I freaking love Taylor Swift. I have since she first came on the scene, and her music is basically the soundtrack to my adulthood — I’ve been there for every high and low of her career with unwavering faith and admiration. So when I heard she was releasing a documentary, I was excited, to put it mildly.
From the beginning, Taylor (we’re clearly on a first name basis here) explains her need for people to see her as “good.” To be the perfect woman and squeeze herself into that suffocatingly small box women have to put themselves in to be liked. Establishing that within the first few minutes of the documentary sets the tone for everything that comes after it.
There is one moment that truly pushes Taylor Swift headfirst into adulthood. When Kim Kardashian released video footage of Swift allegedly agreeing to Kanye West calling her a bitch in his song “Famous.” She maintains that she didn’t know he’d use the word “bitch,” but the internet turned on her instantly. As a result, Taylor went into hiding. In the year she stepped away from the spotlight, she finally did all the growing up she wasn’t allowed to do before.
Your late-20s are a real time for growth, even if you are one of the biggest musicians in the world. During her time away, the world changed, and Taylor Swift changed alongside it. And after going to court for a sexual harassment case, Taylor begins to realize that she can no longer stay silent about the issues that really matter to her. Her description of the dehumanizing court case experience makes her realize it’s time to take the flying leap into talking openly about politics. As an artist who has famously stayed out of politics, however, it’s an uphill battle.
It’s important to remember that Taylor Swift’s roots are in country music. From the beginning of her career, she was told to never share her personal beliefs. Country music is not exactly the genre for having political opinions unless they are staunchly conservative. It’s the Dixie Chicks curse. A woman having political opinions is bad — and speaking openly about her political beliefs goes directly against her need to be seen as good. That’s the thing about adulthood though, you begin to realize that sometimes you have to say “fuck it” and stop living by other people’s rules.
At the age of 28, Taylor Swift openly began talking about politics. All of the men in her camp, including her usually very supportive father, are vehemently against her speaking out against Marsha Blackburn’s Senate run. Watching her being talked down to by the older white men breaks my heart and fills me with rage at the same time. These are the people we’re fighting against, the ones who don’t want to see things change. But Taylor understands what’s at stake if this woman, who she calls “Trump in a wig,” gets power.
When T-Swift encouraged her fans in Tennessee, via social media post, to vote Democrat, my chest swelled with pride that not only was she finally finding her voice, she was on the right side of the fight.
Some people can’t figure out why she waited so long to speak up. Millennials didn’t have to spend most of our 20s caring about politics. Obama was in office and we weren’t in a constant state of anxiety. I don’t remember talking a lot about politics before 2016. As a black woman with a lot of white female friends, I know many of them didn’t start getting political until 2016 — when they finally had skin in the game. I’m not saying the same is true for Taylor Swift, but it makes sense.
Remember, the Presidential election was hot on the heels of the Kanye West debacle. Taylor openly laments not speaking out against Trump. Her belief is no one would have been interested in her political opinions at that time. The sad thing is that she’s probably not even wrong.
My biggest issue is how much they underestimate her fanbase. One man straight up asks her if she’s willing to cut fan attendance for her next tour in half. Sure, that may have been true back in the Dixie Chicks’ America, but not today. Fans want to know that their favorite celebrities’ beliefs line up with theirs. For Taylor Swift, who has fans that are mostly women and marginalized people, transparency is important. Her silence in 2016 led a lot of people to assume that she was a Trump supporter, even though she never gave that indication at all.
Taylor Swift’s political awakening inspired thousands of people to register to vote in the 2018 midterm elections. She even created a hashtag asking fans to tag her in their “I Voted” selfies. No other celebrity has that kind of impact. I totally used the hashtag after I voted for the first time in a midterm election. Unlike some celebrities, she’s using her platform to encourage her fans to be on the right side of history.
Even though her candidate didn’t win, she understood her impact. She knows that there are kids struggling to wrap their heads around the injustices of America. And for them, she writes the song “Only the Young,” a song that mentions things like school shootings, lockdown drills and the general fear that the country will never get better. It’s a rallying cry, but also her way of saying, “I see you.”
Then there’s “You Need To Calm Down.” The song is basically a “fuck you” to haters, and then there’s the music video. Featuring the Fab Five from Queer Eye, drag queens and prominent LGBTQIA figures, it’s rainbow daydream. Taylor’s good friend Todrick Hall is the director and creative force behind the video. Upon release it ended with the link to sign a petition to defend the Equality Act. Her support of the LGBTQIA community comes largely from her relationship with Hall, a gay black man. I’m queer myself, and that song and music video have become one of my theme songs. Knowing that one of my favorite artists supports me means a hell of a lot.
Is Taylor Swift perfect? No. But no one is. Her documentary Miss Americana certainly does shed some light on her as a person and not as a brand. Sometimes we forget that our favorite artists are people too. Watching the documentary certainly gives me a deeper appreciation of Taylor the person and makes me an even bigger fan. I seriously can’t wait to see her this summer at Lover Fest.