Taylor Swift, Can You Not: A Moratorium on Pop Feminism


“Let me make this clear: I’m not difficult, I’m just about my business. I’m not into fake industry parties and fake agendas.” — Nicki Minaj, “All Things Go”

If you’re an adult whose ideas about feminism are shaped by pop stars, please read a fucking book. The perception that Taylor Swift’s exclusivity-driven take on girl-power, or Beyoncé’s shamelessly capitalistic fight for wage equality, constitute radical political statements is false. I myself have bought into the pop feminism industrial complex at times on this very website, lending too much credence to the notion that these broad-stroke acts of feminism add up to mainstream culture shifting away from engrained misogyny while simultaneously empowering pop’s young female fanbase.

Don’t get me wrong, the longterm effects of every pop star suddenly clamoring to work in that she’s a feminist are positive. But if you think this behavior stems from dog-eared Dworkin texts being passed around million-dollar tour buses like some Traveling Pants nonsense, you’re giving pop stars way too much credit. Their job is to entertain, not to communicate the nuances of feminism (or any other political agenda) to the masses. The scenario to do the latter in an organic manner almost never aligns with the former. Which is precisely why I’m bummed out — but certainly not surprised — to see that Taylor Swift assumed the role that basic white feminists historically have when faced with a scenario involving black feminism and intersectionality: “But, I thought men were the enemy. I didn’t do anything wrong!”

In case you haven’t been following along, Nicki Minaj aired some grievances yesterday on Twitter about this year’s MTV VMA nominations and the industry as a whole, in light of her internet-breaking, meme-making “Anaconda” video not being nominated for Video of the Year. It makes me sad that Minaj puts so much stock into an awards show that has far more to do with the celebrity factor than artistic merit; how that shows is in the fact that viewers don’t even pretend to care who wins.

Do they read like Taylor Swift subtweets? Well, yeah, a little. Swift’s “Bad Blood” video quite literally turns supermodels into superheroes. But “very slim” is a hard thing to qualify. Minaj could be referring to dancer Brittany Cherry in Ed Sheeran’s (admittedly unremarkable) “Thinking Out Loud” video, which was also nominated, or the faceless beauties adorning Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” She could be highlighting the fact that she’s never been nominated for Video of the Year despite breaking YouTube and Vevo records, yet peers like Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga have won the award in recent years for similar feats.

Swift, whose self-serving social strategy could be described as ‘manicured to look candid,’ felt the need to jump in and defend herself under the guise of girl-power and her undying thirst to be everyone’s BFF. In just a couple of tweets, Swift showed her lack of progressive thought when it comes to the application of feminism. She appeared oblivious to the role her demographic plays in keeping pop white, and showed little understanding of how intersectionality works. Which, again, why are we surprised? Swift has admitted that her feminist awakening came just a couple years ago, via Lena Dunham. She’s probably still in the phase of her own feminism where she thinks women should be on the same team by default, except when they cross her badly enough to warrant a diss track.

As Minaj suggests, this was an opportunity for Swift to say something Real. I would have settled for her saying nothing and having a good long think about the advantages she’s had because of how she looks. Instead Swift made it about herself, making herself out to be a victim of bullying when all she’s given Minaj is love and support. For a second there, Swift’s play worked on the media coverage of Minaj’s “rant,” until Nicki dropped some real talk on that too.

As if this wasn’t enough, Swift tried way too hard with the innocent bestie thing again.

Nicki Minaj needs no one’s permission to stage-crash. Her entire career as a rapper who also happens to be in possession of a vagina is built on her ability to take things she deserves that others wouldn’t have given to her otherwise. The same cannot be said of Swift, so much so that the thought seemingly never occurred to her.

Pop stars are built to be likable and by extension, sellable to all — a concept, by the way, that’s fundamentally at odds with decrying systematic misogyny or racism. For a while there, Swift had the awkward underdog role on lock, but it’s easy to see now how that was a non-threatening way for her to crash the pop party. She’s the tall, thin, gorgeous, white girl who wants you to know that she grew up feeling like the unwanted outcast too, you guys. But this is one arena where she can’t claim such a thing. She can’t fake-surprise-face the biases that’ve benefited her.