Is Taylor Swift’s #GirlSquad dumb?
Hope everyone’s having a good holiday. Posts might be a little irregular this week as I’m surrounded by needy pets that need my undivided attention.
Taylor Swift has anointed herself America’s- nay, the WORLD’s- reigning pop princess and ideal BFF. I always say she’s our generation’s Gwyneth Paltrow, always sitting at Hollywood’s popular table, surrounded by beautiful, leggy blondes. She’s been preaching about #squadgoals, from her star-studded “Bad Blood” video (ironically, a song about a falling out with her excommunicated BFF, Katy Perry), to parading her famous friends on the stage at every 1989 concert. The latter has become so outrageous, she’s even inspired a viral parody called “Please Welcome to the Stage.”
There’s a scathing essay in The Hollywood Reporter called “Camille Paglia Takes on Taylor Swift, Hollywood's #GirlSquad Culture”, which went viral within a day. Paglia is a 68-year-old cultural critic who regularly writes about pop culture in relation to politics and religion in THR. Here’s the killer quote that’s been making the rounds:
“Swift herself should retire that obnoxious Nazi Barbie routine of wheeling out friends and celebrities as performance props, an exhibitionistic overkill.”
Apparently writing this article was “a horrific ordeal” for Paglia “because [Swift’s] twinkly persona is such a scary flashback to the fascist blondes who ruled the social scene during [her] youth.”
That right there is part of what bothers me about this essay. It sounds like Paglia has a massive chip on her shoulder, for whatever reason. Sure, there are juicy sound bites criticizing Swift and her pretty blonde friends, but at its core is another exhaustive moral panic about the state of feminism. It’s both patronizing and mocking: “In our wide-open modern era of independent careers, girl squads can help women advance if they avoid presenting a silly, regressive public image — as in the tittering, tongues-out mugging of Swift's bear-hugging posse.” But Swift is smarter than Paglia gives her credit for. She fails to mention Swift’s triumph in her fight for fairer pay for artists after writing an open letter to Apple.
Does Swift use her high profile friendships to her advantage? Sure. Does she shamelessly name-drop them in interviews? Of course. But so what? She’s not just a singer, she’s a brand. What is “girl power” without a squad to market it? (Hi, Spice Girls.) Swift openly talked about double standards in the music industry to Maxim, saying, “I think that when I used to say, 'Oh, feminism's not really on my radar,' it was because when I was just seen as a kid, I wasn't as threatening. I didn't see myself being held back until I was a woman.”
If Paglia really wanted to take a shot at Swift, she could’ve brought up her “white girl feminism.” Remember that time Nicki Minaj called out MTV on Twitter for not recognizing “Anaconda” in the “Video of the Year” category at the VMAs? And Swift condescendingly made it about herself?
Minaj tweeted, “If I was a different ‘kind’ of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well… When the ‘other’ girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination… If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year.”
In another tweet, she added, “Black women influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it.”
Minaj was trying to point out that black artists are excluded from top tier categories at awards shows. But Swift interpreted her tweets as a personal attack, and replied, “I've done nothing but love & support you. It's unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot..”
Swift claims to care about equality, but has a major blind spot when it comes to intersectional feminism: Women of color. Sure, her heart’s in the right place, but Swift fails to recognize that while there’s a double standard in the music industry regarding women, it’s a problem that concerns all races. Minaj even encouraged her to speak up about it in her reply: “Huh? U must not be reading my tweets. Didn't say a word about u. I love u just as much. But u should speak on this. @taylorswift13.”
Swift is a formidable force in the music industry and pop culture. She has championed fairer pay for smaller artists and has spent the past year preaching a heartfelt, if naïve gospel of girlhood. As Vulture’s Lindsay Zoladz put it, “Swift is hawking female friendship right now as though it were Diet Coke. But you know what? She’s a hell of a pitchwoman.”
Image credit: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP