Is Taylor Swift’s tour an attempt to rise from the ashes and start again?
“Imma let you finish…”
Even though Taylor Swift had a successful career as a country singing bumpkin before Kanye West interrupted her at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, those four words are what propelled the then 19-year-old into a far bigger spotlight. As a songwriter that pours her heart into her music and occasionally dates some very famous men, we lived for any subtle hints in her songs, trying to figure out who did what and where and how. This coy delivery of gossip became Swift’s pop currency but when those subtle hints become not-so-subtle, what did this new level of fame cost Swift?
The fame machine runs on gossip and in the era of the personal brand, few pop stars have the luxury of separating their private life from their public image, and in the spirit of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, when Swift’s Reputation went up in flames, she added more fuel. With her sixth album Reputation and lead single Look What You Made Me Do, Swift killed off the Disneyfied Taylor, the one that sang along with woodland animals in the We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together video, and came back like an after-hours Maleficent, cracking a whip in one hand, swirling a whiskey on ice in the other.
If the promo trail for 1989, Swift’s perfect synth-pop album from 2014, was based around her “Squad”, Reputation’s promo is all about the burning ruins of fallen friendships, feuds and fame and one catchy chorus at a time, she’s seeking revenge. But on the eve of Swift’s Reputation tour coming to Croke Park for two nights – she’s the first ever female artist to play two nights in Croker by the by – Swift’s new persona has softened because a grudge for so long is bad for your mental health, as well as your posture. While her fallout with Katy Perry over some background dancers was solved with a literal offering of an olive branch (from Perry, not Swift), there are two names that are still in red and underlined and they are West and his wife Kim Kardashian-West, who play the biggest roles in Swift’s new outlook. Kardashian-West is responsible for all of snake imagery on this tour, thanks to the venomous Snapchat video that proved that West got clearance from Swift to namecheck her in his song Famous, and the married couple are the supposed subjects of songs like Look What You Made Me Do, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, I Did Something Bad and End Game.
Knowing all of the finer details of these spats is the equivalent of studying for the FE-1 exams or, like, five Buzzfeed listicles and by littering Reputation – and her online interactions with fans – with so many real life references and rivalries, perhaps it would have been easier for Swift’s personal life to pull a Carly Simon and keep it vague. For reference, Simon’s 1972 single You’re So Vain is about three men. In 2015, she revealed that one of those men is actor Warren Beatty but the other two remain unknown. One of which is wildly guessed as Mick Jagger, but still… Simon has publicly kept quiet. Coincidentally, Swift claims that Simon revealed the identity to her in confidence after they performed the song together during Swift’s 2013 Red Tour.
When you’re a megastar, there’s a certain point when you have to say enough. At the height of George Michael’s fame in the early 90s, he refused to appear in the music video for Freedom! ’90, saying “I would like to never step in front of a camera again”, and he popped Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Tatjana Patitz in front of the camera instead. He wanted to erase his fame without losing his career, a bargain that someone can only make once they’ve felt the worst of it or have sturdy financial support. The same thing could be said for Britney Spears who had a very public meltdown in 2007 and came back asking “you want a piece of me?” when we had already taken it all.
With a serious cutback on online activity and a near disappearing act from the gossip pages, it seems as if Swift is trying to undo the damage of giving so much of her life for public consumption. Of course, songs need to be written and hearts will continue to be broken but the playground tactics with West, Perry and Kardashian-West have to fade out into background noise. By adding fireworks and petroleum to the bonfire of her old self on this tour, maybe she’s using it as a chance to rise from the ashes, regain control, composure and start again.