Unapologetically Following Jesus’ Footsteps and Urging The Rest Of Humanity To Do The Same
Now 30, Taylor Alison Swift has completely redefined who she is and what she stands for. She exhibits this change on her seventh studio album, Lover, which came out on August 23, 2019. Many were surprised how political and unapologetic the album is but long-term fans, known as Swifties, have seen this change progress little by little with each album since her first album. This essay will use Swift’s personal experiences and her oeuvre to document this profound change where she fully commits her life to following in Jesus’ footsteps and fully submit to God’s will. Though she has never said this, her actions are enough. Feminist Catholic Scholar, Gina Messina, has worked to consolidate all the things that Jesus is into four aspects: 1) Love, (2) Inclusion, (3) Liberation and (4) Social Justice. This essay will use these four aspects as a framework to demonstrate how Swift is pursuing a more Christ-like life. As she has grown as a person, her identity has shifted as well. Though only she knows, where her intersectional identity lies, this essay will attempt to compose her identity in the various stages of her life to present day.
Biography with a Christian Perspective
In order to understand how Taylor Swift became the person she is today; it is important to understand where she came from. Born on December 13, 1989, in Reading, Pennsylvania, she grew up in a Presbyterian, two-parent, household (Biography, 2019). Her father was a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch and her mother was a stay-at-home mom. She attended preschool and kindergarten at the Alvernia Montessori School, run by Franciscan nuns, then went to the private school: The Wyndcroft School for elementary and middle school (Hatza, 2008). Clearly, religion was a key factor in her childhood. This fact only becomes more evident when she gets signed to Big Machine Records in 2003 and begins writing Country songs such as Sweet Tea and God’s Graces, or hits like Tim McGraw and Our Song. In these songs, she thanks God and conveys that all we need is God to get by in life. She also writes in her journal as a thirteen year old that she’ll “pray for a better day tomorrow” suggesting that prayer is part of her daily routine. She clearly has deep Christian roots that not only penetrate her work but also her identity. From 1989-2006, her identity seems to be a Christian, a daughter, a sister, a student, an outsider, a dreamer, a hard-worker and a risk-taker based on what she writes in her diary that she published with the Lover album.
Since being a Christian was most likely (and probably still is) how she identifies, it is important to delve into what that actually means. For Swift, being a Christian is a person who believes that there is something greater than humanity that is founded in love for everything (Swift, 2019). Professor De La Torre (2019), who wrote the book: Burying White privilege: Resurrecting a Badass Christianity, would agree with Swift in saying that the way to resurrect a badass Christianity would be to spread love and not hate; like the way that President Donald Trump and his supports are. De La Torre also goes on to say that White Christians are what is killing Christianity. By White Christians, he does not mean white people but rather anyone who spreads hate, believes they are better than others and voted for Trump in the 2016 election. At 29 years old, Taylor would not fall into this category, instead she follows De La Torre’s advice (without knowing it). He implores “Whites who chose to become liberated…[to] join in solidarity with marginalized communities…[and] must become traitors to their own race and class” (De La Torre, 2019, p. 138-139). Now she wasn’t always so bold to say that she was a “traitor” to her own people but when her songs are examined, it is evident that she began this journey of becoming a “traitor” in 2008.
The song Change on her sophomore album entitled Fearless (2008) is the first song of many to come that references the need for change in the United States. The lyrics of the chorus are:
“Because these things will change
Can you feel it now?
These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down
It’s a revolution, the time will come
For us to finally win
And we’ll sing hallelujah, we’ll sing hallelujah”
Though these lyrics are from 2008, they are very relevant in 2019 with Trump wanting to build a wall to keep out immigrants. According to World Atlas, 90% of Mexicans are Christians, so this song can give these people hope. It is so captivating how she blends a revolution with religious wording. It was as if she took a page from historian Matthew Bowman’s book: Christian: The Politics of a Word in America where he writes that “Christianity has been endlessly disputed and, by virtue of that disputation, has injected a great deal of dynamism into American politics and society”. The pop tune though might mask this important message though and so it is there for people who search for it. Her lyrics fall in line so closely to De La Torre’s message in that White people have to join in solidarity with the marginalized communities by words like “us” and “we” in this chorus, she is doing just that and is becoming one step closer to becoming a “traitor” in the positive meaning of the word that De La Torre describes.
Whereas Change was the last song on the Fearless album, in 2012 Swift began the album Red, with the song State of Grace. It was in this song where she wrote, “We are alone with our changing minds” (Swift, 2012). This lyrics goes to show that she is having an internal struggle with wanting to become a “traitor” but like so many others, becoming a traitor is hard which is why not too many people do it. It is a scary and lonely experience as Taylor describes it. On August 29, 2016, she writes in her journal that “this summer is the apocalypse”. However, in 2009, after her Fearless album, she wrote in her journal that she loves the idea of “knowing that you can change your life today, tomorrow, just by doing a few things you never thought of”. It is this spirit that has a positive effect in this world even when things get hard. From 2007-2012, her presumed identity is a determined girl and a young changemaker along with the others from 1989-2006. The reason for adding these two elements to her intersectional identity is that she writes in her journal that she when she first got into country music that the radio only played for 35 year-olds and that we wanted to change that. She also speaks about, in an interview with MTV, how she didn’t realize that being a girl in this industry made people just see her a cute, girl who could write songs instead of an equal business partner.
