In my post the other day about Angelina Jolie covering the September issue of ELLE, I wondered about the American Vogue September issue and who would be on the cover. Taylor Swift was my first guess, even though she’d already covered ELLE a few months ago. If Anna Wintour would make an exception for anyone, it would be Taylor. And, indeed, it is Taylor. Remember, though, for ELLE, Taylor wasn’t interviewed; she wrote her own “30 list” for the magazine. For Vogue, however, she agreed to be interviewed. Or that was Anna’s condition. I would love to know how it was all negotiated. Because, as we’ve discussed, the celebrity profile, especially at the superstar level, is not what it used to be. More often than not, it seems, they no longer want to participate in a traditional interview for a magazine profile and prefer to get around it by either writing their own essays or deciding on what questions they’ll answer and what they want to say.
Taylor’s here to save the celebrity profile!
Which is not to say that she isn’t saying what she wants to say. This is all on message for Taylor in support of Lover, her upcoming album and there’s not much here that breaks through the wall, although she’s good enough at this to reveal that it was a conversation with Todrick Hall one day, when he asked her what she would do if her son was gay, that made her realise she “had not made my position clear enough”.
“If he was thinking that, I can’t imagine what my fans in the LGBTQ community might be thinking,” she goes on. “It was kind of devastating to realize that I hadn’t been publicly clear about that.”
She’s giving a friend credit here, and that’s good. She’s acknowledging that her perspective was narrow, and that’s good too. She’s giving an example of a time when she was open to feedback, that she has people in her life who know how to give it.
That said, I don’t know if I agree with the writer, Abby Aguirre, when she says that she “understand[s] why [Taylor] was surprised”. Prior to last year, when Taylor posted about voting in Tennessee, taking a firm stance against homophobic and racist candidates, there was valid criticism about her activism or the perceived absence of it. That wasn’t coming from trolls either. It was coming from thoughtful cultural observers making the connection between artistic freedom and all freedoms, a connection explained best in this quote, the very best counter to those who believe that art should be separate from purpose:
"It has to be both: beautiful & political at the same time. I’m not interested in art that is not in the world. And it’s not just the narrative, it’s not just the story; it’s the language & the structure & what’s going on behind it."— Poets.org (@POETSorg) August 6, 2019
—Toni Morrison (1931–2019) pic.twitter.com/FEncMHvTX3
How could there be surprise then when just a few paragraphs later, that criticism from “a portion of the media” is addressed when Taylor talks about why she didn’t openly declare against Donald Trump who actively attacks all the things she stands for:
“Unfortunately in the 2016 election you had a political opponent who was weaponizing the idea of the celebrity endorsement. He was going around saying, I’m a man of the people. I’m for you. I care about you. I just knew I wasn’t going to help. Also, you know, the summer before that election, all people were saying was She’s calculated. She’s manipulative. She’s not what she seems. She’s a snake. She’s a liar. These are the same exact insults people were hurling at Hillary. Would I be an endorsement or would I be a liability? Look, snakes of a feather flock together. Look, the two lying women. The two nasty women. Literally millions of people were telling me to disappear. So I disappeared. In many senses.”
This is Taylor’s explanation. She has a right to that explanation. I’m just wondering about the follow-up. Which is one of the values of a celebrity profile: a back and forth conversation with questions in response to answers. And the missed follow-up here, when Taylor’s saying she stayed silent because she worried she’d be a detriment, is whether or not that contradicts the point of allyship, that sometimes the act of standing next to or behind someone or something is what you can always defend especially when you don’t center yourself in the situation. How would she have answered that?
It’s not that I don’t see her “damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t” dilemma. She’s laid that out quite clearly. What I’m getting at is that the next part of that statement, and the reaction to the follow-up, would have been where the insight came, where the learning happened, as opposed to the justification. She touches on this earlier in the piece when asked why now – and not then:
“Rights are being stripped from basically everyone who isn’t a straight white cisgender male,” she says. “I didn’t realize until recently that I could advocate for a community that I’m not a part of. It’s hard to know how to do that without being so fearful of making a mistake that you just freeze. Because my mistakes are very loud. When I make a mistake, it echoes through the canyons of the world. It’s clickbait, and it’s a part of my life story, and it’s a part of my career arc.”
It’s still centering herself in the situation, non? And I’m not here to tear her down, although Taylor Swift fans, I’m sure, will interpret it that way. But this cover story is about Taylor’s activism and political involvement. It’s meant to get us thinking about her advocacy journey in relationship to our own, to my own. Where am I failing in my knowledge gaps? How did my past writing on this site and my own interactions in my life fall short of allyship? How do I atone for my ignorance and blend a personal history that’s ignorant and offensive that I cannot erase with my own personal growth? That’s the kind of conversation that a profile with this particular thesis (Taylor Swift, the Lover era, her process as an artist and an ally) is meant to inspire – the takeaway being a deeper contemplation into how we can either relate to or apply what she shares in her artistic vision to our own worldview. Have we gotten there with this piece?
Click here to read it and to see more photos. I’ll write about the photos in my next post.