it is a video that little girls can watch with twinkling eyes, gasping at unicorns and kittens, while absorbing the concept of business women dressed in something other than neutral beige and dancing unafraid of their own confidence.
Swift is a strong, opinionated women in a world that has historically undermined, estranged, and even burned, women that made them uncomfortable. The leaps and bounds this country has made in equality is astounding, and yet, for the majority, the first verbal reaction to an outspoken women is “crazy”, “angry”, or, our favorite, “bitch”. In a world riddled with men allowed to bring their “locker-room talk” into presidential elections and whites shouting racial slurs at a basketball players they paid to see, it is troubling that a woman of opinion and action, regardless of their political, social, or personal affiliations (Michelle Obama, J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Merkel, the list goes on), could still be written off as simply angry.
Swift is not an anomaly in the critical world of media influencers and untruthful headlines. However, she is a representative of the vulgarity, the hostility, and the bias inherent in popular culture. She is a woman who has been ridiculed for her personal affairs, choice of expression, and her failure to achieve the perfection so unfairly expected of men and women in the spotlight.
If nothing else was communicated in this brief soapbox-like essay but one thing, let it be this: before passing even the most harmless of denunciations about any stroke of art, politic, or otherwise human-made phenomena, consider the motivation, the emotion, and the hours that went into it. Consider the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed children that watch your every move and learn from your decision-making skills and behavior, especially in crises. Before opinion let there be attentive listening; before judgment let there be compassion; before action let there be selfless, grinding, critical thought. It is only then that we may, as Taylor Swift so elegantly put it, shake it off.