The silence of Taylor Swift says a lot about the failings of pop culture
In 1967, to protest the Vietnam War, Buffalo Springfield sang: “Paranoia strikes deep / Into your life it will creep / It starts when you’re always afraid / You step out of line, the man come and take you away,” over and over. Since its release, the song “For What It’s Worth” has been listened to millions of times around the world over decades, affecting uncountable change even after soldiers came home some years later.
In 2017, Taylor Swift sang: “Ooh, look what you made me do / Look what you made me do / Look what you just made me do / Look what you just made me ... ” — a tale of a woman almost in her 30s decrying the calculated actions of other petty millionaires on Twitter. It has also reached millions.
We’re still at war. Different wars. At war with a lot of things. And artists still need to be heard saying something about it, about anything, but are conveniently not.
But this is what we’re stuck with, wealthy opportunists increasingly ducking real controversy in lieu of what’s musically safe. And it’s not that we’re just picking on Swift as solely complicit, it’s what she made us do.
Last September, only a few weeks after the Charlottesville attack, a tiny blog by the name of PopFront asked the very legitimate question of why Swift hadn’t condemned white supremacy yet. The inaction of her team, who could have easily responded to the racist factions championing Swift as “one of them,” worried the article’s author.
Ostentatious as the claims might have been at the time, there was an uncomfortable stillness coming from her camp as the story went viral. Her career was built on headlines, why forgo an easy catch?
It could have just been a tweet. Just one. But nothing, not even after her new album’s promotional cycle ran its course months later.
Silence except from her lawyers, of course, who sent an intimidating letter in October to the blog who had only secured 4,000 views a month in the time preceding the story. The letter claimed the legal team was going to take action if the post wasn’t taken down.
“We demand that PopFront immediately issue a retraction,” the team wrote. “Ms. Swift has no obligation to … broadcast her political views, and the fact that her political views are not public enough for your taste does not give you the authority to presume what her political opinions may be.”
A demand for privacy would have been just fine if not absurdly hilarious coming from someone who makes a fortune singing about the most personal of her failed relationships.
Now, it’s too late. We know where she and countless other artists who haven’t said anything stand. Instead of taking the risk of condemning that which tears at the fabric of American ideals, some want to instead ride a wave of silence all the way to the bank.
“It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound / Everybody look what’s going down.”