Is Taylor Swift defending her image or just bullying others?
Should an artist be blamed for the effect their work has on their audience? Not really. However, it's happened countless times throughout history. From Wagner’s association with Hitler, to Marilyn Manson being blamed for the Columbine shooting, society has trouble separating artists from their work and their audience. Because of this, I wasn’t really surprised when I heard of a group of alt-right fascists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK choosing Taylor Swift as a symbol because of her physical traits and professional success.
The effect of an artistic product on an audience, be it a book or a song, can’t be controlled at all, that’s for sure. However, there are many ways in which a statement from the artist about their work can help redirect its reception, and more importantly, change the views of those who had misinterpreted it. Taylor Swift has been asked many times to clarify her stance on the neo-Nazi and KKK members of her fandom, especially because of the noticeable resurgence of these groups and the dire consequences of their racism and ultra-nationalism.
Among the different media who have called her out, the blog PopFront pointed out Swift’s silence on this matter and invited her to share her thoughts on it, basically saying that her decision to remain silent is what keeps allowing fascist groups to use her as a symbol. However, Swift and her lawyers sent a letter to the author of the text, threatening with a lawsuit because they said the article was defaming her. Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) supported the author and asked the singer not to pursue the lawsuit.
The real issue with this case is that the singer focused on a small blog that isn’t as read as other news media with a wider audience that have written about the same topic. If you’re a public figure, you'll never be free from attacks or criticism, and people will always have something to say about your work. However, it’s a question of choosing your battles wisely, and sadly, Swift didn't choose a battle, but rather dropped a bomb on a harmless subject that didn’t even attack her, just invited her to break her silence.
It’s no news that Taylor Swift’s career has been full of controversy and criticism, including the use of her life as inspiration for her songs (as if other artists didn’t use it too) and her feuds with other artists. This last matter has lately become the main theme of her songs, as well as of her recent image makeover, but as this case shows, the singer’s usual aim at those who, according to her, have attacked her, has lost its true dimensions. What do I mean by this? Let’s take her well-known feud with Kanye West after he interrupted her during the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009. Whether Kanye’s action was wrong or not, from then on, Swift’s response has mostly been of victimhood, when in fact she’s been attacking those who, according to her, attacked her before. Her dynamics at first sight might seem like those of “an eye for an eye,” especially in her feuds with singers who have similar levels of fame and public influence. But in the blog’s case, the power relation was outstandingly imbalanced in her favor.
Even worse, she has applied this “eye for an eye” logic in cases that didn’t even warrant it. The most recent one is, perhaps, her feud with her ex boyfriend Calvin Harris over the song “This Is What You Came For.” According to Harris’ version, Swift wrote the song but used a pseudonym to keep her collaboration secret. That’s why, in a series of tweets, he couldn’t help but think this was a new attempt from his ex-girlfriend to “try and bury” him. No matter the intentions behind Swift saying she wrote the song, the effects are evident: her statement took the reflectors from Harris’ success onto her, and it indirectly hurt him, as if he had purposefully hidden her name and decided not to credit her.
In an ideal world, Taylor would realize how unfair she was and learn from that, because we are human and we make mistakes. She would also finally comment on those who have labelled her as their “Aryan goddess.” Although she technically isn’t a political figure, her influence and power are tools that can either help or fight the toxic racism that is spreading around the United States because of the groups that have embraced her as a symbol. In this ideal scenario, she would use her fame to fight these issues, not other people, some of whom didn’t even attack her or don’t have the same power as she does. But, let’s be realistic, this ideal scenario isn’t likely to happen.
However, what we can do is see whether we’re indirectly encouraging the singer’s attitude or her victimhood schtick. Let’s adopt a critical response: if she has recurred to these tools throughout her career, it’s because they have worked for her. Again, we can’t blame the artist for the audience’s response to their work. But what we can definitely point out is how their indifference regarding a problem that affects their society doesn’t correspond to their quick and sometimes crushing response to unnecessary conflicts.