It is this period of time (2007-2012) that can be seen as Taylor Swift’s baptism. According to 1 Peter 3:21, “this… baptism now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God”. Swift still has a lot of growing and maturing to do so that she can make the full sacrifice and give it all up in order to be more like Jesus. This is why the verse describes baptism as a pledge instead of a removal. We were all born with sin; however, baptism is a step closer to God through a clear conscience. This is what Taylor Swift has exemplified in these five years through her albums: Fearless (2008), Speak Now (2010) and Red (2012) as well as journal entries and interviews.
The next period of her life, 2013-2016, though a short one was an impactful one. It is very similar to Jesus’ experience in the wilderness and in Nazareth (Luke 4:1-30). The only album she put out during this time period was 1989, her birthyear. She starts off the album with the upbeat pop song, Welcome to New York, discussing how amazing and scary it is to be in a new place. New York is notorious for temptation; just like the wilderness was full of temptation for Jesus. Another song of the album is more literal about being in the wilderness: Out of the Woods. The music video follows Swift through her journey of becoming a “traitor”. It begins with a young Taylor at the beach representing her innocence and naivety of the world. She then finds herself in the middle of the forest where she is chased by wolves, which symbolize all the haters. She then throws herself off a cliff into the ocean symbolizing her baptism. Next, Swift finds herself on all fours in the mud; this symbolizes how she has to go through hardships, just like Jesus, when God is fully accepted. What is beautiful is that even when she is stuck on a tree similar to being crucified, there are fireflies that surround her to signify that even when things get dark there are always glimmers of light; even when we feel alone, like she in this music video, the fireflies symbolize God, who never leaves us alone. Moving back to the haters theme, other songs on this album discuss it. Shake it Off was the first single and it was directed to the haters. Just as Jesus was rejected in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30), Taylor was feeling rejected by the country community because she wasn’t “country” enough. Shake it Off is a song about “doing your own thing even though haters are gonna hate and you just have to dance to your own beat” (Swift, 2014). She is turning a new leaf in her journey of becoming a “traitor” to her own people in order to be more Christ-like. She is done being a people pleaser and is now not concerned with what people think of her. One of the bonus tracks of the album 1989 entitled New Romantics, in this song, she is fully embracing the haters singing, “I could build a castle; Out of all the bricks they threw at me”. Just like the fireflies in the Out of the Woods music video, Swift has a gift for making the dark moments into something beautiful. From 2013-2016, her identity has shifted from being an outsider to owning that rejection and making something beautiful. Swift has probably always seen herself as creative but it is evident that this time period has pushed that creative nature into becoming an artist. Even though she transformed greatly in these three years, she still holds those values she learned in her childhood. 1989, the album, shows that though she has become a force to be taken seriously, she will hold all the identities from 1989 to 2012.
Up until the summer of 2016, Taylor Swift was on top of the world. She had won several awards and sold out multiple venues in seconds as she wrote in her journal in 2014. That summer, she wrote, was the apocalypse. Kanye and Kim West started calling her a snake because of a misunderstanding. This led to millions of people to use the hashtags: #TaylorSwiftIsASnake and #TaylorSwiftIsCanceled. In an interview with Vogue, Swift said, “When you say someone is canceled, it’s not a TV show. It’s a human being. You’re sending mass amounts of messaging to this person to either shut up, disappear, or it could also be perceived as, Kill yourself.” She also went to social media to say that “Being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story or played any part of the song is character assassination. I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never asked to be a part of, since 2009”. As Jesus was being sent to be crucified, people were also calling him a liar, that he was not the Son of God. He must have had similar feelings to Swift so in essence, this time in Swift’s life was a lot like her own crucifixion. However, in 1 Peter 4:12-14 states, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed”. This is exactly what Swift did. She used this dark time in her life to make her sixth studio album, Reputation. She expressed in her interview with Vogue, “I knew immediately I needed to make music about it because I knew it was the only way I could survive it. It was the only way I could preserve my mental health and also tell the story of what it’s like to go through something so humiliating”. The pain she endured to create this album did bring her joy. She won the Billboard’s award for Top Selling Award in 2018; selling over two million copies in its first week. The critics also had good things to say. Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph states, “Reputation is a big, brash, all-guns-blazing blast of weaponized pop that grapples with the vulnerability of the human heart as it is pummeled by 21st-century fame”. Best of all, she moved even closer to the “traitor” persona that De La Torre urges all people to do.
