How the “Reputation” artist is limited by her inability to not give a fuck
After subconsciously absorbing all the hype about Taylor Swift’s latest music video and upcoming album drop, I’ve been on a nostalgia-fueled binge that’s led me to wonder what it is about her present-day celebrity that makes her so damn unlikable.
Somewhat embarrassingly, I’ve been listening to her self-titled 2006 album on repeat for a few weeks now. (I still love it, and “Our Song” is the best thing that ever happened to music.) On the flipside, though, I’ve also been listening to Cardi B, because I love hearing a woman rap about money and hoes in a way that’s usually reserved for male rappers (There are exceptions to this, of course, but I’m just not immune to the charisma and cuteness that is Cardi B).
“Taylor Swift” and Cardi B’s “Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 2” are two very different albums.
Swift’s most recent singles (off her upcoming album “Reputation”) aren’t doing so well on the charts. Meanwhile, at this very moment in time, Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” has been No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart for over three weeks in a row.
First, pop music is weird. Second, in “True Spirit and Not Giving a Fuck,” Baltimore City Paper’s Brandon Soderberg contemplates, at least in part, why the world is rightfully obsessed with Cardi after “Bodak Yellow” made it to, and stayed at, number one.
“[Cardi B] offers nothing but gummy, confrontational sincerity—a lackadaisical sort of DGAF. ‘Bodak Yellow’ is fine with so-called fakeness. ‘I’m the hottest in the street, know you probably heard of me/ Got a bag and fixed my teeth, hope you hoes know it ain’t cheap,’ Cardi B raps, which is paradoxically also her being very, very honest, and very real, and not fake at all.”
Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” and accompanying music video are similar to “Bodak,” for their unapologetic, DGAF attitudes. On the surface, anyway. In “Bodak,” Cardi B is sincere and genuine about her supposed fakeness. In LWYMMD, Swift is a revenge robot who is not very good at hiding that she actually really, really does GAF.
It’s probably not very fair to compare two artists who don’t seem to have a whole lot in common — aside from catchy songs. (Cardi did sing the chorus of LWYMMD and admit that she likes that damn song).
If her rise to pop/rap stardom continues, Cardi B is only in the infancy of her fame, while Swift has been in the spotlight for over a decade. The first album that Swift released in ‘06 was primarily about young love, heartbreak and all the drama that comes with being in high school. Maybe it’s because she was only 17 when the album came out — not to discredit teenage Swift, who was undoubtedly a talented songwriter — but there is some major naivety and authenticity in those early songs.
I’ve enjoyed going back and listening to early-2000s Swift, because the songs aren’t that bad, OK?! They take me back to middle school, when I first listened to her and suddenly understood that I wasn’t alone in my boy troubles and friend drama. It was totally melodramatic — and suburban and white in a period of time long before the “no its becky” meme happened — but it was something that I could relate to, something that made me feel better about whatever middle school soap opera I was currently living out.
I’m not super upset that Swift has changed in the 10 years since she first rose to fame. It’d be weird if she was still writing songs from the perspective of a high schooler. Her recent music, while immature, is at least at the level of a freshman in college who’s living on their own for the first time. And I’ve long since said goodbye to every other artist I listened to in middle school, which is why I definitely don’t have the All-American Rejects playing on Spotify as I type this right now.
But the world doesn’t seem to really like Taylor Swift.
(Can we just agree that “Swifties” probably only consist of young girls untethered after the split of One Direction and moms who listen to top 40 in their Subaru Outbacks?)
TSwift ditches “girl next door” authenticity for #squadgoals power, public image
I think most women would say that it was pretty cool how she took the radio DJ who groped her to court, not for money but to make a point. Is Taylor Swift still the poster girl for White Feminism? Yes! Was the trial mostly a publicity stunt for someone who calls themselves a feminist but literally never does anything with all of her money/fame/power to benefit non-white, non-Western women? Yes!
But it was still cool, and to be fair, everything a famous person does in public is technically a publicity stunt.
Aside from that, though, does anyone like Taylor Swift? Public opinion has varied over the last 10 years, but it seems like Swift’s new music and reworking of her public image (recently, deleting all of her Instagram posts to replace them with soulless album promotions and pictures of snakes) is the tipping point.
Swift has long ditched the “girl next door” image that got her to where she is today. In LWYMMD, she sits in a bathtub full of jewels, leads an army of her friends/”squad” who are all super rich and famous models, and reckons with 13 different versions of herself that were mostly all the creation of a savvy marketing team. I can’t relate.
There’s still a problem, though, because most of the pop culture we consume isn’t necessarily “relatable”– I wouldn’t want anyone to write a song about the last biggest drama in my life, which was my dog pooping in my boss’s office — but even still, there’s something really unappealing about Swift’s first-world-famous-girl problems.
Taylor Swift seems like a nice person who cares about her fans almost as much as she cares about her perfectly-tailored public image. But the girl gives a lot of fucks. Her songs reflect a woman who’s hellbent on revenge and wildly insecure about how fans and critics perceive her. It wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t try to hide it, but if there’s one thing the public doesn’t like reflected back at them, it’s insecurity.
Look at what we made her do
Listening to the song for the first time, I found myself wondering… what did we make her do?
She’s never really clear on that. Undoubtedly Swift has faced eons of backlash in the past few years for a number of things: flawed feminism. Using feminism to promote her “brand.” Cultural appropriation. Whatever the hell the “Wildest Dreams” video was. Trying to exclude herself from a narrative that she never asked to be a part of since 2009 (i.e. substanceless feuds with celebrities from Kanye to Katy Perry).
I don’t think that’s what she means we made her do, though. She can only blame herself for the ignorance that led to those totally valid criticisms. So, did we make her make sub-par new music? Did we make her shed her good girl persona and make fun of Katy Perry in a music video? Did we make her keep her personal life private, except when it comes to how desperately she seeks revenge on every romantic partner, pop star and critic who’s ever wronged her? (Which seems like a not great PR move, by the way.)
Swift obviously gives a lot of fucks. Without necessarily meaning to, she made a whole (likely very expensive) music video about how many fucks she gives. “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now?” Okay, but she’s saying that right into the phone. Put the phone down!
Swift cares a lot. She should redirect this to a healthy acknowledgement of the various valid criticisms she’s received in the past and apologize for the times she’s been wrong. Or, she could take a page from Cardi B’s book: DGAF, but be real about it.