I never read the comments section. Except, yesterday, I did. I couldn’t help myself. The new Vogue profile of Taylor Swift was released for the September issue and I was curious what people had to say. People have strong feelings towards Swift and I am endlessly intrigued by strong feelings.
The same comments kept popping up: “I’m so sick of her always playing the victim.” “She needs to get over it—no one cares.”
A lot of female musicians who reach a certain level of fame adopt a rather “DGAF” attitude. Which, if I’m being honest, has inspired the hell out of me over the years. As someone who is most certainly almost always giving too many fucks, it is always so refreshing to see intelligent, strong, artistically gifted, and powerful women living their lives loudly and not apologizing for who they are. From Pink, to Nicki Minaj, to Rihanna, to Lady Gaga and Beyonce, I am endlessly inspired by these women who stand up tall. Who remind us to sing loud. To use our voices. To ignore the critics.
Strength is not caring. Strength is ignoring the haters. Strength is not showing weakness.
Yes, yes, yes, but…….
What happens on those days when you need to cry?
I’ve written a lot in the past about anxiety and depression, two words that have almost become buzzwords in today’s society. Everyone has anxiety. Self-care is almost a demand. You are failing if you aren’t prioritizing your mental health. Vulnerability is strength (shout-out Brené Brown love you).
It is understandable why this dichotomy of messaging is hard for women, women of all ages, races, sizes, backgrounds, and personalities. We are told to not give a single shit, but, also, be sensitive and soft and vulnerable and oh, girl, it actually takes strength to cry every day don’t you see?
Do we see? Why the world is crazy-making?
This is why I started really paying attention to Taylor Swift around the 2016 timeframe and well into the Reputation and now Lover era. Reputation was all darkness and edge and not giving a single shit. Lover, from what we’ve gleaned thus far, is all about vulnerability.
Around this same time I had an individual in my life who pointed out all the things they did not like about me. And one thing, in particular, made me feel really low. They called me out for my frequent crying. And how, even if I didn’t intend it this way, it could come across as manipulative.
I still grapple with this message to this day. How I’m supposed to feel safe to express my emotions, yet I shouldn’t do it that way. I understand completely that this is not a new experience, that women of color in particular have to self-regulate themselves constantly to avoid being labeled as difficult or “angry.” I understand my experience is nothing in comparison to women of color.
But this has been one of the reasons why I’ve been fascinated by the public narrative that surrounds Swift. People really, really hate the concept of her “always playing the victim.” I can imagine a lot of people want to tell her to shut up and sing.
This is why the painting of the Dixie Chicks in the opening scene of Swift’s era-kicking-off video for “ME!” jumped out at me. Those three women know a few things about being told to “get over it.”
While it may feel like eons ago, it was only in 2003 that the Dixie Chicks stood on stage in London, prepared to sing their mega-hit “Travelin’ Soldier” (a favorite in my household) and told the crowd they were not in support of the invasion of Iraq. “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
Much in the way Swift is aware that her mistakes echo through the canyons of the world, the words of the Dixie Chicks echoed through the canyons of the years and mirrored Swift coming out of her hiatus to tell her followers “These are not MY Tennessee values” in response to Republican Marsha Blackburn who, among other things, voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. It was the first time she’d spoken publicly about politics.
At the time, some said it was too little too late. Some called her new song, “You Need to Calm Down”, pandering. Some criticized Swift for suddenly jumping on the Gay-rights train. Some accused her of trying to profit off the rainbow dollar. I understand this perspective: like most emotionally-charged situations, we always wish people would do more, more often. Especially people in positions of influence.
But it’s also understandable why Swift would be afraid to voice her political views. When the Dixie Chicks spoke out against George W. Bush, they were vilified. It was a catastrophe, both professionally and emotionally. Their music was boycotted. The reaction was evidence in their song “Landslide” falling from the no. 10 spot to 43 within a single week. People were invited to bring their CDs to be crushed by a bulldozer. Natalie Maines received a death threat that resulted in police escorting them to and from a show. Disc Jockeys were suspended for playing their music on air. It was later revealed by Maines that the American Red Cross didn't take a $1 million dollar check from them due to the controversy. To put it in 2016 lingo: they were cancelled.
For those of us who forgot: that was a very public, very painful, very concrete example of what might happen to a female musician(s) who speaks her mind.
Three years later, with plenty of time for them to simply “get over it,” the Dixie Chicks released a new single before their forthcoming album. The song, called “Not Ready to Make Nice”, had such lyrics as “I know you said/ Can’t you just get over it?/ It turned my whole world around/ And I kinda like it” and “How in the world can the words that I said/ Send somebody so over the edge/ That they’d write me a letter sayin’ that I better/ Shut up and sing or my life will be over.”
Shut up and sing. I get it, people have repeated for years they are tired of Swift “playing the victim.” Maybe that’s how it seems. But, it’s also possible that maybe she is also tired of people not taking her emotions seriously, both as a songwriter and as a human. If I felt like people weren’t listening, I might repeat myself a few times as well. I think anyone who has been hurt and told they need to “get over it” didn’t immediately feel better.
In the same way I feel grateful for women artists who have artistically and personally given the finger to people who try and criticize them, I feel equally grateful to artists who are brave enough to say “hey, that hurt my feelings.” Because, everyone on this planet knows what its like to feel hurt by something. But not everyone has had a safe space to communicate that hurt in a healthy way.
The next time you feel the urge to tell someone to simply get over it just pause. Maybe ask them, hey, are you okay?
I feel like 2019 Swift can hear 2016 Swift singing along to the Dixie Chicks, really feeling the line: “They say, time heals everything—but I’m still waiting.”