Taylor Swift and the Case for Mediocrity

As a kid I always wanted to be a pop singer (okay… maybe I still do). Taylor Swift’s Grammy performance last year made me think that maybe I could have been.  If you saw it you will know that doesn’t mean that I am particularly talented.

Taylor Swift doesn’t sing particularly well. So what? Forgetting all that singing stuff, as a person, Swift is insanely likeable. Plus, she apparently writes her own super-catchy songs. Maybe there’s actually room for mediocrity in the world.

On my first date with my boyfriend (whom I later learned is a huge music snob), I made an argument for music that, while not technically brilliant, is simply fun — like watching an action movie or talking about the latest Hollywood gossip with friends.

It makes people like me – who still like to crank the pop songs and sing along like no one’s watching – feel good inside. An early love of pop music is a big part of why I love lots of different music now.

Today, on the release of Swift’s third album (full disclosure: I was waiting for it, bought the extended version, and have listened to it all day), I feel someone over the age of 16 needs to stand up for her.

Mary Elizabeth Williams did that today in her article “What the Taylor Swift haters get wrong.” Williams gives Swift some much deserved credit for existing in an over-sexualized world with some class and gumption.  She also argues that Swift is growing up better in the limelight than those who came before her.

That’s probably true.  That doesn’t mean her music is grown up – “Speak Now” is just “You Belong with Me” with a wedding and “Better Than Revenge” is a catty, slut shaming anthem (a catchy one)  – but the album is better than anything she’s done before.  The music is more even, and the much-hyped “Dear John” has more bite than we’ve seen before from the doe-eyed girl.  That’s a sign of growth even if it’s not a sign of maturity.

She continues to sing about fairytales and things little girls think are grown up problems and dreams.  In “Mine,” Swift sings about marriage and “bills to pay” and “Ours” is a true-love sequel to most of the Fearless album.  While it might not be high art, it is a good time.

As a feminist I have all sorts of conflicts about images about women in pop-culture. It’s damn near exhausting being outraged at everything.  Sometimes you just want to give in and have a little fun.

Listening to Taylor Swift is fun for me.


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