The dark side of the biggest pop star in the country finally gets its due fear (and praise).
Bad Bitch [bah-d bi-tch] noun: 1. Female who knows what she wants and knows exactly how to get it. —Urban Dictionary
It’s time we face it, and face it together: Complex would like announce that Taylor Swift is, in fact, The Baddest Bitch in America, and neither you, nor the charts, nor any man, woman, or mortal being will ever stand in her way.
It’s not a terrible thing, or a great thing. It’s just a fact, like gravity.
Swift’s new album, Red, hit stores this week. You’d think that Swift would face the same problems every other artist who releases a major pop record encounters. Like, for example, achieving the delicate balance of accessibility to all audiences without appearing completely bland. Or reviews, and the power critics can wield. Or airtime, and how much of it she can elbow her way into.
With Swift, audiences are presented the carefully tended to image of an upstanding young woman, one whose feelings are strong, yet inoffensive, accessible, but morally upstanding, and always unimpeachably cute.
Except Taylor Swift faces none of this. Taylor Swift, in fact, faces nothing, except the decision of when to have her cake, and then, when to eat it.
After all, this is someone whose “country” fans become infuriated when you suggest that she’s “pop,” and whose “pop” fans will gouge your eyes should you ever suggest she’s just a “country” singer.
This is someone who makes the other women in her category—some of the biggest pop stars on the planet—appear like cult leaders for a niche audience: Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus are all formidable opponents, but let's not waste time. There’s no point in acting like any of them pose any real threat to the nu-Empire of Swift, a pop star so unapologetically Aryan—someone so joyfully whitewashed in Caucasian culture—that she makes Ke$ha look like Maya Angelou.
With Swift, audiences are presented the carefully tended to image of an upstanding young woman, one whose feelings are strong, yet inoffensive, accessible, but morally upstanding, and always unimpeachably cute. For example, Swift's answer for whether or not she thinks she empowers women as a feminist is the perfect example of what we shall call, for our purposes, the Reverse Swift-Boating:
I don't really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.
Note a few things:
1. The Dodge. With an answer like this, she has offended nobody. Feminists can argue the validity of Swift's statements, and the current state of gender equality in America, but they can't complain that she has argued against them.
2. The Turn. As insurance for her answer, note that any potential blame for the wrong answer here is already insured, placed squarely on her parents. If her views are naive, don't blame her.
3. The Prestige. Swift has taken a potentially inflammatory question, defused it, and turned it on its head by extolling the value of hard work.
It's the kind of beautifully crafted answer most political spin doctors would kill to get their candidates to spit out on command. But they're lesser creatures than Swift, who—another example—has become so known for her “surprise” at the many awards she wins that her expression has received its own name in the pop culture pantheon—TaylorFace—and yet, she continues to perpetuate TaylorFace, uninterrupted, and it doesn’t affect her fame or standing in the least. She’s trying to be humble, the public seems to be saying, as if this exempts her from being dishonest by expressing "shock" at doing something you've already done so many times before.
On the flip side, you have the shade of Swift who can get away with being vengeful in the face of success. Take “Mean,” for example: Instead of taking criticism, and letting it roll off her back, Swift is heralded for writing a song about shitting on her critics that somehow becomes an anti-bullying empowerment anthem. An anti-bullying anthem, by a millionaire: Brilliant.
Swift is a pop star so unapologetically Aryan—someone so joyfully whitewashed in Caucasian culture—that she makes Ke$ha look like Maya Angelou.
You have the Swift who—on the same album as "Mean"—can exact revenge on another girl who stole her man (“Better Than Revenge”) while also running off with another woman’s husband-to-be, at their wedding, no less (“Speak Now,” the album’s title track).
In just four lines, Swift can take an ends-justify-the-means approach to moral superiority while lowering her standards:
“I am not the kind of girl who should be rudely barging in
On a white veil occasion
But you are not the kind of boy
Who should be marrying the wrong girl.”
She’s like Batman at the end of The Dark Knight. How are we rooting for this vigilante?
Because if we’re not with her, we’re against her. And you don’t want to be against Taylor Swift. Especially if you’re a man.
Swift isn’t just a KingSlayer of Men, but a celebrated one. The carefully curated men in Taylor Swift’s life are like victory heads, who may as well be stuffed and mounted on the walls of her recording studio, spoils of victory and reminders to all who may try to enter—literally—of her unimpeachable brute force.
Think about who she’s taken down:
There’s John Mayer, he of the “racist penis,” a quote that became a distant memory around the time Swift started dating him. When they “broke up,” Swift recorded the now-infamous “Dear John”—a song that’s simultaneously sad-sack and diss-track, a cutting evisceration of Mayer on par with 2Pac’s “Hit ‘Em Up”—with the kind of lines that aren’t cruel because they’re clever, but because they’re totally irrefutable. For example: “Don’t you think 19's too young to be played with by your dark twisted games?” isn’t a rhetorical question. It’s a call-to-arms for increasingly draconian statutory rape laws, with John Mayer in the role of Exhibit A. The “Daughters” singer claimed to be “humiliated” by the song (burn). Swift’s response was to call Mayer “presumptuous” to think the song was about him (double-burn, and triple-burn, because it’s obviously about him).
Then there’s Jake Gyllenhaal, who is reportedly the subject of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” a jubilant anthem about how terrible her terrible relationship was, and how she laughs at the terrible idea of ever getting back in that terrible relationship with that terrible guy. In any other world, this is a song about someone (Swift) still disturbingly fixated on her last relationship. In this world, it’s a song concerning the most patently inoffensive male movie star alive right now, who we learn to be a fight-starting beta-male who sulks off and listens to “indie records” that were ostensibly “much cooler than [hers].” And who can forget about the spoken interlude in the middle of that song? It's like the 22-year-old White Girl’s refutation to the first 34 seconds of Dr. Dre’s “Deez Nutz.”
And then there was her former beau Taylor Lautner, who had to sit through, and wince out smiles during, her recent performance of the song—closing out MTV’s 2012 VMAs, of course—as cameras kept cutting his way, while he watched his ex-girlfriend strut around a stage in sunglasses and a red, white, and black outfit, one that looks like it could’ve been dreamt up by a Karl Lagerfeld during a particularly sadistic vacation on Martha’s Vineyard with the Kennedys.
Swift isn’t just a KingSlayer of Men, but a celebrated one. The carefully curated men in Taylor Swift’s life are like victory heads, who may as well be stuffed and mounted on the walls of her recording studio.
As it so happens, Taylor Swift—a longtime professed fan of the most royal of royal American families, the Kennedys—happened to be dating one at the time. Conor Kennedy, to be exact. And to be even more exact, it’s well understood that Conor was 17 when they started dating.
The Taylor PR Machine went into swift action, quickly dispelling the perverse idea that Swift may have been herself a statutory rapist, the general tone being: How perverse of you to think that a 17 year-old wouldn’t wait until his 18th birthday to have sex with his new, beautiful, blonde, nubile pop star girlfriend!
And then, there’s Kanye West, someone who only a few years ago lost his mother to a tragic accident, someone who has spoken up for the disenfranchised and faced down the President of the United States in full public view. What could possibly propel Taylor Swift to a strata of superiority over West?
Try a subtle ride on Victimization Avenue—complete with morning-after interviews on national television—followed by a “How aren’t you over this?” counter-attack when West, wracked with guilt and grief, kept attempting to apologize. Kanye West was pilloried in the public eye, a symbolic Angry Black Man screaming at a Helpless and Kind Young White Woman, and then shamed by her for his shame over it.