The first single that came from that album was Look What You Made Me Do. This song outlines how she felt after the Kanye Scandal. The music video’s first shot is that of an apocalyptic world which relates to that 2016 journal entry. A grave marked with “Taylor Swift’s Reputation Lies Here” is the next image of the music video. A zombie Taylor Swift comes out of the ground, indicating that she’s risen from the dead. She goes as far to have “Taylor can’t come to the phone right now, why? Oh, cause she’s dead” as lyric in the song. Moreover, since she was called a snake, she decided to use that as a motif not only in the music video, but on the entire album and tour. Lastly, she uses her past selves in the video to make fun of herself; going as far as having the VMA winning Taylor” quoting herself by saying “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative” and all the other Taylors gang up on her shouting “shut up, you’re so annoying”. This shows that she has a sense of humor and does not let the haters get to her. At this point, she is owning the traitor narrative that De La Torre sets out. Referencing it in two other songs on the album (without realizing it since De La Torre just published his book in 2019). The two songs are: I Did Something Bad and Getaway Car. In I Did Something Bad, she references the Salem Witch Trials and sings “they’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one, so light me up” indicating that she’s tired of people saying things about her and so if she’s so bad as people think then just don’t listen to her music and move on. In Getaway Car, she is empowered by the word traitor. She writes, “We were jet-set, Bonnie and Clyde; Until I switched to the other side; To the other side; It’s no surprise I turned you in; Cause us traitors never win”. Once again, Swift has realized that people are going to talk and be mean no matter what so she would rather just call herself a traitor and be herself. When it comes to Swift’s identity, it is safe to say that is truth-seeker, truth-speaker, unapologetic and a go-getter are now on that list.
Just as Jesus rose from the grave three days later, Swift rose three years later, with the new album, Lover. Swift states, “There are so many ways in which this album feels like a new beginning,” in an interview with MTV. Lover has also met great success, within two days it became 2019’s top-selling album in the U.S., according to initial sales reports to Nielsen Music. She has also gotten a lot of country artists’ support too such as Kacey Musgraves, Keith Urban, Maren Morris, Colton Haynes, Cassadee Pope and the Dixie Chicks even did a song on the album with her. It is really beautiful to see how she has really transformed her story and made it into a positive one in her resurrection. She has found her voice and she is now using it to help others who don’t have one. After her resurrection is when the real work begins and it is where she demonstrates that she is really following Jesus’ example in everything that Jesus is and stands for: 1) Love, (2) Inclusion, (3) Liberation and (4) Social Justice.
To begin, referencing Traci West, she describes love as being a shallow word that people like to throw around without really understanding what it means. She implores people to understand what love really means and to use that love to love their neighbor in the way that their neighbor needs to be loved. Taylor Swift has really taken to this concept of love. She written countless song about the subject. In the song You Are In Love on the 1989 album, she writes, “I understand now…why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words”. It was because she is trying to understand what love means, the love that is not shallow, rather the deep, true love that Traci West is talking about. Taylor has clearly adopted a more mature mindset and approach towards love. After spending thirteen years writing love songs, she has finally comprehended what love really is. That type of love is best displayed in 1 John 4:16, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them”. It is during this “resurrection” that Swift is doing just that. In an interview with MTV, she comments that Lover is “an album that is about love in all its different forms, all the complexities, all the chaos and all the great things about it”. She also said in an interview with Vogue that Lover is “a love letter to love itself, in all of its maddening, passionate, exciting, enchanting, horrific, tragic, wonderful glory”. With songs like, Lover, Soon You’ll Get Better, False God and Death by a Thousand Cuts, she really explores different types of love. In Death by a Thousand Cuts, she goes in-depth of the feelings of a break-up. In Soon You’ll Get Better, she strikes heart cords as she opens up about her Mother’s cancer relapse. In Lover, she discusses what a relationship in the Holy Trinity looks like. This is the third track of the album, which of course, the number three symbolizes, the Holy Trinity. She sings,
“Ladies and gentlemen, will you please stand?
With every guitar string scar on my hand
I take this magnetic force of a man to be my lover
My heart’s been borrowed and yours has been blue
All’s well that ends well to end up with you”.
In this bridge of the song, she is paying tribute to each part of the Holy Trinity. The guitar string line is referring to something she truly loves, playing the guitar, just as she loves God. The magnetic force is the Holy Spirit. And her heart has been borrowed by Jesus. Moreover, in Ephesians 5:14, it says,
“’Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’”
Swift has now risen from the dead and so, is now blessed. Paul, the writer of Ephesians, continues in verses 18-19 by saying that we should “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord”. This is what Swift is doing in the song Lover. In its music video, she alludes to her song You Are In Love. The lyrics in that song are “You two are dancing in a snow globe, ‘round and ’round”. The music video is set inside of Swift’s and her lover’s future daughter’s snow globe. This is to symbolize that she has finally found the love she has been searching, which only came to her when she fully surrendered herself to God. Following Lover, track number thirteen, Swift’s long-time favorite number, is False God. Though, just by its title, sounds like a blasphemous song, is actually a song about how God is love and that she doesn’t want to worship the White Christian God any longer, rather she wants to focus on love and worship God through this love instead. Filled with religious imagery, the chorus goes as follows:
“Religion’s in your lips
Even if it’s a false god
We’d still worship
We might just get away with it
The altar is my hips
Even if it’s a false god
We’d still worship this love”.
