I wrote this piece in 2010 or so, in the aftermath of Taylor Swift being interrupted by Kanye West at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards and the events that followed. Given today's racist response by Swift to Nicki Minaj calling out racism in the music industry, I dug it up and thought it would be the perfect moment to re-share. The original text follows...
Let me make one thing clear: I hate Taylor Swift. I’ve never met America’s beloved pop/country princess, but I hate her. I hate her music. I hate the return to conservative heterosexual fairy-tale romance values that she represents. I just hate the hell out of her. However, it seems that I’m mostly alone in this unbridled fury. Taylor Swift must be the second coming of Jesus because it’s become damn near impossible to utter a critical word against her. She has an army of defenders willing to stake their lives on the assumption that she can do no wrong and the media has latched onto her as the next (and possibly last) great white hope. Even those few bloggers and critics out there that give Swift and her uber-hyped innocent image a hard time, most still issue the caveat that they don’t hate Swift as a person and in fact respect her talent. But I can’t even say that much. I don’t/won’t/can’t respect her, and let me tell you why…
Strike 1: Taylor Swift can’t stay in tune or strum a guitar to save her life while performing live. I’m sorry but I expect performers to perform competently; something I have yet to see or hear Swift do. Plus, her songwriting skills are weak at best. Yes, they might be catchy, but there’s nothing interesting going on there. In fact, every Taylor Swift song is the same Taylor Swift song.
Strike 2: Taylor Swift is a feminist’s worst nightmare. Riese over at Autostraddle.com brilliantly backs up this claim in an article titled “Why Taylor Swift Offends Little Monsters, Feminists, and Weirdos.” Basically, Swift’s lyrics all perpetuate the heterosexual myth of the geeky/shy girl who needs her Prince Charming to swoop in and make her happy. What year is this? Even Disney films know that plot is old fashioned.
Strike 3: And this is the big one. This is the one I just can’t forgive. Taylor Swift is a fucking racist! You heard me. Taylor Swift is racist…but no one is talking about it. The way she handled the whole mess with Kanye West and Beyoncé from MTV’s 2009 Video Music Awards reeks of subtle unapologetic racism and frankly, Swift should be ashamed of herself.
Let’s rewind: Taylor Swift is accepting the award for Best Female Video and Kanye West walks on stage, takes the microphone, apologizes to Swift, and declares that Beyoncé had one of the best videos of the year. Then…all hell breaks loose. Was interrupting Swift the nicest thing to do? No. Do I care that it happened? No. In fact, it was kind of awesome. West is known for his antics and for some of the most amazing moments in the history of live TV (“George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” anyone?). What did we expect from him at the VMA’s for crying out loud? Let’s put this in perspective though: Swift had just won an MTV award that amounts to nothing in terms of industry clout; it wasn’t a lifetime achievement award, it wasn’t even a Grammy (which Swift has also won). And let’s also not forget, Beyoncé’s video was better. Beyoncé deserved the award. Something was unfair and West sensed it, but his douchebaggery and Swift’s country-bumpkin innocence completely overshadowed the racial politics of the incident. Even West himself was forced to declare that it wasn’t about race, even though it most certainly was. West’s anger (while fueled by alcohol and NEVER directed at Swift herself) over one of the best videos of the year – “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé, a black woman – being ignored was never, unfortunately, heard.
