By Samantha Ewing ’23 (She/Her), Perspectives Columnist
From her 2010s country era to her most recent release, “Midnights,” Taylor Swift’s music has been notorious for her bold confrontation of relationship dynamics. Songs like the 10-minute version of All Too Well for instance, have especially been criticized for being “unnecessary,” “overdramatic,” and “boy-obsessed.” I remember this time last year sitting around the breakfast table with a group of friends the weekend after the release of Red (Taylor’s Version). Several men at the table were quick to dismiss the album, making comments like “all she ever writes about is her exes, ruining their lives for no reason” and “was releasing this album once not enough? She needs so much attention.” Yes, many of her pieces have centered her emotions and past relationships, but it was unsettling to me how quickly my peers decided to write her off for that very reason. I think this response to Taylor Swift and female artists in general is a reflection of society’s internalized misogyny and the stigmatization of emotional expression.
First of all, Taylor discussed her reasons for recording Red (Taylor’s Version) last year on Late Night with Seth Meyers: “I made it very clear that I wanted to be able to buy my music. That opportunity was not given to me, and it was sold to somebody else. And so I just figured, I was the one who made this music first. I can just make it again.” I would wholeheartedly argue that re-recording her album to reclaim her songs was an act of empowerment, not attention-seeking or selfish. The truth is that not many listeners understand who exactly they’re supporting in listening to the old versions of Taylor’s newly recorded songs. After spending copious amounts of time and effort perfecting her art, it’s perfectly reasonable that she would want official ownership of her work. She has also had to publicly confront the (sexist) accusations that she doesn’t write her own music in several interviews. Female artists face enough sexism in the industry, and I think it’s time that we become more conscious listeners and begin looking to understand before we mindlessly criticize.
In response to claims of Taylor’s music being too focused on heartbreak, I would argue that it’s a misogynistic inclination to want to demean women for expressing their emotions—especially when relationships are a universal experience. I can name several male artists who have also written primarily about their relationships and break-ups, but none have received criticism anywhere near the extent that female artists have. Art in all forms tends to center self-expression. Why then, has Taylor’s music specifically attracted so much criticism? It’s one thing to not enjoy her genre or style, but disliking her solely for the relational focus of her songs is another thing entirely. It’s also important to note that the release of these songs is not about the ex-boyfriends that Taylor Swift has written about. In the same Late Night with Seth Meyers interview, Taylor was prompted to think about the subjects of her songs. In response, she grinned and said “I haven’t thought about their experience, to be honest.” Her songs were never about vengeance against her ex-lovers, but rather, an outlet for her story and a platform for self-expression. Much of the criticism against her songs’ focus on breakups is attached to a deep-seated discomfort with emotional expression. Ultimately, the broader issue is not Taylor’s form of artistic expression, but society’s feminization and stigmatization of emotion.
With all of that said, I hope that going forward we can think more critically about what message Taylor’s work is actually sending. Rather than immediately dismissing her for her emotional expression, we should recognize her unashamed authenticity as the art form that it is. As her new album “Midnights” explores themes of romance, heartbreak, and self-acceptance, I hope we can find something to take away from it that is rooted in empowerment rather than judgment or hate.