This week, Taylor Swift wrapped up the third leg of her monster worldwide Red Tour, at the end of which she'll have played 79 dates spanning four continents, hoarsening the voices of hundreds of thousands of diehard fans in the process.
I went to one of Swift's London shows last week and, frankly, I loved it. If I tried really hard to be objective, I'd say it may have been slightly overproduced and sometimes she was lost amongst the pomp and the noise, but otherwise it was two hours of sheer, unabashed fun.
The girl-to-guy ratio was about 10:1, though no one felt like they had to justify why they were happy to be there, even if the more reluctant boyfriends and dads didn't scream along as loudly as their girlfriends and kids (I, of course, did).
I went to a Taylor Swift gig, it was great, and I got this t-shirt. So why, then, did I feel like I had to justify to everyone why I went?
Whenever I told anyone what I doing that Tuesday night, I felt like I had to qualify it with an "... I said I'd go with my girlfriend" or ironic "lol, woo, I'm so excited" deflection.
Neither was true. I mean, I did go with my girlfriend (it was a mutual decision) and I really was excited to go and see one of the most successful, accomplished and undeniably talented musicians on the planet.
I was looking forward to seeing her perform her early, proper country songs like Mean, gentler ballads like Ours, bombastic anthems like I Knew You Were Trouble or her definitive, crowd favourite song, We Are Never Getting Back Together? Is that a bad thing?
Partly, it's because she gets an unreasonably bad rap in the media. Swift gets more than her fair share of bad, arguably misogynistic, press for having a string of short-lived romances with male celebs such as Taylor Lautner or Harry Styles.
Young people having relationships that don't work, or fun flings? Can you imagine?! More importantly, we know full well she would not be criticised in the same way were she a man.
The second boring cliched criticism is of her music. Damn her for writing emotive, appealing, catchy teen love and heartbreak songs based on her experiences, which have earned her countless awards, a place in the Songwriters' Hall of Fame and a $200million pile of cash at just 24, right?
Swift, with her family, left Pennsylvania for Nashville, Tennessee, the heart of country music, when she was 14, throwing everything she had at trying to make it as a country music singer. And she has! She made it through talent, graft and being incredibly likeable. Awful woman.
It often seems as though if you're ragingly popular, your music loses its artistic integrity. We live in a time where everything's ironic, post-ironic, post-post-ironic or where sincerely liking something that's nice and fun and nothing more is looked at with scepticism.
So much of Swift's appeal, and, I think, criticism, comes from her being a relatively normal person - she speaks to the crowd in a personal, intimate tone, brings bags of honesty, dances pretty awkwardly most of the time and doesn't have some bizarre supernatural alter-ego thing going on like Beyonce or Rihanna. She looks like a genuinely cool and real person, basically. How is that uncool?
I'll defer briefly to this excellent blog we had on this site from journalist Kate Leaver just last week. Kate wrote:
"Nobody appears able to properly justify trolling her, or disliking her...
If Jennifer Lawrence was caught dancing terribly at a concert, we'd make a million memes saying "Look at JLaw! She's just like us! She's so goofy and loveable!" If Katy Perry dated a One Direction singer and written a song about it, she'd dress up as a cupcake and we'd all fawn over her again. If Rihanna performed at a Victoria's Secret show, we wouldn't dare compare her bodacious bod to Miranda Kerr's.
So why do we hate on Taylor Swift more than anyone else? Why do we fawn over some celebrities unconditionally, but talk shit about everything Taylor Swift does?"
I can't find much to disagree with.
Most importantly, there's the manliness problem. Heterosexual men, we are told, should not like pop music for the music or the women themselves, only for the sexual appeal and availability of those stars.
Count how many guys you know who have told you "Rihanna, yeah, I really like her style and her refusal to tone herself down" and not felt the pressure to bring up, or have brought up, her hypersexuality and centre their like for her on that.
Count how many men you know who have told you "Madonna/Kylie/Britney/Christina may not write their own stuff or play their own instruments but they can sing the hell out a song in PVC and six-inch heels on a sweaty stage, and that takes genuine talent".
Same goes for groups like One Direction or The Wanted. How many men will feel they can say "actually, Up All Night was a fantastic pop album and One Thing is probably the catchiest thing since the bubonic plague" and not be told to stop taking the piss?
There are far too many, and almost certainly more urgent, areas where women's equality is lacking. Their ability to succeed in the pop music may not be one, but a woman's right to have her pop music taken seriously by everyone is an important one.
If we can't have men like me listening to and buying "girly" music free from any kind of mockery, and thus mockery of that music itself, how can we even begin to tackle the bigger inequality problems that we face in society?
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