Taylor Swift has a bad reputation. Haters say she’s manipulative, fake, revengeful, unauthentic, even racist, but is that really who she is?
When she first stepped into the spotlight as a 16-year-old girl, she instantly became a country music sensation. She gained respect from people everywhere by writing honest music about her personal life. She started from the bottom and worked her way to the top. We can all at least respect her for that.
As she grew up and released more albums, her huge following of fans came with what seemed like an even larger following of critics. She gained a reputation as some kind of serial dater who jet-sets around the world collecting men to exploit and write hit-songs about. This has followed her through the years and frankly, that narrative is getting old.
Yes, she has dated nine men (including her current boyfriend of two years, Joe Alwyn) in her 13-year career, but that’s not unusual for a girl in her late twenties. Yes, she has written dramatic breakup songs, but doesn’t she have the freedom to do that? That’s part of her appeal. She isn’t afraid to say what she is feeling, poetically and in detail. Other celebrities like John Mayer (with 12 famous ex-lovers, including Swift herself) and Justin Timberlake (with at least 20 famous ex-lovers) date around a lot too and have experienced much less criticism.
Taylor Swift is a polarizing figure, but she has done more for women, for the music industry, and for her fans than many other celebrities.
After Swift accused DJ David Mueller of groping her at a meet and greet in 2013, he blamed her for losing his job and sued her for $3 million. Swift countersued him for exactly $1 for sexual assault and battery—and won. Christina Cauterucci wrote for Slate Magazine, “For young fans of Swift’s, hearing a beloved artist speak candidly about the emotional damage of sexual assault and stand up to a courtroom of men trying to prove her wrong could be a formative moment for their developing ideas of gender, sex, and accountability.”
In a statement following the trial, Swift said, “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society, and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this… My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard.” She didn’t want to bankrupt Mueller, but instead send a message to all women that “they will decide what will be tolerated with their body.” By speaking out, she is inspiring others to speak out about sexual assault, even if they don’t have the advantages she has in terms of money, fame, and support.
Throughout her career, she has given back in big and small ways. In 2012, Swift released a single called “Ronan” inspired by the Rockstar Ronan blog by Maya Thompson, whose 3-year-old son passed away from cancer. Incorporating lines from her blog, Swift penned a heartbreaking track and donated the proceeds to Stand Up 2 Cancer. She has only performed the song twice—at a Stand Up 2 Cancer telethon in 2012 and a show during her 1989 tour when Thompson was there—and cried both times.
She also has been known for donating to various charities and relief efforts. In 2016, Fuse reported that she gave $100,000 to Dolly Parton’s telethon for Tennessee wildfire victims, $5,000 to a fan who lost her sister in a car accident, a large sum of money to a hospital in honor of her godson—actress Jaime King’s son, Leo—who has congenital heart failure, $1 million to Louisiana flood victims, $50,000 to the Baton Rouge Food Bank, and a donation to African Parks. Swift donated so much to so many causes that she urged GoFundMe to increase its donation limits.
According to E! News, after Hurricane Harvey devastated a large region of Texas in 2017, Swift made “a very sizeable donation” to a food bank in Houston. The Huffington Post reported that she made a “generous financial investment” to Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation—an organization created to end sexual assault and domestic violence—following her sexual assault trial.
Not only has she contributed to many large organizations, but she is also famous for the personal connection she has toward her fans. In 2014, She began a campaign she called “Swiftmas,” which involved monitoring fans’ social media pages herself and surprising them with gifts. She even visited one fan at her home and brought gifts for the fan’s son.
These are only a few of the good things that we know about. There are probably countless others that haven’t been made public.
Not only is Taylor Swift a talented singer/songwriter, but she is also a serious businesswoman. As the Investory Editorial Staff put it, “to truly stand out, you need to be an expert marketing manager, media strategist, deal-maker, and maybe even an attorney.” While Swift may not officially hold any of these titles, she certainly is all of these things.
In 2014, Swift pulled all her music from Spotify because she didn’t think artists were being paid enough. She did a similar boycott with Apple Music for the same reason. Both eventually changed their policies and Swift’s music was back on the streaming services.
