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.
It’s the Kanye West incident in particular that rubs most detractors the wrong way. While playing victim, Taylor Swift was in truth, benefactor. Like she always is.
Newton's third law of physics states, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." Take note: The reaction to your disapproval of Taylor Swift is hundreds of teenage girls in Idaho clicking the “Purchase” button on "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" on iTunes.
Seriously. She's already sold four million tracks from the new album. IN ONE DAY. And she's just getting started. How? Why?
Because she sings catchy songs, for one thing. But like everything else, there's deep psychology here: 22-year-old Taylor Swift is—on several levels—what America wants its daughters to be. It’s why you can't stop her; she, in the existential sense, is why you can’t stop her. In Brooklyn, a long way from Idaho, there are branded products of hers positioned at eye-level in a Walgreen's, which can only be useful for little girls who are supposed to see Swift, and perhaps learn something from her. About her. Or about her way of life, one that they may in some way inhabit.
22-year-old Taylor Swift is—on several levels—what America wants its daughters to be.
Sure, other pop stars try to sell us fragrances, posters, and bedding, but for half of the country, there's an uneasiness about embracing them as pop stars that doesn't—nor will ever—exist with Swift.
Beyoncé is married to a former drug dealer-turned-rapper. Nicki Minaj: rapper. Rihanna looks like she's back in a relationship with a man who beat her. Also: they’re all black. In the same way you don't see young white girls carrying around black Barbies, many of those little girls will retain the same attitudes as they grow older, when their dolls become pop stars (and then, again, when their pop stars become dolls).
And to Taylor Swift's benefit, her white contemporaries only serve to help her cause, ostensibly lacking the perceived moral compass that’s so crucial to her success. Lady Gaga and Katy Perry fill children's heads with lustrous, pro-gay propaganda, Miley Cyrus is a stoner, and Ke$ha looks like she crawled out of a Waste Management site.
Then along comes the young, beautiful, innocent, Taylor Alison Swift. She’s from the heartland—not the Caribbean islands or New York City. To her, a rude boy is the fresh-faced young man who interrupts her with a kiss “in the middle of saying something.” Not, say, the big-dicked ruffian whose erection Rihanna asks after on her own “Rude Boy.”
That sound you hear is Middle America’s collective sigh of relief.
What's the biggest strike against T-Swift’s immaculately untarnished image? Lately, she's been in the tabloids for the fact that she maybe, possibly, but totally cheated on Conor Kennedy with his cousin, Patrick Schwarzenegger.
White girl problems. But even other white girls don’t have it as good as Taylor Swift.
When news broke that Twilight actress Kristen Stewart cheated on her co-star and longtime boyfriend, Robert Pattison, with Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders, she was immediately—and publicly—shamed. Stewart was mysteriously absent during a promotion of the upcoming Twilight film during this year’s MTV VMAs and (untrue) rumors spread that she was dropped from the (currently nonexistent) Snow White sequel, with fan made videos like “Kristen Stewart Is A Whore” popping up to add salt to the wound.
As a young woman who doesn’t spew the same counterculture image so synonymous with Stewart, this type of vitriol and and fallout is something Taylor Swift will never have to deal with. To her credit, Stewart’s scandal reached a marriage, but the idea at play—dishonesty in a relationship—is fundamentally the same, regardless of legal binding. Despite all of this, Taylor Swift somehow emerges as a victor.
Taylor Swift can't lose. She wasn't built to lose, in the same way Goldman Sachs wasn't built to lose, either.
This is the point: Taylor Swift can't lose. She wasn't built to lose, in the same way Goldman Sachs wasn't built to lose, either. For this, Swift actually is a Feminist. Of course she is. She lives to demonstrate the kind of calculated business brilliance once thought to be the domain of alpha-males. Except Swift's savvy resembles less a corporate endeavor than the work of an infallible demi-goddess, one whose desirability transcends gender constraints with little resistance. There isn't a man on the planet who can get away with Swift's carefully coordinated juxtapositions in such a public way, on such a high level, in 2012. She's just more evolved. The ruse is stunning.
If Swift ever loses, it's a controlled, predetermined loss, one built to eventually swing in her direction. She's the Lloyd Blankfein of pop culture; in the same way he couldn't win without the deregulation of banking, she exists because we allow her to, because we, on some level, want her to. Because of our fundamental impulse as a society to love precious white girls who appear to be standing for something while in fact disrupting nothing. But can we blame her?
We can't. America is, after all, the land of opportunity. And she has seized upon every single one, impeccably and without fault or shakiness.
So, yes: Taylor Swift is The Baddest Bitch in America. Get used to it. Get over it. Or embrace it. Go ahead, put on your TaylorFace and pretend like you didn’t know she was. Or don't. It doesn't matter, because—TaylorFace, or not—Taylor Swift is somewhere living out a real life fairytale in her moat-adorned residence. Read: She got what she wanted. And she'll continue to.
In the immortal words of Louisiana rapper Webbie: “Now that’s a bad bitch.”
Or, as Swift would have it: "All you'll ever be is mean."