She is explaining that the religion that she wants is in her lover’s lips; not the God that the White Christians preach about. Though sexually suggestive, by saying that her hips are the altar, she is referring back to Matthew 23:18-19, where Jesus is condemning the Scribes and Pharisees, “You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”. In American culture, sexuality has a negative connotation however, fertility has a positive one. Swift is examining this dynamic and is saying that the gift, babies, is only made sacred by the hips. She is giving examples of the components of a church as a metaphor to their bodies. She’s saying their so similar that she might get away with worshiping their love even if it is a false God. Ultimately, she is saying that their love is so complex that it’s like God.
Similarly, in the song Cornelia Street she uses the religion metaphor again. The lyrics are:
“Sacred new beginnings
That became my religion, listen
I hope I never lose you”.
Once again, she is describing this true love as a religion indicating that it is love, not the (White Christian) church that should be worshiped since God is love and the church is killing religion as God intended, as De La Torre (2019) writes. In the last song of the album, Daylight, she writes a song to God. The chorus of this song is:
“I don’t wanna look at anything else now that I saw you
I don’t wanna think of anything else now that I thought of you
I’ve been sleeping so long in a 20-year dark night
And now I see daylight, I only see daylight”
She very clearly acknowledges that who she was, as a White Christian, for the first twenty years of her life was wrong and now that she has fully accepted God, she only sees Daylight. In 1 Peter 2:9, reads as, “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”. Once again, Swift has answered God’s call and is now in the daylight. In the song, she also sings about how her perception of love was also faulty. She sings,
“I once believed love would be (Black and white)
But it’s golden (Golden)
I once believed love would be (Burning red)
But it’s golden
Like daylight, like daylight”.
In this bridge, she explains that the most important type of love is this one with God, for that is the one that is golden, the one that rests in the daylight. So, once we surrender ourselves completely to God, then that is how we will find love with our neighbor, just as Traci West states. In 1 John 4:11, it says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another”. This is exactly what Swift intends to do moving forward.
Though Taylor Swift does all that she can to love her neighbor and understand her neighbor in order to love them how they need to be loved, like Traci West suggests, now, she wasn’t always this way. On her first album, Swift’s fourth single was Picture to Burn. Swift talked about this song in an MTV interview, “I had this song called Picture to Burn, that’s talking about how ‘I hate your truck,’ and ‘I hate that you ignored me,’ ‘I hate you,’” she explained, “Now, the way that I would say that and the way that I would feel that kind of pain is a lot different”. On top of that, she wrote a non-inclusive, offensive lyric to the LGBTQ community in that song. She wrote, “So go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy, that’s fine, I’ll tell mine, you’re gay by the way” she has since then changed the lyric to “So go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy, that’s fine, you won’t mind if I say, by the way”. According to Billboard (2017), the “offending lyric has been wiped from streaming versions of the song and the official video”. Since then, she has gone above and beyond to be inclusion to all people regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender.
On her album, Lover, her second single, You Need To Calm Down, came out in June for Pride Month. Its music video is set in a rainbow-filled trailer park full of celebrities. She was very inclusive of the people that were included in this video. She had people of all sexual orientations and races. She also was also inclusive in her language in this song. In the first chorus, she says, “my gown”, the next chorus, she says, “his gown” and in the last chorus, she says, “our gown”. She’s not only inclusive for people of various sexual orientation but also for people of various races. Her new album cover features artwork by Valheria Rocha, an up and coming Colombian artist. In her last stadium tour for the album Reputation, of her sixteen backup dancers/singers, three of them were Asian, two were from Europe, one was Puerto Rican/Afro-Colombian and five were Black. Christian Owens, one of the back-ups dancers, joins Swift in the Lover music video. This too shows Swift’s inclusive nature. The interracial relationship has its challenges in the music video by it all ends up working out as they are depicted with opening gifts Christmas morning with their daughter at the end of the video. Just as it says in Matthew 23: 28-31, “One of the teachers of the law … asked [Jesus], ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Taylor Swift, through her actions, truly believes these two as being the most important and does all that she can to exemplify these.
Although Taylor Swift cannot set us “free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:2, NIV) like Jesus did, she is still continuing the work of the Women’s Liberation Movement through debunking women stereotypes, bringing attention to gender-biased societal norms, and changing taboo beliefs on women as sexual beings.
To begin, a common stereotype is that women are supposed to be in competition with one another instead of building each other up. Swift has fallen into this trap in the past with singer Katy Perry. Swift explains in her interview with Vogue that the media picks “two people and it’s like they’re pouring gasoline all over the floor. All that needs to happen is one false move, one false word, one misunderstanding, and a match is lit and dropped. That’s what happened with us. It was: Who’s better? Katy or Taylor? Katy or Taylor? Katy or Taylor? Katy or Taylor? The tension is so high that it becomes impossible for you to not think that the other person has something against you.” Perry and Swift have since decided to become an example for women of all ages to come together. Perry appears in Swift’s music video for You Need to Calm Down when Swift sings,
“And we see you over there on the internet
Comparing all the girls who are killing it
But we figured you out
We all know now we all got crowns
You need to calm down”.
The music video also represents other pop singers by crossdressers such as, Lady Gaga, Adele, Ariana Grande and Beyoncé. This is a message to these pop stars as well as everyone else that women don’t have to be pitted against one another for they all have crowns. This movement of Swift’s began with her famous Girl Squad. Back in 2014, the “squad” sixteen of the women appeared in her music video for Bad Blood. Once again, Swift demonstrates how she is following the second commandment of “love thy neighbor”. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reflects this same sentiment explaining that, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble”. Taylor Swift sharing this message to the world through her songs.
Continuing to gender-biased societal norms, Swift discusses the inequalities between men and women, specifically in the way they are perceived. Her catchy, upbeat song The Man on the new album reviews these inequalities. In the first verse, she states that,
“They’d say I played the field before
I found someone to commit to
And that would be okay
For me to do”.
She is frustrated that many people have said “slut-shamed” her for dating “like a normal twenty-something” (Vogue, 2016). The first verse is explaining a man doesn’t get slut-shamed for dating around. Swift critiques societal views in the Vogue interview, “I wanted to say to people, You realize writing songs is an art and a craft and not, like, an easy thing to do? Or to do well? People would act like it was a weapon I was using. Like a cheap dirty trick. Be careful, bro, she’ll write a song about you. Don’t stand near her. First of all, that’s not how it works. Second of all, find me a time when they say that about a male artist: Be careful, girl, he’ll use his experience with you to get—God forbid—inspiration to make art ”. She is tired of criticized for her song-writing when she is doing nothing wrong. Furthermore, she examines her perception in the media and in the business world. The same song says,
“They’d say I hustled
Put in the work
They wouldn’t shake their heads
And question how much of this I deserve”.
She is speaking out against the inequalities that successful women face. She explains that is it not fair that other male artists don’t get scrutinized the way that she and other women do. She discusses in the Vogue interview that her views have drastically change since she was a teenager when she didn’t see sexism in the music industry. She thought that men in the industry treated her in this manner because she was a kid. She explains, “I was a lanky, scrawny, overexcited young girl who reminded them more of their little niece or their daughter than a successful woman in business or a colleague”. She notes that she starts seeing the injustices against her when started playing stadiums and she was still being treated as a cute girl who writes break-up/love songs. She also noticed the injustices when Pitchfork did not review Taylor Swift’s 1989 album but did review male’s, Ryan Adams, cover album of the very album. She claims during her interview with Elvis Duran that she has been wanting to write this song for a long time but didn’t think it would be appropriate to do so. De La Torre would say that it was because she didn’t want to seem like a traitor to her people. Once she was resurrected into the woman she is today, all that fear disappeared and that’s how the song made it to the Lover album. Moreover, the main message of this song is,
“I’m so sick of running
As fast as I can
Wondering if I’d get there quicker
If I was a man”.
As mentioned, Taylor Swift has faced injustices in her career. She believes that things are easier for her male counterparts and she just wants to make the music industry an equal playing field. As it is written in Proverbs 31:25-26, “She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue”. Taylor Swift is now in the position where she is clothed with these attributes and she can write a song like this and though she will probably be criticized for it, she will laugh at those who oppose her and keep spreading kindness, while bringing important issues to light.
Discussing Taylor Swift as a sexual being may make some uncomfortable since she is known as America’s Sweetheart. In the media, she is depicted similarly to the elite housewives in the TV show, Handmaid’s Tale, a sexless being. Swift discloses in the Vogue interview that being America’s Sweetheart is very limiting. On her album, Reputation, she shocked audiences with the song Dress where one can hear her panting sexually and she describes a fantasy where her best friend takes off her dress. Though Swift consciously meant to dissipate her America’s Sweetheart image with this song, she didn’t expect sexist attacks years later. During the 2018 election cycle, Swift publicly supported the Tennessee democratic nominees on her Instagram account. On August 8, 2019, Vogue published its interview with Swift where she thoroughly discussed her political stance. On August 9th, an outraged Kid Rock tweeted at her, “Taylor Swift wants to be a democrat because she wants to be in movies….period. And it looks like she will suck the door knob off Hollyweird to get there. Oldest move in the book. Good luck girl.” This falls in line with the questions she raises in the song The Man; would he be tweeting this out if she wasn’t a women? Luckily, celebrities and non-celebrities condemned Kid Rock for posting the tweets. Patton Oswalt tweeted back, “Amen, Bob. She should be a real American like you, growing up on a six acre estate complete with tennis court and horse paddock, and then bravely adopting a faux “redneck shitkicker” cosplay persona. God bless you, buddy ruff.” and Shania Twain tweeted, “Spread love. Not hate. End of subject”. Both of these celebrities’ tweets insinuate that Kid Rock is one of those White Christians that De La Torre characterizes. A White Christian being the reason for the downfall of Christianity in the United States as they are known to spread hate instead of love as Twain writes. They are also known to be very religious without following Jesus’ teachings. Oswalt pokes fun at this by being and ending his tweet with religious words and showing that Kid Rock, like many other White Christians live comfortable lives where they don’t have to think about others’ struggles.
Furthermore, Swift mentions the repercussions that came from the song, Dress in her song The Man. A part of the second chorus is as follows:
“What I was wearing, if I was rude
Could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves”.
Though she expresses, in the Vogue interview, that she is happy that the America’s Sweetheart image has been taken away, she still wishes that she could be seen as an equal to men in the business world, as expressed in this song. Once again, clothing is yet another aspect of the pop star life that men don’t have to worry about as much as women. Another aspect of life that men do not have to concern themselves with is childbearing. A self-proclaimed pro-choice activist, it is assumed that Swift understands that “reproductive health is a social justice issue and refusal to grant access perpetuates the oppression of women” (Messina et al, 2015). Taylor Swift is an active feminist that seeks to end the oppression of women in all forms through, but not limited to, debunking women stereotypes, bringing attention to gender-biased societal norms, and changing taboo beliefs on women as sexual beings. With the stance she has taken with these issues she has demonstrated to be a modern-day Mary of Magdalene as she is described as being “part of a ‘much larger discussion’ about society and women’s struggles for freedom against patriarchal oppression” by Goodwin (2017).
Aside from being a feminist, Swift is a social justice activist. Some of the issues she has taken up in the last few years are as follows: #MeToo movement, injustices against new artists, and LGBTQ rights. She has also decided to be an active member of democracy, not just by voting, but by encouraging others to vote. She even voices who she believes would be the best candidate and why. She is no longer that naïve little girl from Pennsylvania; she is now a force to be reckoned with who is enacting some really change. She believes that the goal of pop music is “to move things forward and get things stuck in people’s heads and brainwash them into making the world better” through these “fun songs” in an interview with Elvis Duran. She is using her music as well as her platform to indeed make the world a better place.
A known feminist, Taylor Swift has worked to liberate women from oppressive structures, this may have to do with the fact that she has been a victim herself. Though Swift has never been linked to the #MeToo movement directly, she does have the same mission as they do: “resources for survivors of sexual violence and to build a community of advocates, driven by survivors, who will be at the forefront of creating solutions to interrupt sexual violence in their communities”. Swift was on the cover of Time magazine for being a “Silence Breaker” for this work. Time is honoring her for speaking up not only for herself but also for those “who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute”. Proverbs 31 continues by telling us to “speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy”. As stated in Proverbs 31:8-9, this relates directly to Swift’s character. She goes the extra mile to support those who are suffering from injustices, when she really doesn’t have to. As mentioned in the previous section, she has been a victim of sexism in the music industry and business world but now the lens is to shift on her as a victim of harassment, as a person, her body and her reputation. Whereas the song The Man was to confront the sexism piece, the song Look What You Made Me Do confronts the harassment part.
It all started in 2009 when the infamous VMA incident occurred: Kanye West took the stage while Swift was receiving her award for Best Female Video (VMA, 2009). This event is referenced in the Look What You Made Me Do music video when VMA winner Taylor Swift is told to “shut up” at the end of the video. Though not sexual harassment, it is still harassment. Swift tried to be the bigger person and tried to let the incident go with no hurt feelings even becoming friends with the Wests but then in the summer of 2016, West released the Famous music video which portrayed a nude Swift with the lyrics,
“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex
Why? I made that bitch famous”.
Understandably, Swift was shocked that her “friend” would betray her in this fashion. Fans on social media spoke up about the video and Swift “liked” one in particular. It reads: “the famous music video was straight up revenge porn. not to mention putting abuse victims next to their abusers and celebrating sexual assaulters. it was disgusting and he doesn’t get enough crap for it”. Though not literally, it is evident that Swift felt that she was sexual harassed by the Famous rapper. What made things worse was when Kim Kardashian West then, called her a “snake” when she released video clips of Swift and West discussing the lyrics to his song Famous on social media. Swift took this to heart and in the third shot of Look What You Made Me Do, Swift in a room of snakes that pour her tea. Though she was deeply hurt by the Wests’ betrayal, there was nothing that Swift could do to take it down.
However, the American legal system was able to help her 2017, when she countersued DJ David Mueller for one dollar for putting his hand on her behind during a pre-show meet and greet. This is alluded to in the Look What You Made Me Do music video.The first scene, after the graveyard opening, is Swift in a bathtub full of diamonds and a single dollar bill. She won the case and he paid with a one dollar Sacagawea coin. Swift opens up, during the Vogue interview, about the incident and adds, “He was trolling me, implying that I was self-righteous and hell-bent on angry, vengeful feminism. That’s what I’m inferring from him giving me a Sacagawea coin”. When asked why just a dollar, she claims that it is symbolic in that she didn’t sue for the money but rather for the message to men, like Mueller, that what he did should not be condoned and to women or “anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault” as Swift puts it. During the trial, The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, reported that its national hotline saw a 35 percent increase. There is clearly a correlation between Swift’s trial and the increase of victims coming out. It could be attributed to the way that Swift “did not appear to show fear or shame when she took the stand. She was at turns sarcastic, defiant and funny, but never wavering in her testimony that Mueller groped her”, according to ABC News.
After the trial in August of 2017, Taylor told ABC News that “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this. My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard. Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves.” Two organizations have gone to social media to thank Swift for the donations: RAINN and the Joyful Heart Foundation. The president of RAINN, Scott Berkowitz expressed that, “while the circumstances of assault are different, [Swift] can still serve as a symbol for sexual assault — that you don’t have to take it” and that her victory is a “great demonstration to other victims that there is strength in coming forward and pursing justice” (Fisher, 2017). This is yet another example where Proverbs 31:25 comes into play, “She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future”. Swift is clearly a powerful, influential person who is making the world a better place.
Moving to injustices for new artists, there are three major ones that Swift has associated herself with: pulling her songs from Spotify, writing Apple Music a letter, and voicing her concerns about artists not owning the master copies of their music. In 2014, Swift withdrew her music catalog from Spotify. She explains, “It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art” in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. Spotify was not compensating artists fairly so Swift did something about it. Beyoncé, Coldplay and The Black Keys followed Swift’s lead. Spotify responded with they hope she will “change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone” (Brandle, 2017). Taylor Swift must have worked an agreement with them as her music was restored on Spotify some time later. Additionally, to help new artists, one of the requests she had when signing her record deal with Universal Music Group in 2018 was that the company was to distribute proceeds from any sale of its Spotify shares to all of its artists.
Furthermore, in 2015, when Apple Music announced that they would not be paying royalties to artists during the free three-month trial that was given to new users, Swift stated that her album 1989 would not be on the new streaming service in a letter she wrote to the company on her personal tumblr page. Swift refers to the news as being “shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company”. Swift continues in her argument that “This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt…but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs”. She ends her argument with “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation”. According to Time magazine, “Just hours after the note went up, Apple announced it would indeed be paying artists for their music during the free period”. Once again, Swift has used her voice and platform to enact real change. Like she mentioned, she didn’t have to do this, she is wealthy, she did this for the new artist who is living paycheck to paycheck. And thanks to her will earn a little more money that year. The Time author, Bajarin writes that, “What Swift ultimately did is create a win-win scenario for herself, Apple, and all artists who now have a powerful outlet to showcase their musical talents”. Swift was praised for taking a stance, Apple received a lot of free publicity, especially after changing their policy to pay artists, and of course, the artists were compensated which is always a good thing, to get paid for one’s hard work.
Though Swift was praised for standing up for other artists, there are always those who criticize. Swift acknowledges these critics in her music video for Look What You Made Me Do. She, along with her crew, is seen in a music streaming company’s vault robbing money while she sings, “baby, I got mine and you’ll all get yours”. Though this sounds threatening, it is possible that she is referring back to her letter when she expresses that she has money, she just wants others to be able to get their rightful share.
Along these same lines, Taylor wants to use her experience with Scooter Braun buying all her master copies in 2019 as a learning experience for new artists. She explains during an interview with Elvis Duran, that the only positive aspect of this whole situation is that there has been light shown on the “insidious part of our business—it’s not right…I don’t think that a lot of people understand that that is how our business works—they think we own what we make”. She wants this insidious part to be known because she believes that if she builds awareness then it can change. She especially wants new artists to know what they are getting into; things that she didn’t know as a teenager. So she believes that, “if I can say something loudly that somehow absorbs in people’s consciousness that they need to really stand up for themselves and they need to fight for the right to own their work—it’s not going to be given to them; people are going to try and take it from them their whole careers, so they need to know what’s theirs”. She doesn’t want what happened to her to happen to others so she is doing what she can now to teach new upcoming artists how the business works so that they don’t get mislead the way that she has. When talking about the fight for her masters from Braun, the new owner, she sadly says, “It was either investing in my past or my and other artists’ future, and I chose the future”. She is referring to signing with Universal. Proverbs 14:21, clearly uplifts what Taylor Swift is doing to help new artists, it states, “It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy”. From a business perspective, she shouldn’t be helping new artists as they are or will be her competition in the future. What is remarkable about Swift is that that doesn’t bother her. Like she said in the Apple Letter, financially she’s set. Only a leader who is at the top is happy to bring more to the top with her. Taylor Swift is more than that as not only does she love her neighbor, she also is kind to the needy. Yes, this includes beginner artists who are living paycheck to paycheck but it also represents all who are suffering from any type of injustice.
As part of the song, Look What You Made Me Do, Swift blames the current political climate of the United States for being the “you” in the song as she is now getting very politically involved. Like many people, Trump gaining the Oval Office was a wake-up call to all the injustices that were already occurring in this country. In October of 2018, she went to Instagram to break her political apathy. She wrote, “In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country”. When asked why she didn’t step up to endorse Clinton in the 2016 election in the Vogue interview, she explains, “the summer before that election, all people were saying was She’s calculated. She’s manipulative. She’s not what she seems. She’s a snake. She’s a liar. These are the same exact insults people were hurling at Hillary. Would I be an endorsement or would I be a liability? Look, snakes of a feather flock together. Look, the two lying women. The two nasty women. Literally millions of people were telling me to disappear. So I disappeared. In many senses”. Since then, she has resurrected and has come back even more willing to use her voice and platform to fight human rights. She continues on her Instagram post with, “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love”. From being publicly politically apathetic, to these strong stances on Instagram, really speak to her identity. Going back to De La Torre with the traitor dynamic Swift found herself in, once she was able to accept it, she began to blossom. Her resurrection has been marvelous in the way that her now unapologetic nature will really begin to enact positive change in this county. She ends her post with, “Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values. For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway. So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count. But first you need to register, which is quick and easy to do. October 9th is the LAST DAY to register to vote in the state of TN. Go to vote.org and you can find all the info. Happy Voting!”. According to Vote.org, 65,000 new voters registered in the first 24 hours after her post. It is undeniable how much of an influence Swift has on this generation. It is incredible how she uses her voice now after the symbolic crucifixion.
Apart from Instagram, her music has become more political as well. The Americana and The Heartbreak Prince appear on Swift’s new album. It is an allegory on America’s political climate though it seems to be just an innocent story about high school lovers. The lyrics include:
“American glory faded before me
Now I’m feeling hopeless, ripped up my prom dress
Running through rose thorns, I saw the scoreboard
And ran for my life.”
This first verse Swift discusses her feelings in 2015 when Trump was about to get elected. The American glory she is referring to could be Obama leaving the office or all the horrendous events that occurred that led the electoral college to elect Trump. The scoreboard referring to Trump gaining the swing states and winning the presidency. Along with personal issues, Swift is attributing his victory to making her leave the public realm for a while. As we now, Swift has come back more powerful than ever after seeing everything that has happened since 2016. In the second verse, she sings,
“American stories burning before me
I’m feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed
Boys will be boys then, where are the wise men?
Darling, I’m scared”
Everything that used to be great about America such as equality, justice and freedom is now being decimated as more and more white supremists reveal themselves. These are the American stories she is singing about. The common saying “boys will be boys” give men the excuse to acting in sexist and supremist ways. Swift is asking where are the wise men who are supposed to be leading this country to the future instead of regressing it to the civil rights era, which is where we find ourselves now. It is interesting that she expresses fear and a sense of helplessness since as a wealthy, white woman, she could turn the other way since his policies aren’t affecting her in the way that they are affecting undocumented families and Arab travelers. The fact that she is feeling this way, yet continues to fight, demonstrates how courageous she really is. Through her lyrics and her Instagram post, it is evident that she believes in the Psalm (67:4): “May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth”. Swift wishes that wise men (or women) could rule the people with this equity that the Psalm states. Swift continues to show her support for equity in the United States and has vowed to do whatever it takes to ensure that Trump does not get re-elected in 2020, according to her interview with Vogue.
Although Taylor Swift’s political involvement is new, philanthropy is not, she has donated millions of dollars to non-profits, non-governmental organizations, and even other celebrities and fans in their time of need. It is also not new for her to add social justice messages at the end of music videos. For instance, in the summer of 2015, Swift released her music video for Wildest Dreams. At the end of the video, it states that “All of Taylor’s proceeds from this video will be donated to wild animal conservation efforts through the African Parks Foundation of America. In the summer of 2019, the end of the music video for You Need to Calm Down reads as follows: “Let’s show our pride by demanding that, on a national level, our laws truly treat all of our citizens equally. Please sign my petition for Senate support of the Equality Act on change.org”. The difference is that Swift is now taking a more active role in social justice. First, with this petition but then, also by calling out a response from the White House during her speech at the 2019 VMA’s when the music You Need to Calm Down won the Video for Good award. The activist singer proclaimed that by fans voting for this award “means that [people] want a world where we are all treated equally under the law regardless of who we love or how we identify. At the end of this video, there was a petition for the equality act which basically just says we all deserve equal rights under the law and I want to thank everyone who signed that petition because it now has half a million signatures which is five times the amount that it would need to warrant a response from the White House” She then looks at her wrist and taps it illustrating that she is demanding a response. Less than 24 hours, the White House deputy press secretary, Judd Deere, stated that, “The Trump administration absolutely opposes discrimination of any kind and supports the equal treatment of all; however, the House-passed bill in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights” on CNN. Though it was not the response that Swift had hoped for, it does establish just how powerful she is in today’s political climate. It is evident that Swift subscribes to Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight”. By fully surrendering to God and following the example set by Jesus, her path has really become more straight in the sense that she is obliterating any obstacle that comes her way.
It is without doubt that Taylor Swift had to work extremely hard, both personally and professionally, in order to get to the point that she is now in life. Coming from a White Christian background, with a single perspective, Swift has transformed into a fearless, intersectional warrior who has, and continues to shift the way that people view the issues that the United States is facing. She does this through her music, interviews, speeches, and writings, whether it be on social media (Instagram, Twitter or tumblr) or as an op-ed piece on Wall Street Journal. Swift continues to shock the world with her transformation, whether it be from her music to her political stances. Micah 6:8 says, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God”. This is exactly what Swift strived to do as a teenager but it is only through the absence of fear that she is able to do it now. One could even say that this bible verse is what has formed her identity from 2017- present day. Her identity now is everything from before but with feminist, activist, and human rights leader added to the list. At the end of her album, Lover, on the song, Daylight, the spoken outro is as follows:
“I wanna be defined by the things that I love
Not the things I hate
Not the things I’m afraid of, I’m afraid of
Or the things that haunt me in the middle of the night
I, I just think that
You are what you love”.
This outro just further demonstrated how she really abides by a life in God, himself. This outro really encompasses every bible verse that is mentioned in this paper. It has been such a journey for Swift to get this far but now that she has given it all up to God, only good can come to her future and all that are impacted and inspired by Taylor Swift.
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