Taylor Swift has had the summer of a lifetime. The 25-year-old generational icon has been making her way around the globe in her 1989 World Tour, performing at sold-out venues across continents. It seems that this once country singer turned pop-star has not only accepted but has openly embraced the new genres that her career has led her to. Defying the idea of being defined by one type of music, Taylor Swift has allowed her career to evolve in whatever direction she found necessary and appropriate at the time. But the sound and nature of her songs wasn’t the end of all the criticism.
The singer next had to deal with a flood of ridicule, criticized as only singing about men, relationships, and her emotions. This societal archetype paints Taylor as that typical blonde girl who is head over heels for yet another guy in her life. Before long, she was accused of the laundry list of men she had appeared to have collected, with the media turning the tables once again on her and pinning her as some psychotic love freak who simply dated men, broke up with them for yet another nonsensical reason, and then exploited the relationship and exposed it via another iTunes chart hit.
It wasn’t until her latest album, 1989, when Taylor seemed to directly address all of the hate, with songs like “Shake It Off” and “Blank Space,” in which she has advice for dealing with the haters and satirizing her portrayal by embodying it, respectively. After this barrage of criticism, it seemed that Taylor Swift has been unjustly criticized for a number of things, things that many of her peers would not have been scrutinized for. How often, exactly, are Bruno Mars and Adam Levine criticized for singing about their relationships? It seems as though female artists still face challenges that are exclusive, more or less, to one gender, further revealing discriminatory attitudes.
But we must remember that Taylor Swift does actually have most of her identities working in her favor. Admittedly, she is a self-identified woman, and as such, has to face the oppressive force of a patriarchal society and must put up with misogynistic expectations and sexist comments on the regular; however, nearly every other identity that we know of seems to be helping rather than hurting her.
Just when it seemed that Taylor Swift had managed to clear her name of all of the criticisms, she backed herself into quite the corner with the release of a highly anticipated music video for her single “Wildest Dreams” off of her latest album, 1989.
The video features a 1950s Africa in which the brunette Taylor Swift dances with her lead male in a beautiful region featuring a number of African wildlife. The only problem: there isn’t a single person of color in the entire video. It is unfortunate to see this icon make her way to a culturally rich and diverse continent only to exploit the giant landmass for the exotic appeal of large wildlife as decorations in her music video footage. She fails to incorporate the African people in their entirety, somehow instead choosing to depict an Africa where only beautiful wildlife and white people exist.
There are two important points to be addressed here: African wildlife and political correctness.
Regarding the first point, Taylor Swift did do our charismatic megafauna, the beloved African wildlife, a solid favor by ending her music video with a notice that noted that all of the proceeds raised from this video will go to wild animal conservation efforts via the African Parks Foundation of America. There is little question that this is indeed a wonderfully virtuous deed. But why is it that the only time anyone seems to care about Africa is when it involves the majestic beasts that roam the land and never the human inhabitants who may also need some attention. The only exception to this point seems to be “mission trips” put on by schools, often in America, to gain some sort of moral credit by traveling to the foreign land as some sort of white savior narrative to quell the African peoples of their worries by inviting their teenage squad into the African lands to somehow learn about and “fix” socioeconomic issues, something that seems an awful lot like a watered-down form of imperialism that is carried under the facade of pure compassion for people who allegedly cannot help themselves, and further exploiting this seemingly good deed with a new Facebook profile picture.
With the recent rise of Donald Trump, the topic of political correctness has once again surfaced as an alleged annoyance that the American people must put up with, thereby distinguishing Trump as some sort of free speech crusader who cannot be stopped from speaking his mind, for better or for worse. The fact of the matter is not that Taylor Swift simply chose to film in an undisclosed location in Africa, but rather, that featuring a white only cast did not seem to cross her mind as something that might be problematic. Of course, there is no way to be absolutely sure of what thoughts did or did not cross the singer’s mind while the music video was in its planning stage; however, we do know that she did eventually star in her own music video and did, in fact, contribute to this production. This implicit compliance easily sidesteps the issue of race, or so audiences believe. Those defiers of political correctness will call out anyone who points this out as the “PC Police” (political correctness police) as being the ones who introduce the issue of racism into something that has nothing to do with race, or at least it didn’t have anything to do with it until these pretentious neoliberal PC police officers raided our free airwaves by trying to regulate what we want to do. But let’s try to actually address this accusation because it is rather revealing of societal attitudes regarding race. Those who don’t have to deal with the issue of race on a regular basis understandably will think that the issue and prevalence of racism in modern-day society is far less prominent than it truly is. They are underexposed to racism as a part of their own white privilege.
It seems that the music industry, and society, still both have a ways to go. Because as of right now, one of the world’s most influential singers can still proudly sing about her “Wildest Dreams” being nothing more than an admittedly catchy, white colonialist fantasy.
This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine.