Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift

Regardless of what people think of her, it cannot be denied that Taylor Swift is a mainstream cultural icon. Given how Swift has remained in the mainstream for so long and yet is seemingly so polarizing, a lot of the opinions people have about her feel pre-written. It feels almost as if everything that is being said about her has already been said, and we are all regurgitating ancient conversations every time this topic is brought up.

The re-release of her old albums has brought up a lot of these old conversations. Now we can not only comment on the music itself, but also on the original reaction to her music at the time it was first released and our reaction to the rerecordings now.

Yvonne Tang / DFP Staff

All of this commentating and criticizing feels a bit exhausting — any commentary on Swift tied to a never-ending older conversation on some different topic.

Take Swift’s release of her re-recording of her 2012 album “Red” this past Friday.

Any discussion of this album must contend with the blatant misogyny Swift faced by the media and the public when it was released in 2012. Remembering the media’s scrutiny on her dating life may cause contemporary listeners and critics to feel defensive over Swift and her accomplishments.

Moreover, the re-release of these albums is in itself a meaningful act. “Red (Taylor’s Version)” was part of her plan to re-record her old music after her record label refused to sell her the masters of her music if she refused to spend further time at the label. Swift’s move to re-record her music brings notice to the problematic way the music industry is run — in which creatives often do not have agency or ownership over their art.

This speaks to a history of Swift speaking openly about the inequities of the music industry, having previously refused to put her music up on streaming platforms for how they treated artists.

But Swift’s fight in this respect is not unique. It speaks to issues other artists have brought up for a long time. It is important to note Swift’s privilege in this fight for her masters as a wealthy white woman.

Since the inception of this country, Black musicians have been mistreated, exploited and grossly underpaid. Many Black artists were — and still are — not paid their royalties, let alone get the chance to earn back their masters.

Discussions of this album must also contend with the ways Swift herself has become a complicated figure since 2012. Her reluctance to be politically active until 2018, as well as mistakes and insensitivity when it comes to her interactions with race and racial justice issues, remind us of her place in the music industry and the world.

With all of these important topics to consider, the music itself may sometimes fall by the wayside — any conversation on the topic is intertwined with too many other things to count.

This is not to say that we should interpret Swift’s new re-releases, or Swift in general, in a vacuum. It is impossible to interpret Swift as an artist with no history. Her history is one of the things that makes her interesting as an artist. History is also one of the many ways we can hold people accountable for their actions.

But to form actual opinions about Swift, it may be good to look at Taylor Swift on a case-by-case basis — not as Taylor Swift the institution or Taylor Swift the cultural figure, but as Taylor Swift, the person existing in whatever context the conversation is about.

In this way, perhaps our conversations surrounding her may feel like they have a beginning and end — with chances to acknowledge her faults and her merits without letting them define the entirety of the conversation.

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