The Curious Case of Taylor Swift’s Image

This Ain’t For The Best?

So Taylor Swift’s new MV for “Delicate” just dropped, and as per standard operating procedure in our Whatsapp group, we had thoughts.

To begin with, it’s important to note that we’ve been sometimes reluctant but always passionate fans of Tay over the years – she’s 70% of our karaoke session lineup! K’s tweeted this A+ analysis of the perfection of “All Too Well”! C and T went to the 1989 concert in Singapore together! We’ve followed, analysed, and capslocked about every elegant lyric and rumoured boyfriend and image revamp. We really love her, you guys, and “Delicate” was one of our faves off the album. But love is about honesty, and in that spirit we will admit that the image constructed for Reputation!era Tay has us a little… shall we say, whelmed?

And we’re not even in Europe. (credit)

In the discussion below, we discuss her MV, her image, and the fix-it fic of the video we wish we’d gotten:

You must like me for me: THE MUSIC VIDEO

K: Ok, WHAT is this MV? Did she accidentally film it to Shake It Off or what? Like, it’s cute but it makes no sense for the song, and it was a little awkward to watch. Her acting has improved so much, and I do like the last shot and the whole “invisibility is nice but it’s also nice to be seen” thing she has going on. But I… don’t know about the execution. Dance as metaphor is nice, especially since Delicate is about, you know, ~dancing around her reputation. But then she went and did her “I have two cats” adorkable!clumsy!dance! thing… She could have done, like, a little mini musical instead! Do it La La Land style!

T: YES, I’d have loved to have seen something kind of classic. With a prettier dress, Tay!

K: I THOUGHT THAT TOO!  And, I mean, Delicate is a song so specific to the uncertainty of dating and/or love that when it’s used to talk about her relationship to her public persona it feels shoehorned. I know she wants to shy away from depictions of romance and I respect that. But in that case why end with that shot of her at the bar, presumably looking at a love who sees her for who she is? (Which, by the way, is a great shot – my heart warmed when she smiled.) I mean, we give her so much credit and want so badly to believe! But compare this MV to Janelle’s “Make Me Feel”...

T: That last shot was the best moment in the MV.

K: I’ve decided it is basic and not especially creative as a video. SORRY TAY. This song best enjoyed without visuals.

C: HAHAHA look at this:

K: OMG, I HAD THAT THOUGHT. Dancing around a subway in bare feet – not the best idea??? God, look at ourselves.

T: Don’t dance in the rain, folks! You will slip and fall, and then if you’re a teenager you’re probably not even the one who has to deal with washing the muddy clothes! (I was lowkey very impressed with that split though…)

C: THIS! And, okay, I just watched the video – y’all, is this not the inspiration behind the MV? (You can fast-forward to the one-minute mark). Anyway, I agree that she was slightly awkward, and that the concept is interesting (the freedom of being invisible when you’re a star?) but the execution is not there. Also it’s a total mismatch to the song! JUST GIVE ME YOUR LOVE STORY MV!

In conclusion: we agreed that we’re all this gif rn. (credit)

My reputation’s never been worse: THE IMAGE

K: Honestly at this point i’m bored of this whole Real?Taylor vs Rep!Taylor thing. It’s like she doesn’t understand meta anymore.

T: It does feel like she’s just channeling one stereotype of her to challenge another.

K: Mmhmm. “I’M NOT YOUR COUNTRY PRINCESS! I’m also not a snake but maybe I am actually a snake ha ha BE YOURSELF!!” What?? My more measured observation is that the narrative presentation of her latest videos is clumsy and kind of incoherent, and really frustrating because we like her (we think) and we WANT to make sense of it but she’s making it so hard for us.

C: I think Britney’s “Lucky” did it better.

K: Definitely. And it’s not as if Lucky was some kind of Amazing Complex Masterpiece – it was just sincere and honest and comprehensible.

T: I feel like Tay JUST missed when the pendulum of the Cultural Moment swung back to Sincerity. Like, in her first two albums she was working that wide-eyed country girl image at a time when media was embracing the Dark Gritty Edgy stereotype to a greater degree – which meant, consequently, that she was (unfairly) written off as naive or shallow – and I think that the PR motive since then has been to shed that image.

Tay’s wide-eyed self-titled/Speak Now image… (credit)

It worked in the 1989 era because of a kind of self-aware meta angle that was very well-done, and didn’t lose the vividness of her storytelling which I think is her biggest asset.

…and the masterful reinvention that occurred with 1989 (credit)

But now the whole edgy idgaf attitude on Reputation is strangely tone-deaf, because pop culture is finally, finally embracing unabashed joy (look at the resurgence of Carly Rae disco pop!) and sincere wonder (“A Wrinkle in Time”, “Wonder Woman”, “Paddington 2”.) And in that context Tay waging a war with – like, we don’t even know whom, exactly? the media? fans? Kanye? – can, and does, read as petty. I just feel like it’s an interesting PR decision because her team did such a good job reinventing her for 1989 era and now the coherence of her image/lyrics/general vibe seems to be disintegrating.

