Commenter Jonathan detects a strain of sexism in the criticism of Taylor Swift for writing songs that are fairly overtly about her exes:
Plenty of musicians write songs inspired by relationships they’ve had with other famous people, but it always seems that where men get their work treated as music, women’s work is treated as tabloid fodder. (That’s a Perez Hilton video embedded in this post, after all.) And when guys do have their work treated as tabloid fodder, they don’t get this reproving response I’m beginning to see around the place. Think how celebrated was Justin Timberlake’s Britney-diss for the video of “Cry Me a River.” And that was way more overt than maybe writing a song about how your relationship with John Mayer ended badly.
And on Twitter, Katie Welsh of frequent guest-blogging appearances here, asked me if there was a double standard in asking Swift not to write songs about her exes if they’ve written about her (Joe Jonas apparently wrote “Paranoid” about Swift, though it’s fair to note that’s a response to a song Swift released that was putatively about him).
A couple of thoughts:
1) Even though Perez Hilton has a bad track record with misogyny, the fact that I embedded a link from his site to embed the audio shouldn’t be taken as a sign that he’s piling on. Hilton loves this song, and this album, so he’s not part of the backlash against her personal songwriting. Just wanted to have that out there for the record.
2) I think the difference between Swift and men like Timberlake who write songs about their exes is that while “Cry Me a River” was something of a one-off for Timberlake (and one of the brilliant things about that video is that there’s an awareness of the patheticness of his revenge, and the extent to which he still wants her), Swift appears, at a critical juncture in her career, to be making writing songs about men she dated the definitive hallmark of her work. I don’t think this is something that’s happening to her, but rather something she’s quite deliberately choosing. She makes it clear that her songs are inspired by real-life experiences and then benefits from the speculation about which real-life experiences lead to which songs. And I think that’s somewhat disappointing, and more importantly, creatively stunted. You don’t get “Yesterday” out of being pissed at a guy you dated briefly two years ago.
3) To me, some of the nastiness and victimology of Swift’s songs has started to cross an acceptable line. It’s one thing to write a single song about a guy you dated. It’s another to release a song slut-shaming his subsequent girlfriend, as she does in “Better Than Revenge” (the pitch here’s changed due to copyright issues, but the lyrics are clear):
Sophistication may not be “what you wear and who you know,” but it also sure as hell isn’t declaring that “She’s an actress / But she’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress,” honey. And if
“She thinks I’m psycho ’cause I like to rhyme her name with things,” at this point, “she” might be right.
I had this brief, intense hope for Swift that she was going to write widely appealing, emotionally mature, pop music that wasn’t anti-sex. Apparently the answer is no, at least not at this particular moment. I’ll just have to stick with Toby Keith, I guess: