Will the real Taylor Swift stand up? Art by Gica Tam
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The redemption of Taylor Swift

A non-fan learns that the only way to appreciate Taylor Swift is to get the singer’s reputation out of the way.
Mags Ocampo | Jan 15 2019

I’ve never been a Taylor Swift fan. While some of her songs are certified bops, virtually impossible not to dance to, I’ve always found her—whether as performer, or artist, or just plain and simple person—to be deeply unlikeable. 

It’s probably the narrow, self-centered way she views and expresses “feminism”—using it as a marketing crutch via “#squadgoals,” or as a way to deflect any form of criticism. It's also probably because she likes to wallow in victimhood by reviving old feuds and making weak diss tracks with matching overtly “symbolical” music videos. Part of it, too, would be how manipulative that all feels when she presents herself as a sweet, old-fashioned, romantic country girl. Her personal brand has always just seemed so saccharine. All of that matched with weak talent—let’s be honest, she can hardly sing and she cannot dance—and you’ll find there’s really not much to admire.

Photograph from IMDb

I've always wondered what hardcore fans see in her. After debating with a friend about her “merits” for over half a decade now, I thought I had found the one thing that could probably change my opinion of the pop star: the Reputation tour documentary now streaming on Netflix. 

I tried to watch it with an open mind. This can’t be that bad, I thought, especially since I I’ve seen tour documentaries of artists I didn’t necessarily like but ended up enjoying them. Yet less than a half hour into Reputation, I found myself minimizing the tab and resolving I would try going back to it later that evening. It took two whole days to convince myself to resume the play button. 

CAPTION

The first part of the show alone feels like a grandiose display of self-victimization and vindication. Reputation in itself as an album is already problematic, but seeing it performed on stage with Swift’s half-baked theatrics made it all a little bit worse. The revenge theme is lamely executed, putting great sets and an amazing stage to waste. The way Swift paints her payback simply isn’t empowering; there is nothing badass about chucking the blame for everything on other people—and whining about it all as a form of retribution. I’m all for the unapologetic bad bitch—they’re my favorite kind of people (shoutout to Rihanna, BeyoncĂ©, Madonna, Robyn, and the likes)—but something about this persona Taylor is trying to project feels really forced. 

And that’s the crux of being an unapologetic bad bitch: authenticity. Being a hundred percent you. No excuses or apologies. Minimal effort, maximum truth. This just isn’t a character she can carry. 

A hard-to-believe alter ego aside, her Reputation performance is underwhelming. The effort to please shows. You can see she’s pushing herself, which is probably commendable, but often her voice is flat, her dance moves appear stiff—and because of the new “unapologetic bitch” branding, they’re no longer awkwardly endearing, as they were circa “Shake It Off.”

Photograph from IMDb

The show finally takes a turn for the better once she sheds her snake skin, goes back to performing songs from older albums, and goes out of her scripted spiels. At this point, she becomes genuinely endearing—blowing her nose on stage, giving shoutouts to the entire crew, being goofy with her back-up dancers, making faces. Perhaps the best moment of the show, however, is when she sings “All Too Well,” which is about a cherished romance long over. There’s sincerity in that moment—something we don’t get a lot from the performer. She and her guitar and a stadium full of people who know every word by heart—this is the Taylor Swift brand that works.

From there, the rest of the show becomes bearable, and I find myself happy to have sloughed through the cringe-inducing start. It is clear her connection with her audience is deep and real. Her words sound genuine. The gratefulness in her tone heartfelt. There’s a bewilderment in her smile. There’s no other reason why she’s here: it’s because of her fans and she knows it. 

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I stay to the end and watch the credits roll in full. As the names involved in the production flash on the screen, we see Swift behind the scenes being her actual self, a normal person. I’m still no convert but I must admit I’ve let a little bit of the light seep through. The girl behind the vengeful facade and cloying marketing tricks turns out to be sweet and funny and surprisingly endearing. Maybe if she cared a little less about her reputation, and stopped projecting a persona based on it, there is hope for her yet.