A Big Reputation Gone Sour

“Taylor Swift Is No Longer Relatable,” Bryan Rolli writes at Forbes, “And Her Ticket Sales Prove It.” There is a great deal of truth to this. Once upon a time Taylor Swift combined the absolute best attributes of sweet and clever creativity with cash-machine American capitalism: she was a funny, seemingly friendly pop music virtuoso who appropriately had no shame leveraging her considerable talent to make a few hundred million dollars. In a country that thinks Hillary Clinton is an acceptable role model for young women, we could do worse for celebrity inspiration than a cheerful bubblegum self-made media mogul who, if we’re being perfectly honest, really does know how to write a song.

Or, er, did. These days we are past the honest simplicity of her earlier work and the smiling, goofy levity of her career midpoint; in recent years Swift has adopted a confusing sort of femme fatale comportment, quite deliberately distinct from the public image she affected years ago. “Bad Blood” seems to have been the turning point, a really dreadful song that projects the image of a clenched jaw and a cold hard-water shower (Lena Dunham’s guest appearance in the music video did it no favors). Her newest album, Reputation, continues along this line: the album art is itself bloodless and unpleasant, the album’s lead single is a lurching and wooden kind of celebrity vendetta drone, and its other offerings are more or less a boring mish-mosh of instantly forgettable cookie-cutter synth pop that is distinctly angry, or at least annoyed, before it is anything else. Her personal style has taken a similar dismal plunge: where once, and by her own admission, she was known for her modest midcentury aesthetic, she is far better known today for her odd, unappealing, severe-looking kickline style of dress. This is not your grandmother’s Taylor Swift.

Why does any of this matter? Ultimately, one supposes, it doesn’t, at least insofar as we should be teaching our children—and ourselves—to not really care all that much what celebrities do. But there is something to be said for a celebrity culture of the kind that Swift, however briefly, embodied: outwardly kind, sexually reticent, self-aware and self-deprecating but also ostensibly honest and unaffected. We should not pretend, of course, that someone as rich and famous as Taylor Swift can be all of these things all of the time, or that such behavior cannot itself be a purely transactional business decision. But that’s kind of beside the point: for better or worse (it’s for worse), lots and lots of people look up to celebrities and follow their lead on any number of important behavioral questions. We should want more of our famous people to conduct themselves as Taylor Swift once did, and we should want them to avoid the kind of tiresome, grating sort of bearing she now regrettably practices.

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