I suppose this was inevitable. Actually, I knew it was.
Given [artist id="2389485"]Taylor Swift[/artist]‘s career trajectory — from sweet-faced Nashville ingenue (who wrote her own songs!) to super-duper country-pop megastar (who used to date the beefy dude from “New Moon”!) in less than four years — it seemed like a backlash was unavoidable. After all, this is what we, as a culture, tend to do in situations like this. It’s in our nature to knock folks down from the pedestals we’ve put them on.
Still, I’m sort of amazed at the acrimony with which Swift is being assaulted. Yes, I’m aware that the Internet has much to do with it … after all, it provides not only the stage but the secure blanket of anonymity. The allure of the “comment” box is that it allows you to say the nastiest things imaginable — things you would never dream of saying directly to someone — without fear of direct retribution. And yes, I’m aware of the fact that negativity and pettiness are the cultural currency of the day, that they drive page views and sell magazines, and that we are all competing to see who can get to the bottom the fastest.
There are Facebook groups with names like “Yo Taylor, ima let you finish, but Lady GaGa had the best album of the year,” and “Taylor Swift is unworthy of even Stevie Nicks’ presence.” Articles like this one, which mention her “undeserved bulging trophy case.” And just one comment of many on recent MTVNews.com stories suggests she take “a seminar on how to sing without Auto-Tune.”
And, like I said, all of this seems a bit, well, harsh. After all, what, exactly, is Taylor Swift’s biggest sin? Faux earnestness? Bum notes on national TV? The fact that she’s sold a whole lot of records and now gets to reap the awards? I suppose it’s all of those things, though none of them seem to be all that important.
So, the question begs to be asked: Why, all of a sudden, are people hating on Taylor Swift? While her rapid rise certainly is the main reason, it was amplified by Kanye West, who inadvertently made her into an underdog when he crashed the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards last year. It was impossible not to feel sympathetic towards her, and we carried that sentiment with us, as Swift made the rounds on talk shows (“Oprah,” “The View”) , and took home trophy upon trophy at the American Music Awards and the Country Music Awards. We were happy to see her do well. After all, she deserved it.
But you could argue that the incident turned Swift into something she may never have intended to be: a bona-fide mainstream celebrity. Her songs were suddenly being played on pop and adult-contemporary radio she was on every TV channel imaginable and her rumored relationship (with “New Moon” star Taylor Lautner) became tabloid fodder. And this exposed her to a much larger audience, a more judgmental one. And here’s where things began to change.
Because that was the audience who began catcalling whenever Swift won another award, started to wonder how she could genuinely be that shocked each and every time she strode to the podium (a fair point, I will admit). They saw her not as a sweet gal who penned her own songs — because they didn’t know her as that; they knew her as a celebrity. And the acrimony built steadily.
“As the awards began to pile up, she went from the underdog to the over-dog. She became just another celebrity,” Entertainment Weekly music critic Leah Greenblatt told me on Tuesday (February 2). “And the cycle of celebrity, it will always come back to a takedown. Some people are mad because she seems too perfect. Some people are mad at her for dumping Jacob from ‘New Moon.’ And a lot of people are mad because she wiffed so hard with Stevie Nicks at the Grammys.”
Ah yes, the Grammys . Swift’s performance with Nicks at Sunday night’s show was many things, but it looks like few of them are working out well for her. Her wobbly vocal performance put her in direct comparison with the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, both of whom she was competing against for the night’s top honors, both of whom had already delivered astounding performances. And when, at the end of the night, Swift bested both to win Album of the Year , well, the hatred went haywire.
“We got tons of comments from people, and a lot of them were really nasty. The cry of ‘She writes her own songs’ was overtaken by ‘But she sings them badly,’ ” Greenblatt said. “We’re used to divas — Mary J nailing it, Gaga doing versions of her songs to pound it in that she can really sing. And the thought after the Grammys seemed to be, ‘If Pink can spin in a hammock , soaking wet, wearing a ribbon, and hit notes, why couldn’t Taylor do it standing behind a microphone?’ ”
So yes, while Swift’s performance didn’t go that well, it still doesn’t mean that she deserves the sheer amount of hatred she’s getting. So what if she had an off performance? So what if she won a boatload of awards? Her Fearless album (not to mention her self-titled debut) has been among the very few bright spots in the music industry over the past few years, and these awards are given out by that same industry. Swift deserves the accolades. She’s earned them.
But, like I said, all of this was probably inevitable. We live to knock people down, and it’s just Swift’s turn to take her lumps. It’s already happened to the likes of Madonna, Britney and Beyoncé, not to mention her fellow country acts like Shania Twain and Faith Hill. It’s been going on for decades, if not centuries, now. It’s just part of the game.
“The cycle of Britney is similar, only with Taylor, it’s more rooted in her music,” music critic Maura Johnston told me. “It’s the whole idea of, ‘Well, too many people like her, so let’s pick at why?‘ There’s a contrarian streak in culture, where it’s a lot easier to share an animosity towards a figure, whether it’s the government or a pop star. And animosity begets animosity. It’s just the way things go these days.”
Still, it doesn’t make it fair. I’ll be the first to take someone down if the situation warrants it, and while Swift may have tiptoed that line, she hasn’t fallen over. People are hating on her because she is popular, because she wins awards, and, yes, because she had an off performance on “music’s biggest night.” But keep in mind that she is still just 20 years old. I get the feeling there’s genuine greatness in her future — she’s just got to get through this part, and let it all come out.
Questions? Concerns? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.