Maybe we expected too much from America's former sweetheart, a white woman with a tenuous grasp on the most basic feminist tenets.
To be fair, it’s not like Swift gave us nothing. "Blank Space," for example, is a feminist anthem for the 21st century. A death ode to romance, Swift leaned in to her newfound identity as a man-made Frankenstein, a sixth wave feminist monster whittled into being by male exploitation of free love and female independence. "Boys only want love if it's torture," Swift deadpanned, echoing the suspicions of independent women everywhere and, more importantly, giving men exactly what they're asking for — torture, destruction, psychological warfare.
This was the closest to feminism that Swift ever got.
So what did we expect from Swift’s fifth album, dropped this weekend on the heels of a long fall from grace for the singer? The first single off the album, which was marketed as a response to the haters, the players, and the traitors, gave me hope. "Look What You Made Me Do" is a witchy anthem, a villain's ode to revenge — an older, crazier, and more cunning version of “Blank Space.” Is Taylor Swift going to execute her career's finale by pulling a "Carrie" on a stadium full of her own fans, I thought upon hearing the song for the first time.
Unfortunately, having come to the end of her album’s fourteen additional songs, that doesn’t appear to be her plan.
The quality of the album's actual music is neither here nor there. Music died the night Macklemore won a Grammy for best hip-hop album. What matters is the message — and the message Taylor Swift is sending with her fifth studio effort could not be more clear: she has no idea why everybody is mad at her.
Swift paints a portrait of herself as Clyde's Bonnie, a modern renegade guilty only of flashing a finger at the sky as the president's motorcade passed her by.
For a woman who recorded 15 pop songs about her soiled reputation, Taylor Swift seems to have little to no grasp on why everybody hates her. "Big reputation, big reputation, you and me, we got some big reputations," sings Swift on the album's second song, "End Game (ft. Ed Sheeran rapping because the American government was too busy outlawing Muslims to make THAT illegal)." "They say I did something bad so why does it feel so good?" sings Swift on the aptly titled track "I Did Something Bad."
The narrative carries on like this for 56 minutes, with Swift painting a portrait of herself as Clyde's Bonnie, a modern renegade guilty only of flashing a finger at the sky as the president's motorcade passed her by. To hear Swift tell of it, she is on the other side of history a little too soon, the victim of a gloriously human passion living inside of her, unwilling to submit to what the artless call "civilization." She is Elsa from "Frozen," Elphaba from "Wicked," Harvey Milk from "Milk" (and also from real life).
Who will be the first among us to tell Taylor Swift America is not mad at her for robbing a Chase Bank and distributing the stolen money between Bernie Sanders and the people of Appalachia? Who will tell her that she will find not one man bearing ill will towards her for cursing out George Bush on the national stage and then writing a country banger about how not sorry she is?
Yes, Swift has accurately detected that her reputation is in shambles. Unfortunately, it is not because she is a trenchant revolutionary. Rather, Swift's reputation is deteriorating thanks to her penchant for repeatedly appropriating black culture in her music videos while refusing to speak out against police brutality. Her reputation is due to the empty feminist proclamations she makes while remaining silent when the man who would become our president publicly admits to sexually assaulting women.
Taylor Swift is not Elsa. She is Becky. She did not hate Bernie Madoff before it was cool. She refused to engage with the privilege of whiteness or use her platform to speak out against the abuse of people without that privilege. Like the Democratic Party, Taylor Swift tried to play it safe on the national stage that demanded boldness. And, like the Democratic Party, Taylor Swift's reputation may be unsalvageable.
Oh, and — she definitely lied about Kanye.