Every time a Taylor Swift album is released, critics ask the same exhausting question — will this be the album where Taylor Swift gets political?
The answer is always the same: Girl. No.
Swift’s politics, best described as ¯_(ツ)_/¯, have been the cause of an unending febrile pop culture battle ever since the artist first emerged a decade ago, reaching its apotheosis in 2017. If you’re interested in getting into a fight with a friend, might I suggest bringing up the topic of Swift’s feminism. Watch the unfollows commence.
Her latest album, reputation, is no exception. And it’s well past the time me and my fellow feminist friends face the facts. Swift will never, ever be the nasty woman of our left-to-neoliberal political dreams, and no amount of subtweeting will ever change that.
That doesn’t mean we have to say goodbye.
While other mainstream pop artists have opened up about their political views, or at least composed an embarrassingly genuine/borderline political Instagram post over the past year, Swift chose to remain comfortably above the fray. The edgiest the artist got was when she tweeted out support for her friends at the Women’s March, the political equivalent of a glass of warm milk. Microwaved.
For some, it was surprising to see pop culture’s leading capitalist refuse to take advantage of the political moment, especially when the resistance has been so effectively commercialized. #NastyWoman is as much a hashtag as it is branding. It fits on a tote bag, an iPhone case, a pillow, an I’m too-depressed-to-finish this list. Jimmy Kimmel, the former ding-dong behind the Man Show, became the voice who saved health insurance for 26 million Americans (and along the way, his reputation). Katy Perry, the singer best known for shooting whipped cream out of her bazoongas, helped to almost-elect the first female president in history.
In this landscape, Swift’s entirely apolitical reputation was something of a gamble. It’s now one she expected to win. Reputation sold 700,000 copies on the first day of its release. It’s predicted to sell a million by Nov. 16, putting Swift on track for the highest sales of her career and making me feel so goddamn bad about my graduate school choices.
Let me be clear: politics aside, reputation is a genuinely good album. There’s so much to enjoy here without entirely embarrassing yourself, including hooks that leave a scar and her famously soft righteous anger, honed sharper. If you’re the type of person who enjoys celebrity feuds, might I suggest listening to the delightfully unsubtle “This Is Why…” and tweeting your angry heart out.
It’s obviously so disappointing that one of the most successful pop stars of our time chooses to do so little with her 85.6 million person platform; especially at a time when life is, by every objective measure, bad. No one could be more effective at propagating a political message than Swift precisely because she’s behaved so neutrally in the past. It’s what made Jimmy Kimmel so potent and comedian-turned-liberal-savior John Oliver so limited in his reach. Swift touches supporters of political extremes (Nazis and snowflakes) and apolitical crowds like no one else can.
Alas, Swift isn’t changing. She probably never will. We just have to absolve our fantasies and accept the truth we repressed all the way into 2017. Taylor Swift will never tell us who she voted for. She will never be an architect of the #Resistance. Her feminism will always be hazy and largely individualist.
She can, however, be something smaller and still good. Swift can be the person we turn to when we want to run from a broken heart, or the artist we escape to when we’re sick of hearing Donald Trump’s name on loop. Swift has always been adept at capturing our relational anger, and she’s only gotten better in reputation. All of that matters, just on a more intimate scale, and we shouldn’t deny ourselves the pleasure of identification just because it lacks a political punch.
There’s so much of our shitty corporate culture I’ve come to love for what it is, even as I douse it with irony. I don’t come to Supermarket Sweep for the Elizabeth Warren takes, as much as I love the Massachusetts Democrat. I don’t look to Chili’s for a 2018 election strategy; I go to Chili’s for their deliciously trash fajitas. I would obviously love it if Little Caesars finally dropped the act and embraced their true socialist selves, but alas. Maybe that’s for another year.
Politics touches everything. It’s healthy to crave private spaces where it doesn’t. You’re entitled to have feelings that are not about the president. Forgive yourself, fellow rose emoji of the world, if you download the reputation album and scream every risk-averse lyric out your car window. I’ll be singing and speeding right past my shame all the way with you.