Sealed with a hiss

As a de­fi­ant Tay­lor Swift pre­pares to un­leash her Rep­u­ta­tion tour on Croke Park, Ed Power looks at the events that have helped shape the pop star’s new-found re­solve

Irish Independent - - Culture & Features -

The last time Tay­lor Swift played Dublin she paused half­way through the per­for­mance to de­liver a heart­felt ad­dress to her fans.

“When you start to com­pare your­self to other peo­ple, please change the chan­nel in your mind to some­thing else,” she said, plung­ing into the stump speech about bul­ly­ing she had given through­out her 2015 world tour. “When it comes to how we see our­selves, other peo­ple are re­ally mean.”

Three years later, a very dif­fer­ent Swift ma­te­ri­alises at Croke Park this evening (she’s back to­mor­row night for sec­onds).

Her Rep­u­ta­tion tour is lit­er­ally a pop viper-pit, with Swift sur­rounded by im­ages and ef­fi­gies of snakes (in ad­di­tion to be­ing flanked by her new squad besties, sup­port singers Camilla Ca­bello and Charli XCX).

Is this a metaphor for fame and how it can bite you in the heels when you least ex­pect? Ironic com­men­tary on the me­dia por­trayal of Swift as cal­cu­lat­ing and ca­reerist? Does the world’s big­gest pop star whose name doesn’t fea­ture the words ‘Ed’ and ‘Sheeran’ just re­ally, re­ally (re­ally) like snakes? The an­swer is prob­a­bly all of the above.

Swift’s Rep­u­ta­tion gigs fol­low an al­bum of the same name in which the star bared her fangs at her de­trac­tors. As an­nounced by supremely snarky lead sin­gle ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, this was Swift as we’d never seen her: snarling, high-kick­ing — not in the mood to take pris­on­ers. It was, above all, an artist as­sert­ing own­er­ship of her per­sona.

Swift, lest we for­get, has been tar­geted with un­com­mon sav­agery by the gos­sip in­dus­try — por­trayed as aloof and con­trol­ling and ac­cused of wag­ing one-sided feuds against other pop stars.

Rep­u­ta­tion was her wrestling with this — seek­ing to as­sert own­er­ship over her im­age.

She is right to feel hard done by. As fans will tell you, the neg­a­tiv­ity is mis­di­rected, with Swift’s en­tire life in the spot­light best re­garded as an ex­am­ple of a woman stand­ing up to those try­ing to beat her down.

Swift cer­tainly knows what a bully looks like. As the priv­i­leged but shy and some­what nerdish daugh­ter of wealthy par­ents, she was picked on mer­ci­lessly at school in Penn­syl­va­nia — and, cru­eller still, ex­cluded by class­mates. It is tempt­ing to con­clude the lessons learned in that vul­ner­a­ble pe­riod con­tinue to shape her, both as in­di­vid­ual and artist. “Ju­nior high was ac­tu­ally sort of hard be­cause I got dumped by this group of pop­u­lar girls,” Swift told

Teen Vogue. “They didn’t think I was cool or pretty enough, so they stopped talk­ing to me...the kids at school thought it was weird that I liked coun­try [mu­sic]. They’d make fun of me.”

As with many mu­si­cians, she ap­pre­ci­ates, too, that what doesn’t kill you makes you more in­ter­est­ing. “There is a ten­dency to want to get thick­skinned,” she said in 2010. “There is a ten­dency to block out neg­a­tive things, be­cause they re­ally hurt. But if I stop feel­ing pain, then I’m afraid I’ll stop feel­ing im­mense ex­cite­ment and epic cel­e­bra­tion and hap­pi­ness. I can’t stop feel­ing those things, so I feel ev­ery­thing. And that keeps me who I am.”

She even took an 18 month sab­bat­i­cal from so­cial me­dia. Ul­ti­mately she con­cluded that if peo­ple were be­ing un­pleas­ant to­ward her, she was bet­ter off know­ing about it. “I went through a few years where I just never went on­line and never looked at blogs,” she re­calls. “This was around 2013, when the only thing any­one wanted to write about me was about me and some guy. It was re­ally dam­ag­ing. I didn’t go on­line for a year and a half. I ac­tu­ally for­got my In­sta­gram pass­word. But now I check in and see what’s hap­pen­ing. That stuff does mat­ter.”

