Toppling the Taylor Swift myth
The toppling of the great Taylor Swift machine last week felt like a collective sigh of relief. The squeaky-clean, wholesome, girl-next-door vibe that has defined her career has always felt suspiciously polished, and last Sunday, vindication came in the form of Kim Kardashian-West, who with one fell snapchat swoop, managed to destabilise the Taylor Swift myth.
Taylor Swift had always felt too perfect. Take her bevy of beautiful celebrity best-friends. The instagram shots of the squad frolicking in the waves on the 4th of July were expertly staged, and the attendees were a hand-picked selection of the most current rising stars – see new squad members Uzo Aduba and Ruby Rose of OITNB fame. Even her relationships seemed manufactured, her romance with Calvin Harris almost out of a playbook of romance, the iconic leg flick on the beach picture straight out of the teenage fantasy of the Princess Diaries. Designed to perfection, Taylor’s instagram is littered by seeming insight into her life, giving her a sense of authenticity, without risking any real exposure. This strategy was so successful that no one saw her break-up with Calvin Harris coming, and the internet has been so dumbfounded by her rapid transition into celebrity powerhouse couple ‘Hiddleswift’, that some have begun speculating that it is simply footage for a music video.
In her ongoing feud with Kanye West, we reached peak Taylor Swift-ism. The image of Taylor Swift as a victim, of bad friends, bad boyfriends and the vicious media fit her manicured image impeccably, the sweet best-friend-from-home who hit the big time, a genuine celebrity who fans could really connect with. And maybe this was Taylor in 2009, when Kanye West stepped onstage during the VMAs for the infamous ‘Imma let you finish but-’ moment. This was the ultimate David v. Goliath story, rookie teenage Taylor at the mercy of mega-ego Kanye West, a dispute carried into 2016 with her outrage at the lyrics to his song ‘Famous’, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that bitch famous”. Public opinion sided with Taylor – another misdemeanour by big bad Kanye West fit so easily into the narrative she had constructed. But 2009 Taylor is not 2016 Taylor. As Kim Kardashian revealed, the real authenticity in this situation belongs to Kanye, who actually called Taylor to get approval for the song before its release. But this was so easy for her to deny, because the ‘Taylor Swift’ image is such a perfect piece of PR – one that allows her to be one of the most successful artists in the world, without losing the accessibility which made her fans love her.
The ‘squad’ are the foot soldiers of this regime, sent forth in defence of King Taylor, directing from on high. So many celebrity pals starred in Taylor’s ‘Bad Blood’ video, which is essentially a four minute drag of ex-friend Katy Perry. Indeed, many of Taylor Swift’s biggest hits take thinly veiled inspiration from her real life, including ‘Dear John’, a song which ex-boyfriend John Mayer said he found ‘humiliating’. Anyone who crosses Taylor Swift can expect a grueling demise – even tech giant Apple fell to their knees when she criticised them for failing to pay artists for the Apple music free trial.
But Taylor Swift faced a worthy foe in Kim Kardashian, the definitive article in personal branding. With the release of video evidence of Taylor approving the ‘Famous’ lyrics, Kim gave the cynical masses the vindication they had been waiting for: the exposure of an imperfect, manufactured Taylor Swift. But I’m far from disappointed. Now that the bubblegum pink, bouncy castles and best friends image has been swept away, we see Taylor Swift for what she really is – a savvy and ruthless businesswoman who, just like Kim Kardashian, knows how to play the game and protect her brand. Finally Taylor Swift is relatable, and ironically, maybe now I can respect her more.