If you ask anyone who knew me when I was 12 years old they will tell you that if there was one song I was obsessed with it was ‘Love Story’ by Taylor Swift. Then, I heard about the girl behind the song. She had convinced her parents to move her to Nashville in order to pursue a singing career and, once there, she had worked so hard that she managed to sign to a major label by the age of 14. She was the personification of hard work, perseverance and proof that age did not matter. Swift brought out two more albums after the success of ‘Fearless’: ‘Speak Now’ and ‘Red’, instant successes garnering her a loyal fan base of ‘Swifties’.
Then, everything changed. After her last show for ‘Red’, she cut her hair, changed the sweet-girl look she had since ‘Speak Now’ and became the Taylor as we know now. In 2014 we were all blown away when she released ‘1989’, a POP album. Thus far in her career the media had been responsible for public opinion of her but, like the 14 year old who took control of her career, Swift took control of her public image. Through songs such as ‘Shake It Off’ and ‘Blank Space’, she manipulated media representation of her to create hits. ‘Bad Blood’, featuring her ‘squad’, was a video filled with powerful women cementing her status as a feminist. One thing was clear: Taylor was in charge now.
It was at this point I began to have doubts about her.
I had believed that her sweet demeanour was genuine, her surprise at winning every award was true and that she genuinely believed in women. Now I feel as though I may have just been manipulated by the media image that she created for herself.
The definition and behaviour of celebrities has changed drastically. In the noughties it was all about the crazy couples, the DUIs, the sex tapes, drug scandals and arrests. In 2016 celebrity has a more positive image as it is used as a platform to address important issues and being a model global citizen. Examples of this can be seen through Emma Watson’s now-viral video campaigning for women’s rights and Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech after winning his long-sought Oscar in 2016. As a continued presence in the public eye through these changes, Taylor was able to change and manipulate her image in order to match what was popular at the time. She had tumultuous relationships when they were cool and suddenly, in 2015, when that behaviour was not acceptable Swift changed her style.
Taylor’s philanthropy was more widely noted and she began to document her relationship with strong women in the industry, especially Lena Dunham. She became seen as a role model to girls everywhere and this continued even after she began a relationship with Calvin Harris. Then the now infamous pictures of her and Tom Hiddleston were published two weeks following her break-up from Harris. What was she doing? As someone who avidly followed everything she did, these images reminded me of the images of her and Harry Styles that had circled the internet and I wondered if we were going back to that era of Swift. Was that all for publicity?
Then came the Kim Kardashian Snapchat videos. All of a sudden I was combing through everything I knew about her and realising it might have all been an image I was fed instead of being presented with who she truly was. All those pictures of her coming out of the gym looking perfect, her perfectly constructed performances and the image of herself that she had created through social media, especially Instagram. I wasn’t seeing the true Taylor, I was seeing what she wanted me to think was the true Taylor Swift.
I still listen to Taylor Swift’s songs because they were an integral part of my formative years. I have learnt to distance her music from her image so that I am able to enjoy it without any exterior influences. I will always be a ‘Swiftie’ at heart because she did have a significant impact on my life. Nowadays, I listen to the girl in the lyrics of her songs and try to avoid the girl on the screen who seems more focused on her reputation rather than her fans. Again, Taylor Swift has taught me an important lesson. If you like the work of a celebrity then focus on their work, do not focus on their personal lives because that isn’t what you fell in love with. Celebrity culture nowadays needs to change; as opposed to likeability we should be focusing on artistry and that is what they should be judged on. It is important to promote this rather than showing that celebrity is improved by what you’re wearing or who you date. Focus on the work, not the person.