Beyoncé was put between a rock and a hard place when she actually won Video of the Year. If she didn’t want to be associated with the backlash that was sure to hit West after the incident, she was more or less forced to invite Swift back up on stage to have her “moment.” Swift proceeded to “oh gosh” and “awww shucks” her way through her thank yous while never mentioning once how gracious it had been of Beyoncé to give her time over to Swift completely. To be clear, Swift had many many chances to minimize the situation: when West first interrupted she could have held on to the microphone; she could have made a joke once West was finished; she could have agreed and said Beyoncé’s video was better and that she didn’t deserve the award; she could have addressed the issue in numerous interviews directly following the event. Swift did none of these things. Instead, she took a step back, cowered, put on the “poor me, small town girl in the big city, deer in headlights” act that she has perfected in both her self-presentation and songwriting (in)ability. She looked straight into the camera and gave everyone her “please someone help the innocent white girl in distress” eyes. She refused to answer questions about West later, sometimes being whisked from the room by her managers when the issue was raised. She plays helpless effortlessly, even though she will be 21 at the end of the year – old enough to drink, vote, graduate college, certainly take care of herself. To America though, she’s perpetually 15 years old and in need of constant rescue.
The whole night, and the subsequent treatment of West, was really just a lesson that our racist U.S. history is still with us. We do not live in a post-race (or post-racist) society like many would like to believe. A black man stood up and spoke back to the white establishment for an enormous slight of the music and accomplishments of a black woman; that same black woman then ended up having to apologize for and distance herself from the actions of said black man, instead siding with the white establishment if she didn’t want to be completely demonized; the black woman then disappears into the background and the black man is essentially lynched in the media for an entire year. Sound familiar? We’ve been replaying the dynamic for nearly 200 years; we white people just like to pretend that so much progress has been made because it makes us feel better.
So, what started as a somewhat innocent scene that could have faded away itself turned into big black scary rapper Kanye West inserting himself into the accomplishments (dreams) and acceptance speech of the perpetually 15 year old, innocent (read: virgin), sweet-as-pie, white girl Taylor Swift. Oh the horror! The media replayed it as an assault on her dreams and her innocence by an out-of-control black man. West had to go into hiding for an entire year and issue statement after statement, apology after apology, self-help sound bite after self-help sound bite, all so the public could make sure he had paid for what he had done and Taylor Swift received justice. Boycotts of his music were called for. Fans denounced him for his actions. All for doing exactly what we expect and love Kanye West to do on live television – shock us, and perhaps drop a truth bomb or two. And instead of seeing how this was ALL about race, we flocked to Taylor Swift’s side to make sure she was going to get through this. Oh, you might say, but that’s because she was the victim; she was an unwilling participant in all of this. She just wanted to accept her award in peace. Hell no! Taylor Swift is no victim. She chose to play the role of the white girl in distress against the big black assailant while receiving huge amounts of sympathy and probably a significant boost in record sales for doing so. To perpetuate that dynamic is to perpetuate racism itself. That’s where racism lives. It’s in the interactions we have every day; it’s in the default structure of society. If you are not actively challenging racism, you are condoning it. Taylor Swift had a huge opportunity and she blew it. She is in fact a racist and that should unsettle most people. She should receive no credit or sympathy.
But did it end there? Oh, no. Fast forward to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards and Swift’s debut of a new song written especially for West, and also announced her official forgiveness. The song, titled “Innocent,” sees Swift playing judge and jury, offering her verdict that West is finally off the hook. Again, the black man on trial for a crime he was falsely accused of is a familiar occurrence in U.S. history. She’s somewhat unsympathetic to West in the song, telling him, “I guess you really did it this time” while acknowledging that he’s “32 and still growing up,” leading her to finally declare that he’s “still an innocent.” Are you kidding me? Not only is Swift self-righteous here, it’s a completely paternalistic way for a white girl to speak to a black man. Her racism, while arguably subtle before, is like a flashing neon sign here. What I wouldn’t have given to see West interrupt her one more time…
Alas, to most of America Taylor Swift represents a return to much more conservative morals and values, an anti-feminist heterosexual romantic ideal, and a throw back to the times when paternalism and more subtle forms of racism passed as progress. Now, we’re supposed to thank Taylor Swift for making it okay to like Kanye West’s music again, as if we need her blessing. We’re supposed to live our lives with Taylor Swift as our moral guidepost, as the savior of America. Forget Jesus, everyone put on your W.W.T.S.D. (what would Taylor Swift do) bracelets.