Taylor Swift’s new album, reputation, is out on Friday. So far she’s released four songs. I’m not super into any of them. But she’s already pre-sold 400,000 units of the album, and it’s Target’s biggest music pre-sale of all time. As of now, reputation’s pre-orders are double the number for her last album 1989. And, as you know, 1989 was an undeniable, indisputable major smash. There should be no doubt that reputation will be a smash.
So…this week was supposed to be easy, right? She has the numbers, she has the awareness, she’ll be on ABC’s TGIT for a final push just hours before the album drops, she’s been announcing performance dates, including her UK comeback at the Capital FM Jingle Bell Ball on December 10…
What could possibly go wrong?
Back in September, Meghan Herning wrote a blog post for PopFront about Taylor’s Look What You Made Me Do and how the song was being co-opted by white supremacists. Meghan compared the lyrics of LWYMMD to the language used by white supremacists in their crusade to uphold white superiority. The post also examines the history of the white supremacy movement in the United States. Meghan points out that Taylor is the white supremacy movement’s favourite artist and that, in not wanting to alienate many of her white fans, Taylor has not done enough to denounce white supremacy and the movement’s attempt to establish a connection to her. You can read that article here.
This is not the first time that Taylor’s popularity with white supremacists has been mentioned. Last year Vice published a piece about how neo-Nazis declared her their “Aryan Goddess”. But Meghan Herning’s post bothered Taylor so much that her lawyer sent a cease and desist letter to PopFront demanding that the post be removed or otherwise risk litigation. Further, Taylor’s lawyer insisted that PopFront not publish the threatening letter for violation of copyright law.
So Meghan reached out to the ACLU.
And the ACLU defended her. Not only did the ACLU defend her, the ACLU also made public their defence, hilariously using Taylor Swift’s own lyrics to rebuke her attempts at shutting down free speech.
“Intimidation tactics like these are unacceptable,” said ACLU attorney Matt Cagle. “Not in her wildest dreams can Ms. Swift use copyright law to suppress this exposure of a threat to constitutionally protected speech.”
Here’s another one:
“Criticism is never pleasant, but a celebrity has to shake it off, even if the critique may damage her reputation.”
Did the ACLU just troll Taylor Swift?!
Since the story broke yesterday, many other journalists have been sharing their experiences of being warned by Taylor and her formidable legal team.
I was issued a letter by Taylor's lawyers once too, and you know MTV caved because well, MTV. Then she didn't even show up at their VMAS.— Ira Madison III (@ira) November 6, 2017
Here’s the thing – celebrities and Hollywood players send letters all the time. Most of the time it’s through their publicists. Please change your story, or update it with “x, y, z”, but don’t say it’s from me, you can say it’s from a “source”. The difference here is that there’s usually no lawsuit threat at the end of the request. The threat comes in the form of withholding access and restricting your ability to do your job which jeopardises your actual job. A recent example of this is Disney vs The LA Times. Briefly, The LA Times published a story a couple of months ago about whether or not Disney used aggressive tactics to strong-arm the city of Anaheim into giving the company subsidies. Needless to say, Disney wasn’t happy with the report and then banned LA Times journalists from attending advance screenings of their upcoming films. The LA Times wasn’t able to publish a review of Thor: Ragnarok, for example, because of this situation. Since then, other journalists from other media outlets are standing with The LA Times, boycotting Disney screenings until The LA Times is unblocked. Click here for a full summary of the story.
Last week, the Country Music Association, ahead of tomorrow’s CMA Awards, told reporters covering the event that they would not be allowed to ask questions about the Vegas shooting or gun control or they would risk losing their credentials and be removed from the show via security escort. You can read more about that here. After protest from media outlets and some artists, include Brad Paisley, the CMA reversed its position.
So, in a larger context, this kind of bullsh-t happens all the time. It’s been happening for years. And celebrities from every entertainment division benefit from it. But people are starting to push back. They’re seeing what’s happening in the White House. More recently, they’re seeing what’s been happening in Hollywood, in light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and how he silenced people for decades, and so standard Hollywood policies and procedures are being challenged.
But that doesn’t mean the status quo is willing to give up their position. Which is where we find Taylor Swift. To be fair, Taylor’s lawyers have also sent cease and desist letters to white supremacists with the same warnings. Those letters just don’t get published because it wouldn’t benefit white supremacists to let the public know that Taylor doesn’t want to be associated with them.
That said, why wouldn’t Taylor want to do more to NOT be associated with them? Even Eminem recently drew a line in the sand between himself and his white supremacist fans and Trump supporters. Well, because throughout her career, she has remained publicly and determinedly apolitical. Which, frankly, is her right. Nobody HAS to declare who they’re voting for. Nobody HAS to declare who and what they’re against. But also nobody should be able to throw their money and power around and intimidate the people who do decide to declare what they’re for or against. In protecting Taylor’s right to keep her opinions to herself, her lawyers have violated Meghan Herning’s right to share her opinions with the world, thereby asserting that Taylor’s rights are more important than Meghan’s.
It’s not a good look. It’s especially not a good look this week. Which also means it’s not good work, from someone who is supposed to be very, very good at her job. Her job, right now, is to promote this album and the new era of Taylor Swift Incorporated. For months now, Taylor has been telling us that the old Taylor is dead. That the new Taylor doesn’t give a sh-t what you think. In the Look What You Made Me Do video, she showed us all the previous versions of herself, laden with all the assumptions and accusations that people have made about and against her (she’s manipulative, she’s a control freak, she’s a snake, she’s a backstabber) and set them on fire. In other words, the brand message here is that she doesn’t care anymore. That we can say whatever, but as long as she knows who she is, she’s done trying to change our minds.
If that’s the case, WHY ARE YOU SENDING LEGAL LETTERS THREATENING TO TAKE DOWN BLOGGERS?!?
If you truly don’t care, then why are you reading every goddamn thing written about you and cherry-picking the pieces that you don’t like? If you truly don’t care, wouldn’t you just not… care?
This is what’s so frustrating to me from a career management point of view. If the brand is about letting go, about being above the gossip, about relinquishing her “reputation” so as to free herself from the burden of having to live up to what other people decide she is and will be, then how is dictating the way people talk about her ON BRAND?!
Sh-t like this only reinforces the inauthenticity of that brand. It proves that the brand is hashtag “I don’t give a f-ck” as opposed to actual “I don’t give a f-ck”ness. It’s not so much a brand than a sticker, peel on peel off. It’s a significant misplay from someone who showed us such great game only this past summer, when she won her lawsuit against the DJ who groped her. From a work perspective then, this is far, far from her best.