Taylor Swift Is Confusing

Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” which I consider a perfect song, there’s a giggle she releases between the lines “I go on too many dates” and “But I can’t make ’em stay.” Driving around suburban St. Louis, listening to the radio, I’ve wondered many times if Swift includes this giggle—which acts as a vocal eye roll, or maybe a middle finger, to those whose judgmental comments she’s parroting—during her live performances. Surely, I thought, the temptation to include the giggle would be diminished by the cumulative evidence, as she performed show after show on her “1989” World Tour (which started in May and is still going), of the giggle’s utter lack of spontaneity.

As a forty-year-old woman with unapologetically mainstream musical tastes, I’ve followed Swift’s career with increasing interest. From my vantage point, the defining aspects of her idenтιтy seem to be—surprise!—not her romantic partners but rather her appeтιтe for hard work (that is, her ambition); her savvy and apparently early-adopting use of social media; and the enjoyable accessibility of her art, with songs that alternate between deceptive simplicity and actual simplicity. Also, she’s articulate in interviews, she’s become a vocal proponent of feminism, and apparently she’s friends with Lorde (and a bunch of other glamorous female singers, models, and actresses in their twenties).

In June, when Swift wrote an open letter, on Tumblr, to Apple (тιтled “To Apple, Love Taylor”), criticizing the company’s decision not to pay artists during users’ free three-month trials of its music-streaming service, Apple reversed its policy the next day. “I unsarcastically love that Taylor Swift has acquired enormous economic & cultural power by being very good at singing about her feelings,” I tweeted, and my friend Annie tweeted back asking if I’d like to join her to watch Swift perform at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mᴀssachusetts, in July.

Immediately upon Swift’s appearance onstage, the naïveté of my question about the giggle became apparent. If there was a single millisecond of spontaneity in the entire evening, I missed it. Swift’s first song—“Welcome to New York”—was not only as choreographed as a Broadway musical but was indistinguishable from a Broadway musical, complete with the backdrop of a glittery nighttime New York skyline and, in the foreground, a park bench on which Swift beamingly sang and posed while surrounded by male dancers. Subsequent songs were performed with the accompaniment of the dancers, plus, respectively, videos laden with B.D.S.M. imagery and a kind of lighted, rotating dock that raised Swift above the heads of the audience. Swift wore perilously high heels and an array of skimpy outfits as her image was reflected not only on large screens on either side of the stage but also on the single biggest screen that I’ve seen in my life, which, curiously, faced the backs of most of the crowd and the front of only Swift herself, lending it a mirror-above-the-bed quality of self-interest notable even in these highly narcissistic times.

Scroll to Top