What does Taylor Swift's recently re-branded image say in light of her famous feminism? Is it ever really beneficial to erase the past, even as an A-List celebrity? This opinion piece throws up these questions and more! At Label we are always open to a diversity of opinion so if you want to offer an alternate view, why not drop us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and write a piece of your own.
Taylor Swift’s re-brand is not uncommon, particularly within the music industry, but there are certain features that do make it rather distinctive. Swift has been an out and proud feminist for a long time; and it was only very recently that she won her court case against DJ David Mueller’s assault. Her outspokenness has, inevitably, been criticised - both for being a feminist in the first place, and for being a somewhat stereotypical white feminist, with a privileged outlook. There are serious grounds for complaint when it comes to the latter, but Swift has also been doing some excellent work in recent years.
Part of what she has been championing are the limited roles that women are left to fill; and how these stereotypes are projected through the press. Women can choose between being a blushing angel, or a femme fatale - heaven forbid she be unattractive, or she has no place in public life at all. The press, and presumably her managers, have tried to force Swift into these boxes on numerous occasions. She started as a blushing innocent, singing about her Romeo in white dresses, and transitioned into a slightly more ‘bad girl’ image with lots of short skirts and bright red lips.
All that has been deleted, however. In this case, I really do mean quite literally deleted, as this re-brand included removing all past content from her social media sites and replacing them with striking first images of snakes. The snake has been an iconic image for women’s sin, lust and downfall across many cultures for many years. In the ‘west’ it is perhaps most commonly associated with the snake in the Garden of Eden, and Eve’s downfall. Swifts is attempting to ‘reclaim’ the symbol of the snake for women- but, has she succeeded?
The problem is that while feminism has been busy fighting patriarchal stereotypes of women, new ‘feminist stereotypes’ have emerged. The iconic figure of the ‘strong woman’ seems to be taking over and, while it is a welcome alternative, it is not the sole answer. Rather than dismantling patriarchal stereotypes, it sometimes seems that we have simply replaced them with feminist stereotypes.
Of course, it is important not to overstate the case. For a start feminism is a diverse movement, with many people involved and almost as many opinions as there are individuals. Clearly, not all feminists think the same and many have tackled issues such as the ‘strong woman’ trope. The problem most typically comes up in debates over the issue of people looking down on housewives; and the autonomy of sex workers. So, the issue is not so much with feminist groups and definitely not with feminist individuals, but with the portrayal of popular feminism in the press. You could make a definite argument that this portrayal is in itself being part of a patriarchal culture so the lines quickly become hard to define.
All this forms the backdrop of Swift’s recent re-brand and decision to delete her history from social media. You can see the appeal; many of us crave a fresh start and with such complex issues being played out with your name as a shuttlecock in the game of identity politics, can you really blame her? As an individual, I don’t. She can do whatever she likes with her life, music and public image. Unfortunately, however, she remains firmly in the public eye and such a bold move is bound to be commented on.
Women should not be under pressure to emerge as perfectly finished ‘products.’ I quite enjoy the fact that I am the composition of all my past mistakes and changes of direction. Deleting your entire history looks to me like another symptom of the pressure placed on women to be perfect. Yes, that now includes being a ‘perfect feminist.’ Well, at the end of the day, most of us aren’t. I am far from the ‘perfect feminist’: I don’t always support other women; sometimes I’m jealous, I can be shallow, I subconsciously slut-shame, and sometimes I will spend longer browsing online shops than reading the news.
That’s insufficient for celebrities though. All of a sudden, it feels like Taylor Swift is rejecting her past: the sweet beginning, a young woman overwhelmed by fame, growing up in the public eye, the party girl… Call me soppy (which I am) but I rather liked all of that. I fell in love with Swift when I was 13 and it felt like every one of her songs was written about me, and my love life. That was her great gift; so many of the women I knew loved her because we felt we could relate to her experiences.
I loved her early work and lyrics; call me crazy but some of them were absolutely beautiful and read almost like poetry. In Tied Together with a Smile, she wrote: ‘I guess it's true that love was all you wanted/ Cause you're giving it away like it's extra change/ Hoping it will end up in his pocket/ But he leaves you out like a penny in the rain.’ As a young teenager this resonated with me as it did with so many others; we too were falling in love for the first time and experiencing rejection or disappointment. That, to me, somehow still feels more honest than all the shouting, re-branding and dark lipstick. I don’t understand why the old Taylor Swift is dead, wasn’t she part of the journey to what got her to this new stage?
I am not Taylor Swift, nor do I know her, so I am in no place to judge her music. If this is what she likes and how she wants to present herself then that’s totally fair. From a purely personal perspective, I preferred her early work and the fact that each song told a story. Best Day still brings tears to my eyes and makes me think of my mum, Mean makes me think of a high school bully, Mary’s Song still has the magic to make me believe I’ll somehow marry my first love. I’m sentimental and I’m fine with that; her early music captured me with storytelling that personally I feel is absent from her later work.
From a feminist perspective, it sometimes feels like we have a proliferation of ‘strong women’ and a distinct lack of ‘complex women.’ Taylor Swift has every right to be angry and express that anger through music but why must she re-brand herself and delete her history? I don’t have the pressures of celebrity but for myself: I want to be strong and cry at Teardrops on my Guitar, I want to be angry at patriarchal assumptions and feel a warm glow at Our Song, I want to be proud of who I am now and nostalgic for when Fifteen felt all too relatable.
In short, I want to be a human being and not a brand. A human being’s past is not something that should be marketed. Personality should not be sold. We’ve wrapped music, feminism and culture so tightly up in capitalism, profits and money that we’re dismantling some of our core values. Taylor Swift has every right to do as she chooses, but this latest of re- brands has left a slightly sour taste.