The mean girls no longer ig­nore Swift (when she re­turned to play a home­town show she was struck by their squeals of adu­la­tion — had they for­got­ten their treat­ment of her?).

Still, plenty of oth­ers have dumped on her glee­fully. Kanye West no­to­ri­ously crashed her ac­cep­tance speech at the 2009 VMAs and, as if that wasn’t enough (ap­par­ently it wasn’t), rapped

lewdly about Swift his 2016 al­bum Life Of Pablo. The lat­ter in­ci­dent is a ma­jor in­flu­ence on the new tour. In the af­ter­math of the Pablo con­tro­versy, Kanye’s wife Kim Kar­dashian posted au­dio of a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween her and Swift which ap­peared to sug­gest Tay­lor was fore­warned about Kanye’s ref­er­ence to her on the record. Swift was duly branded a “snake and liar” on so­cial me­dia — with Kanye, not she, painted as the ag­grieved party.

Swift has not been giv­ing in­ter­views to pro­mote Rep­u­ta­tion (a fur­ther meta com­men­tary on her re­la­tion­ship with the me­dia). So her first op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress Kimye-gate came on the open­ing night of the Rep­u­ta­tion tour, at which she was flanked by plas­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the ser­pent fig­ure she had been com­pared to.

“A cou­ple of years ago, some­one called me a snake on so­cial me­dia and it caught on,” Swift told the au­di­ence. “And then a lot of peo­ple called me a lot of names on so­cial me­dia. And I went through some re­ally low times for a while be­cause of it. I went through some times when I didn’t know if I was gonna get to do this any­more. And I guess the snakes, I wanted to send a mes­sage to you guys that if some­one uses name-call­ing to bully you on so­cial me­dia and even if a lot of peo­ple jump on board with it, that doesn’t have to de­feat you. It can strengthen you in­stead.”

This was her 2015 anti-bul­ly­ing speech, remixed and re­booted. How­ever, the mes­sage re­mained the same. Peo­ple will try to do you down and you’ll prob­a­bly feel ter­ri­ble. But it’s im­por­tant never to give up (a theme she had al­ready spelled out with 2014 sin­gle ‘Shake It Off’) How strongly the mes­sage res­onates with her fans of course de­pends on which fans you are talk­ing about. Uniquely among pop stars of her gen­er­a­tion, Swift’s fol­low­ing ranges from chil­dren to the mid­dle aged.

In the lat­ter camp you will, for in­stance, find Ryan Adams, the 40-some­thing al­ter­na­tive coun­try singer who turned to Swift’s mu­sic fol­low­ing the break­down of his mar­riage to ac­tress Mandy Moore. He was so smit­ten by Swift’s songs that he re­leased a cover of her en­tire 1989 al­bum — a record he com­pared to Bruce Spring­steen’s Ne­braska.”

“You hear the tone of her voice or the clean line of a song and it’s just clear,” he con­tin­ued in a con­ver­sa­tion with Rolling Stone. “You think, ‘Well, of course, this per­son is who they are in mu­sic’. The un­de­ni­able force of her per­son­al­ity comes through in her mu­sic. There are cer­tain peo­ple, like Keith Richards, who have that thing.”

Yet she is also beloved by younger fans, many of whom will be ac­com­pa­ny­ing their par­ents to Croke Park tonight. In­deed one rea­son Swift has main­tained a squeaky clean per­sona, she has stated, is that she doesn’t want the mother and daugh­ter who paid good

money to at­tend her con­cert to go on­line and see pic­tures of her stag­ger­ing out of a night­club.

Bul­ly­ing is, of course, a real­ity even among pre-teens and, while ref­er­ences to snakes and mean tweets may soar over their heads, Swift’s mes­sage prom­ises to none­the­less res­onate strongly: ig­nore the haters and just be proud of who you are.

At a time when so­cial me­dia pumps out so much vit­riol, that’s the im­por­tant mes­sage, the ac­com­pa­ny­ing bells, whis­tles and gi­ant an­i­ma­tronic ser­pents mere glit­ter on top.

Shak­ing it off: Tay­lor Swift has bat­tled through crit­i­cism from her peers, and so­cial me­dia trolls, to present her most suc­cess­ful al­bum to date

At­tack: Kanye talked trash about Tay­lor on his al­bum

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