Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger
In a recent post I listed a series of words and phrases that I wish would go away. It generated some fun discussion among my peers and led me to contemplate many I should have added to the list. I also considered those goofy, dated-yet-somehow-descriptive words and phrases. One that came to mind is the noun use of “phony.” People of an older generation will often refer to people in their sphere (hopefully not too many), or typically, politicians and other public figures, as “phonies.” As in, they are counterfeit or fake; insincere. Which leads me to Taylor Swift.
Several months back, I wrote a post where I detailed why I consider myself a Taylor Swift hater. I naturally used the term “hater” ironically as I don’t in fact hate Taylor Swift. On the contrary, I consider her a smart, ambitious and altogether impressive woman. But I do find her packaging as an artist, her message; her shtick, if you will, to be deceptive and more than a little cloying. In short, I consider Taylor Swift to be phony as all get out.
Now let me hit pause here and provide some context. Many of popular music’s icons, in some regards, are phonies in their own right. For example:
- Robert Zimmerman was an upper-middle-class kid from Minnesota who created Bob Dylan, a world-weary folkie
- Bruce Springsteen, a high school misfit, never truly held a steady job and is credited for anthems that celebrate the hopes and dreams of working people
- Vincent Furnier was raised in a conservative Christian household in Phoenix and played in local bands before becoming original shock rocker Alice Cooper
- John Mellor was the son of a British foreign service diplomat who, after growing up in comfort, adopted the stage name Joe Strummer and founded a band, The Clash, whose music championed the downtrodden
But here’s the thing: all of the aforementioned artists used their identities to elevate their work; to take creative risks. Whether through their music, lyrics, or, in the case of Cooper, a truly innovative way of performing, each helped redefine popular culture and influenced countless others who followed in their footsteps. Despite differences in music genres and personas, despite where they may have begun their careers, each is viewed as truly genuine.
By comparison, Taylor Swift structures her music and persona to fit prevailing cultural norms. Musically she goes Nashville when it suits her before assembling the best songwriters and producers money can buy to create her recent album, 1989. She also presents multiple shrewdly packaged images that vary per our audience – clean-living role model for her younger fans, an unlucky yet hopeless romantic persona that she mines for song lyrics and her all-purpose everyone’s-bestie-girl-next-door-who-just-happens-to-be-a-multimillionaire.
The truth is Taylor Swift’s rise is only possible because of our plastic, disposable, celebrity-obsessed culture. Where we use the term “reality” to mean anything but. Where we celebrate fame for fame itself and create cultural icons out of people who have accomplished nothing. So, I suppose, in the end, we’re stuck with Taylor Swift, at least for a little while. After all; we helped create her.