My “Champagne Problems” with Taylor Swift
Like countless others, on Oct. 27, I sat down to listen to “1989 (Taylor’s Version).” I have to admit I was excited, but that excitement dissipated almost immediately after I pressed play. Disappointingly enough, I found myself incredibly underwhelmed by both the updated versions of my former favorites and by the album’s vault tracks. The new songs, I thought, lacked the compelling lyrics Taylor Swift is known for while the “revamped” hits felt like softer, dull versions of their hard-hitting counterparts.
I really do think that “1989” should have stayed in 2014.
It seems, though, that I’m in the minority when it comes to my opinion on Swift’s latest re-release, as fans and critics alike are labeling it as a success. And while I can’t justifiably label their infatuation with this album as “wrong” or “incorrect,” I can suggest that it’s a reflection of an obsessive, and unfounded, fascination with Swift—a fascination I would like to challenge.
Swift is certainly a talented musician, but some of her most recent re-releases leave something to be desired. As previously mentioned, there is the notably lackluster “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” that is audibly lacking in terms of music and sound quality—especially relative to some of Swift’s earlier work. But then there is also “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version),” which was released earlier this year. While not as disappointing as “1989 (Taylor’s Version),” it was still a definite letdown. Among the album’s songs there were very few, if any, deviations from the originals—and there should have been—thus making the album feel redundant. Of course, I am well aware that the purpose behind Swift’s re-recording project is not necessarily to revitalize her music, but that does not mean she should refuse the opportunity to do so and improve upon her current discography. In fact, I think this should be expected of an artist of her stature.
It’s also important to note how Swift doesn’t do much with her broad fanbase and expansive influence. Swift is undeniably popular: She has over 276 million followers on Instagram and an estimated global fan base of over 500 million people. A recent survey found that over half of the U.S. adult population likes Swift; she is also incredibly popular among young adults. Her fanbase is, suffice to say, impressive, as is the level of influence it gives her—though Swift, unfortunately, fails to utilize it.
Swift, in all fairness, did endorse a senate candidate in 2018 and has released two songs—“Only The Young” and “You Need to Calm Down”—that include, or are believed to include, political statements. However, this is not enough. Swift not only has the opportunity to speak out on important issues, but also to be heard by, and influence, millions around the world. And yet she mostly remains silent—even at times when her commentary could be considered to be incredibly warranted. When she and singer Matty Healy, for example, were rumored to be dating, she chose not to address his racist and sexist actions and comments—a disappointing decision on Swift’s part.
Potentially worse than Swift’s silence, though, is the “performative activism” she’s been most recently accused of after her collaboration with rapper Ice Spice. Many thought the timing of the collaboration was suspicious given that just three months before its announcement Healy laughed at, and joined in on, derogatory jokes made about the rapper during a podcast appearance. Considering the former connection between Swift and Healy, a number of fans believe that Swift and Ice Spice’s collaboration was nothing more than a PR stunt and find the possibility extremely upsetting—and rightfully so. The duet, in the words of Swiftie Brooke Giles, exemplifies Swift’s tendency to “[find] more ways… to profit off of controversy” rather than directly addressing or confronting the issue at hand.
Swift is an undoubtedly talented musician, but her music—and even Swift herself—aren’t necessarily meeting the expectations I believe should be set for an artist of her caliber. Her rising levels of fame and popularity should not make her immune to meeting certain standards—both with respect to her music and to what she does with the level of influence she has.