Taylor Swift and the media
As I mentioned the other day, one of the best side bonuses of Gossip Christmas, or the Day Of The Receipts, has been all the great writing this week about Taylor Swift Incorporated. Some of it has been straight up prescient. Five full days before Mrs West unloaded, The Ringer posted an article called When Did You First Realise Taylor Swift Was Lying To You. Gossip Nostradamus!
The most excellent pieces about Taylor Swift after Gossip Christmas articulate exactly why gossip isn’t just about who talked sh-t about whom but rather a study of how the celebrity ecosystem reflects back to us our own personal and connected ecosystems, the culture at large. Vulture’s latest is an analysis of Taylor’s relationship with the media and how the receipts have irrevocably altered the way the media – specifically the online media – will cover her. “Having been manipulated into loving Taylor once, the media swears, it won't be fooled again.”
I single out the “online” media because PEOPLE Magazine and Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair and VOGUE – those media brands will most likely still remain favourable to Taylor. And, sure, those are the publications that reach casual gossips who will probably remain on her side. But Taylor herself made good use of online media at the height of her invincibility. She used online media to play her games. She used Tumblr to take a stand against Apple. She uses Twitter to pick fights with other artists. She uses Instagram to own Independence Day. And all of those posts and pictures and tweets get disseminated back to media sites, creating an endless swirl of chatter that, up until recently, she used to great advantage. It helped her establish her connection to much of her fanbase. She, more than anyone else, knows exactly what is being said about her online.
So if the media has decided that it will no longer be fooled by Taylor Swift, how does Taylor Swift adjust the way she communicates?
Taylor, in the last few days, has been described as manipulative and controlling. She wouldn’t be the only superstar with those attributes. You can’t get to that level without being manipulative and controlling. Her problem is that she tried to pretend that she wasn’t. She tried to pretend that everything happens organically. That her art creates itself and takes on its own life. That her career was destined by pure talent and not also determined by calculation and strategy and ambition.
But you know who’s also manipulative and controlling?
You know who doesn’t pretend she doesn’t think through every single move?
You know has stopped engaging the media?
Beyoncé has not given a real interview in years. Beyoncé puts out an album with no conventional publicity and follows that up with a visual album with no accompanying interviews to explain herself. What does Lemonade mean? We’re supposed to figure out from only listening and watching Lemonade.
Taylor’s approach to her work, on the other hand, is to be understood. She has always, desperately needed to be understood. And this is how she’s used the media. To explain. To over-explain. To make sure you UNDERSTAND exactly what she means. She’ll tweet about it. She’ll wear t-shirts about it. She’ll tell you about it in her liner notes. And then, once you’ve understood what she needs you to understand, you’re supposed to love her for it. Taylor said herself that she was risking over-exposure. But it’s not just that she’s over-exposed, it’s not just that there’s no mystery, it’s that she literally forcefeeds you her answers.
What’s brilliant about how Beyoncé has changed the way she communicates is how much more powerful she’s become in her (media) silence. It’s not that she hasn’t used her voice though. It’s that she just that uses it exclusively through her art. Which is what Taylor has always claimed she’s wanted to do.