Taylor Swift on Strong Women & Getting Political
And how her music is her voice.
Months before the release of Taylor Swift’s seventh studio album, Lover, came out, she was back in the spotlight doing publicity for its launch. I was fascinated by the turnaround and juxtaposition of how she approached the release of Lover versus her 2017 album, Reputation.
For Reputation, Swift did zero publicity, no media, no interviews, and purposely chose to give no information or explanation of her new music.
In fact, she says she coined the phrase, “There will be no further explanation, there will just be reputation.”
So, when ME!, the first single of Lover, was dropped, it was followed by what felt like a sudden media blitz. She was everywhere and it would have been hard not to take notice. Heck, even I took the time to write an article about marketing lessons we could all learn from Taylor Swift.
Now, after the release of Lover and the barrage of media and events which accompanied it, Brian Hiatt (here is his Twitter, go check him out!), Senior Writer at Rolling Stone and the host of Rolling Stone Music Now podcast sat down for an interview with Swift in her Nashville home.
The article came out on September 18 and I highly recommend you read it. In it, Swift talks about a lot of things, from her infamous feud with the Kardashian-Wests to her anxiety to her disappearance from the world for a while three years ago. She speaks of her naivete and having to learn how to let the criticism go, about how we all love to tear down the things we love, and about some of her regrets.
But the two things which stuck out to me most weren't about her music, her regrets, her writing, or dealing with her reputation falling.
They were her thoughts on women and her recent outspokenness on American politics.
Hiatt asked her about the backlash to her “girl squad” and how women are always expected to be feuding with each other, and here are a few of Swift’s most notable quotes on the topic:
“I never would have imagined that people would have thought, “This is a clique that wouldn’t have accepted me if I wanted to be in it.” Holy shit, that hit me like a ton of bricks. I was like, “Oh, this did not go the way that I thought it was going to go.” I thought it was going to be we can still stick together, just like men are allowed to do. The patriarchy allows men to have bro packs. If you’re a male artist, there’s an understanding that you have respect for your counterparts.”
Hiatt: Whereas women are expected to be feuding with each other?
Swift: “It’s assumed that we hate each other. Even if we’re smiling and photographed together with our arms around each other, it’s assumed there’s a knife in our pocket.”
“It’s not like this massive thing that sometimes my brain makes it into, and sometimes the media makes it into, where we’re all on this battlefield and everyone’s gonna die except one person, who wins. It’s like, ‘No, do you know what? Katy is going to be legendary. Gaga is going to be legendary. Beyoncé is going to be legendary. Rihanna is going to be legendary. Because the work that they made completely overshadows the myopia of this 24-hour news cycle of clickbait.’”
On her being strategic about marketing:
“[sic]writing songs has never been a strategic element of my career. But I’m not scared anymore to say that other things in my career, like how to market an album, are strictly strategic. And I’m sick of women not being able to say that they have strategic business minds — because male artists are allowed to. And so I’m sick and tired of having to pretend like I don’t mastermind my own business.”
“I felt for a very long time that people don’t want to think of a woman in music who isn’t just a happy, talented accident. We’re all forced to kind of be like, ‘Aw, shucks, this happened again! We’re still doing well! Aw, that’s so great.’
Bringing Politics Into Her Music
Swift discussed how she has become “obsessed” with politics in recent years and regretted not having spoken up sooner.
“I keep trying to learn as much as I can about politics, and it’s become something I’m now obsessed with, whereas before, I was living in this sort of political ambivalence.”
And even talked about how she brought her feelings on the current political landscape into her music on Lover — for the first time. It’s been speculated by fans since the album dropped on August 23rd that “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” was about politics, and she confirmed that to be true.
Hiatt: How did you come to use high school metaphors to touch on politics with “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”?
Swift: There are so many influences that go into that particular song. I wrote it a couple of months after midterm elections, and I wanted to take the idea of politics and pick a metaphorical place for that to exist. And so I was thinking about a traditional American high school, where there [are] all these kinds of social events that could make someone feel completely alienated. And I think a lot of people in our political landscape are just feeling like we need to huddle up under the bleachers and figure out a plan to make things better.
Hiatt: You sing about “American stories burning before me.” Do you mean the illusions of what America is?
Swift: It’s about the illusions of what I thought America was before our political landscape took this turn, and that naivete that we used to have about it. And it’s also the idea of people who live in America, who just want to live their lives, make a living, have a family, love who they love, and watching those people lose their rights, or watching those people feel not at home in their home. I have that line “I see the high-fives between the bad guys” because not only are some really racist, horrific undertones now becoming overtones in our political climate, but the people who are representing those concepts and that way of looking at the world are celebrating loudly, and it’s horrific.
I, for one, am glad to see another strong female in the music landscape speaking up and deciding to be herself in a world where we all love tearing people down.
I hesitate to bring it all down into something as cupcake-sounding as “pop star,” though that would describe part of who Swift is.
In this era, where we try to categorize and label everything, I don’t want to do so here.
Taylor Swift has been in the music business for over half her life, and as she has grown up, so have many of her fans. I am only a couple of years older than her and cannot imagine having every word, every gesture, every time I’ve been upset, in love, offended, hurt, and happy scrutinized and picked apart.
Seeing her come into her own and find new ways to discuss and write about politics, relationships, and strong women has honestly been extremely interesting to see, and I applaud her new outlook.
I am here for the newer, more grown up Taylor Swift.
And has there ever been anything more #relatable than hearing someone with so much success say this:
“ I regret a lot of things all the time. It’s like a daily ritual.”
Credit for all of these quotes goes to Rolling Stone and Brian Hiatt.