To begin, my friend's daughter is one of the coolest customers I've ever met, and is a popular, energetic 5-9 year old who likes to dress up like a princess on occasion but is equally willing to put on a Frankenstein mask and play the dragon attacking the ball when then mood takes her. I've witnessed her go through many phases, and while others that have prompted discussion are Bratz and the explicit sexuality of pop stars like Britney Spears or the vapidity of Barbie DVD narratives (yes Barbie, you have a lot to answer for) and there's a lot of low hanging fruit there, why is my friend concerned about his baby girl's new interest in a pretty blonde singing about classic cliches of teenage love and chaste girlish affections?
My ready response to my friend is usually, "is she still interested in other things as well?" and the answer is invariably yes, "then you're probably lucky she's going through this phase at 7 not 17 and when she's out in the world, she'll see this stuff as somewhat childish." That's still my suspicion, that by playing with whorish dolls and fairy tale ideals of high school romance at a young age, she (and my daughter who looks up to this little girl as a goddess incarnate) will have enough of a broad view by the time she hits puberty to be prepared for whatever life throws at her. As a parent isn't preparing your daughter to deal with life the goal?
The answer to that question is, in my opinion, why Taylor Swift grates on some people.
Taylor Swift's iconic image is that of the ingenue, a delicate blonde, ringletted creature, an eternal child who manages to embody a purity of feminine virtue that craves protection, is delicate as a soap bubble and too sensitive to be left to the slings and arrows of society's whims. Like many of those who don't zealously follow the pop music scene I learned of Ms. Swift's existence through the Kanye Interruptus incident at the VMAs, one that cemented Ms. Swift as a sweet young thing and also, the victim of a consummate jackass.
For a pop musician, one's public persona is as important to their success as the content or quality of their music, plenty of times, more important. The narrative interplay between lyrics and the events of their life drive fandom and to be a celebrity, one must manage that narrative as carefully as a sand-garden if one plans on being successful. Just as Kanye has always been an inflammatory braggart,
Ms. Swift couldn't have asked for a better opportunity to blush and be horrified. Everything about the situation, from the white dress and ringlets to the slavering, arrogant, drunken rap star picking on her, to the images of her competitors for the award she received served to drive home the message that "the innocent one won and the sexualized monsters attacked her."
The lyrics and presentation of Ms. Swift's songs also serve to portray the pure ingenue image, as the article linked up top presents artfully.
The rush to exalt Swift is (I believe) a desperate attempt to infuse our allegedly apocalypse-bound country with a palatable conservative ideology in the form of a complacent, repressed feminine ideal. It’s working ’cause Swift writes good songs and America is terrified that its children have been scarred by Britney Spears’s psychotic vagina and Miley Cyrus’s obnoxious adolescence.
Rather than choosing an established/evolved talent (Beyoncé) or a revolutionary (Lady Gaga), the Grammys chose someone who, according to her lyrics, has spent her entire life waiting for phone calls and dreaming about horses and sunsets.
Though the debate over her performance skills is a well-beaten horse at this point, her unequivocal worthiness as a role model for girls has been accepted complacently; at least within my limited purview.
Listen up; if I ever get my life together enough to reproduce other life forms, they will not be joining Taylor Nation – they will be brave, creative, inventive, envelope-pushing little monsters who will find a pretty, skinny white blonde girl in a white peasant shirt strolling through nature-themed screensaver-esque fantasylands singing about how “when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them” not only sappy, but also insulting to their inevitable brilliance.Kids will like things that their parents don't, many little girls LIKE horses, stories of unrequited high school romance and nature-themed screensaver-esque fantastylands. Honestly, I like those things too, it doesn't mean that it's my entire life or the entirety of my internal life and there lies the rub. As a parent, giving your child licence to enjoy these things isn't a bad thing, trying to force your child to conform to a specific and limiting set of ideological rules that limit their ability to react effectively to outside situations moral, ethical or physical is when fantasy becomes dangerous.
Just as I suggest that young audiences should be be scared by stories occasionally so they learn how to cope with the concepts of fear and mortality in a safe environment; young girls will want an opportunity to play the ingenue, and most girls lives are complicated enough that the simplicity of belting about teardrops, guitars, ponies and Pygmalion fantasies where walking into the dance the handsome prince dumping his long-term prom queen girlfriend is an escape from real life and they're smart enough to know it.
These Pygmalion stories are appealing, they take the pressure off their main character for the most part and place it on the perceptions of others rather than the actions of the character to present themselves or actively pursue their dreams.
Swift’s lyrical message to teenage girls is clear: BOYS. That’s it. Just boys. Crying over boys and feeling broken and/or completed by boys.
In fact, Swift loves boys at the exclusion of just about everything else, including other girls. Other girls are obstacles; undeserving enemies who steal Taylor’s soulmates with their bewitching good looks and sexual availability. Unfortunately for these mute yet effortlessly hunky jungle-eyed boys, by choosing the “beautiful” girls over Taylor (who is, suspiciously… also beautiful…), they’re missing out on Taylor’s unique understanding of their heart/inner fireball/angelic rainshower/sweet glory of Jesus. “All those other girls are beautiful,” Taylor pines, “But would they write a song for you?”
This is perhaps her music’s most grating sin: the sex-shaming girl-bashing passed off as outsider insecurity. Boys are angels lit from within with cool hair, fast cars, and eyes that often resemble light sources (stars, sunbeams, etc). These boys never grow beyond metaphor into humanity. If they did, we might have to confront the very idea that Taylor Swift’s entire career is designed to destroy: that teenagers want to have sex. And that wanting is confusing.
The ingenue story is often tied to sexuality, and the ingenue is usually the love interest for the Juvenile (the young male lead, a tenor to her soprano in musical theatre conventions) their storylines is usually romantic and tied to that of the protagonist in some way, but usually has to do with star-crossed love and pure desire that they can only express to one another through song (as opposed to sex, which is the subtext) :
Certainly, she’s among a handful of teenage pop stars who truly practices what she preaches. Taylor’s behavior & imagery is just as wholesome as the apple pie her fans dream of baking for their own Jonas Brother-esque boyfriend. She doesn’t peddle paradoxical mixed messages about sex like the previous generation of teenaged pop stars.I mean, she’s pretty clear in “Fifteen” — really the only song where Taylor has an actual female friend — that “Abigail gave everything she had to a boy, who changed his mind, and we both cried.”I’ll spare you the time of listening to the song and give it to you straight: Abigail had sex with a boy, and later they broke up.That’s right. No marriage. She gave him all she had.That’s right. All Abigail had was her hymen.