K: I COSIGN THIS ANALYSIS!!!!! I agree that 1989 WORKED because it wasn’t driven by some kind of inchoate spite/revenge motive/anger. I can’t enjoy the Reputation era as there isn’t any coherence or joy or soul.

T: I think it’s fascinating because authenticity is obviously a lie, but they’ve done so well so far at making Tay FEEL authentic and now it just feels… hollow?

Rep!Tay – an empty signifier? (credit)

K: YES. I don’t have any idea who she “really” is, which is FINE. But I also don’t have any idea of what her IMAGE is. I am HAPPY to fall in love with pop star personas!!! I just want her to gesture towards something, and not away from everything. Does that make sense? It’s like she’s very fixated on this “this is who I’m NOT” thing, which is a weird way to define yourself.

T: I’m flashing back to literature classes and being told not to prove or argue by absence. But it’s also a baffling move because she’s pushed back on every image of herself we know! “I’m NOT a wide-eyed girl, I’m NOT an innocent, I’m NOT a snake, I’m NOT what you think I am” – which, fine, but what’s left?

K: I feel like since the beginning of Reputation we were waiting for the other shoe to drop – we’re all waiting for this purported reinvention – but we have no idea what it is, we only know what it’s not. I keep hoping for her to define “what’s left”, like you said. Also, to come back to an earlier conversation we had about how young Reputation!Tay seems, I just read an article that said “28-year-old Taylor Swift…” and I was momentarily shook – I forgot she was MY AGE!

I also want us to recognise the irony in this video/era in which she really wants to be “unself-conscious” and “free” – like, that’s her whole jam –  but she is legit one of the most self-conscious people I’ve ever seen. The dancing is adorkable but self-conscious. If you look at that video C linked us to, it’s SO COMPELLING because the actress/dancer is NOT afraid of looking ugly at all, and that’s a specific kind of vulnerability. Whereas you can tell in Delicate, Tay is very hesitant about looking ugly/not looking adorkable.

T: I get it! As a fantastically self-conscious person, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that – it would be more fun to see her own it than deny it, you know? And coming back to what you said, I have to remind myself constantly that she’s older than me. And it’s like, Tay, you have such a fantastic opportunity to show your teenage audience what your twenties look like. But there’s nothing in her new era of MVs which ever makes me feel like how she lives her life rings true. I relate to bb Lorde more!

Lorde’s “Green Light” MV – does this feel more “twentysomething woman” than Tay, somehow? (credit)

Just think of the fun things we could do: The Fix-it Fic

K: Seriously, like, if I were invisible I wouldn’t just dance around. There are so many playful things you can do with that concept  – go to a carnival and visibly enjoy not being recognised, shoplift from a convenience store, make someone’s day by signing their poster…

T: If I were invisible I would definitely stick rude messages on manspreaders.

K: Such a missed chance! And, you know, she could have gone romantic with it too… go on a normal DATE with Joe! The MV could have shots where it looks like he’s sitting alone at a dinner table, talking to himself, but she’s actually there too. He’s the only one who really sees her!

C: I’d watch that and and cry.

T: I guess in the first place I don’t think this is the right concept for this song. “You must like me for me” is such a strong central thesis. I wanted them to be like… driving down the road at the “isn’t it / isn’t it / isn’t it” bit. Or dancing in a club and everyone else fades away!

K: Maybe she was afraid of backlash because “oh, Taylor, there she is going on about her boyfriend again”? BUT BEING IN LOVE IS NOT AN INHERENTLY UNFEMINIST THING! Yeah, I wanted a car scene. I wanted a look-across-the-bar scene. I definitely wanted a scene where everyone else bokehs out in a club.

T: I think I would accept a non-romantic interpretation of the song that still felt more coherent with the theme.

C: Yes, it could’ve been so much more interesting.

T: Concept: Delicate but it’s like that scene in “Begin Again” with just Keira walking through a city. Taylor could just walk invisibly through the city… like, sip her coffee and stop to pet a dog or cat or something.

K: YES just get a cup of coffee from a sidewalk vendor, Taylor!! An AU Taylor where she isn’t famous… and then she looks at a billboard.. and it’s Jaylor Wift. Basically “Lucky” but DRINK A FUCKING COFFEE!

Everyone take a moment to revisit this iconique Britney MV. (credit)

Is it cool that we said all that?: THE CONCLUSION

To sum up… we just don’t know, y’all. There’s a particularly confusing kind of ambivalence in Tay’s image right now, mirrored in our response  – do we love the Reputation!Tay persona? Do we hate it, but love her? Are we hoping that she’ll drop the queer “Dress” MV of our dreams and then all will be forgiven? I guess you could say the situation is… delicate.


(Header image via People.)

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