Look what you made her do: Taylor Swift is an American icon, regardless of what you think

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Taylor Swift’s much awaited breakup album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” releases Friday in what appears to be a zenith moment – one of many it seems – in the singer/songwriter’s life and career.

In the past year, Swift has courted cheers and controversies alike as news of her split with Joe Alwyn spread, she went on a global tour and started a new relationship with Super Bowl-winning football star Travis Kelce.

Then Swift recorded “Tortured Poets” and was dubbed a billionaire, the first musician to achieve this through producing music alone.

Swift is successful because she’s ubiquitous. She’s released several studio albums since 2019 and there’s speculation, she may have rerecorded “Reputation,” one of her masters albums owned by a music industry heavyweight. She’s won dozens of awards, including 14 Grammys.

The Eras Tour, a worldwide phenomenon, is the highest grossing of all time, hitting at least $1 billion. She’s a true capitalist who has benefited from the free market. Tickets for her shows in Cincinnati ranged from $1,282 to more than $82,000.

She’s worked hard from a young age, battled naysayers and clawed her way to entertainment’s highs – and she’s still young. All that success didn't come without criticism.

While some conservatives smear Swift for not being a wife and mother yet, and others criticize her because she’s “merely” writing breakup songs, she proves that a modern woman can be multifaceted, successful, obsessed with communicating about love, and an American icon – all while being flawed and human like the rest of us.

Conservatives aren't happy with Taylor Swift, but criticism is misguided

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 04: Musician Taylor Swift performs onstage during the 2017 DIRECTV NOW Super Saturday Night Concert at Club Nomadic on February 4, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for DIRECTV) ORG XMIT: 1000001045 ORIG FILE ID: 633865802
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 04: Musician Taylor Swift performs onstage during the 2017 DIRECTV NOW Super Saturday Night Concert at Club Nomadic on February 4, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for DIRECTV) ORG XMIT: 1000001045 ORIG FILE ID: 633865802

Around the Super Bowl, the criticism picked up largely because of her huge platform and audience. Fox News commentator Sean Hannity accused Swift of misunderstanding Republican values and warned her against endorsing President Joe Biden. Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy asked aloud whether the system is rigged to give Swift and Kelce's relationship media coverage ahead of a Biden endorsement.

Swift hasn’t endorsed Biden yet, but she did criticize Donald Trump during the 2020 election and she has encouraged her fans to vote.

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Conspiracy theories aside, it would be nice if a huge star with her reach embraced conservative ideas like cutting taxes and keeping the government responsible and small.

It’s unfortunate that young Americans may vote for Biden just because she dislikes Trump, but this is less a tragedy of Swift’s political views than it is the public’s susceptibility to treating entertainers as experts on public policy.

The real beef observers have about her politics is that conservatives just tend to wish we had some massive stars on our side and we often don’t. That’s too bad, but it’s not uncommon. Conservatism isn’t always sexy – even though I think it's the right lens through which to view politics.

Even so, that shouldn’t take away from Swift’s hard-earned success. Slamming her views is surely no way to persuade her to become a conservative. Just because I hold different political views from her doesn't mean I can't appreciate her as an artist and entertainer. It would be a small world if I only could admire those who mirrored my views exactly.

Swift makes certain people uneasy because of their double standards

Swift is enormously successful because, through her songwriting, she pinpoints the ache of every human soul to be known and loved.

People can say they want a thriving career, extensive travel, Gucci bags and more, but everyone universally wants to love and be loved. It is etched into the human soul.

Swift’s songs identify this need and explain it in such a way that a range of fans, from elementary school-age kids to middle-age folks – men and women alike – feel understood. She offers a deep purview into the emotions of a woman, the effects of good and toxic relationships, and the double standards women face when it comes to achievement.

As a woman, I also have felt the pang of unrequited love, the sting of a toxic relationship and the heartbreak of love lost. As a mother, I relate to my daughters through the optimism of Swift's earlier hits, and we have wrestled over some of love's deeper mysteries in her later albums. Her songs encapsulate the feelings of new love, devastating loss and turmoil of a relationship that won't last. For me, these have been some of life's hardest and most beautiful lessons.

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If a man wrote about the women he has loved, he’d either be deemed a player or a romantic. When a woman does it, she’s saccharine or prosaic.

When a man becomes a billionaire, he’s praised for his ingenuity. When a woman does, critics wonder why she’s not yet a wife or mom. (Presumptive, because according to some songs, Swift seems open to both.)

Swift's flaws make her even more relatable

Of course, Swift does sometimes come across in her songs and her life as immature, toxic, manipulative (a “mastermind”) and even narcissistic. We see this in lyrics such as: "It's me, hi, I'm the problem it's me. At tea time, everybody agrees. I'll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror, it must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero."

We all have flaws, but most of ours aren’t blasted on the world’s stage for all to see. This somehow makes her human, relatable, even endearing.

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Most of the criticism of Swift is that people can’t decide what to make of her. She is not like us. She didn’t fit into the typical mold of what beautiful and smart women do or are expected to do. In America, we want our women to do it all and have it all. We demand they be wives, mothers, fit, beautiful, talented, successful, kind, forever young and self-aware. This is a tall bill.

Swift’s worldly success raises questions about what we value and questions about how we see ourselves. Should she value being a wife and mom more? Is that more satiating and rewarding?Those questions are about us as much as they are about Swift.

I think being a mom is very rewarding. But that doesn’t mean I still can’t applaud Swift for where she is now. We can and should embrace a more multifaceted version of womanhood and still emphasize the importance of family. It’s OK if some people get married and have kids while others date, produce Grammy-winning albums and become billionaires. Better this than marry too young or choose poorly, only to discover later the match wasn’t right.

While I do promote marriage, family and solid careers as good for society, it’s simply not the only path a woman can take for her to hold value. In a few years, she might add wife or mom to her title, but for now, she’s the epitome of an American icon.

Nicole Russell is an opinion columnist for USA TODAY. She lives in Texas with her four kids.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Taylor Swift's new album shows her staying power as an American icon