In 2017, when Swift released hit single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” it broke dozens of records. According to Forbes magazine, the single was streamed 10,129,087 times in the first day, making it the most streamed song ever on Spotify and the most streamed song during its first week with 84.4 million plays. The video for the song also broke the YouTube 24-hour record with 43.2 million plays.
So, how did she do it? The same way she has throughout her career: by reinventing herself. Taylor Swift isn’t afraid to do what it takes to get people’s attention. For her latest release, Reputation, she wiped everything on her social media accounts and website to introduce the new “era” a few days later with a video of a snake. She got people talking. Everyone had questions. Fans scavenged her posts for clues. Even if you didn’t like her, you talked about it or, at least, heard about it.
Before the release of her 5th studio album, 1989, Swift threw multiple listening parties for her fans weeks before the album was released. She hosted these “secret sessions” at each of her houses and hand-picked around 100 die-hard fans per location to spend an evening with her. She knew each fan by name, baked them cookies, took pictures with them, and shared her new unreleased music, trusting that they wouldn’t leak the music before it came out. In an interview, Swift said, “The 1989 Secret Sessions were my favorite part of this whole thing of putting out 1989 because these were people who had never met me before, and they had been to shows or waited outside ‘Good Morning America’ or they have an amazing blog dedicated to my music, and I never got to say thank you until we did these secret listening sessions in my houses all across the country and London.” These secret sessions were such a success that she did another round for hundreds of different fans just 3 years later before her 6th studio album, Reputation, was released.
Besides the secret sessions, Swift has surprised her fans in hundreds of other ways. She interacts with them constantly on social media and even gives them advice about life, relationships, or self-worth when they need it.
In 2014, she visited a 7-year-old fan named Jordan Nickerson who is fighting a rare genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome. Swift spent her time playing air hockey, chatting about Spider-Man, and dancing around with Jordan.
In 2015, she donated $50,000 to the GoFundMe page of a young fan named Naomi, who was battling Leukemia, after she couldn’t make it to her concert. Swift wrote in a letter, “To the beautiful and brave Naomi, I’m sorry you have to miss it, but there will always be more concerts. Let’s focus on getting you feeling better. I’m sending the biggest hugs to you and your family.” She even showed up to a fan’s bridal shower in Ohio and celebrated with her and her family and surprised another fan by crashing their wedding (having received invitations, of course). Even though she’s famous, she tries to know her fans individually and respond as a friend to these people.
At the 2018 Billboard Music Awards, she thanked her fans for their constant support. “When I was writing Reputation, for a while there I felt really, really misunderstood by a lot of people. I just want to say to the fans, thank you for continuing to show up. The ways that you have cared about me…thank you for making me feel understood again.”
Again, these are only a few instances of Taylor Swift making efforts to reciprocate the love she has felt from her fans, but they sure have an impact.
If the touching examples of her giving back to the world and defending herself and other women haven’t convinced you to stop the hate, maybe this will. The hate she gets actually helps her in the end. Talk about constructive criticism. Swift has written and released many songs about people who have hurt her in different ways and at this point in her career, she knows that with support always comes disapproval. The hate never actually hurts her sales, though.
Before Swift’s 6th studio album, Reputation, came out, she wrote, “When this album comes out, gossip blogs will scour the lyrics for the men they can attribute to each song, as if the inspiration for music is as simple and basic as a paternity test…There will be slideshows of photos backing up each incorrect theory, because it’s 2017 and if you didn’t see a picture of it, it couldn’t have happened, right?”
For someone like Taylor Swift—successful, talented, and gorgeous—hate seems inevitable. We must keep it in perspective, though. Sure, her beef with Kanye West and her bad blood with Katy Perry are annoying, but in the end, does it really matter? Yes, she’s dated around… just like every other young man and woman in the free world. She’s insecure and occasionally messes up. She’s human.
Unlike some other celebrities, however. She’s never been accused of sexual assault, engaging in hate speech, or of any kind of violence. Her biggest crime may be merely wanting everyone to love her—and, like most people, failing to live up to that standard.
Considering the bigger picture, Taylor Swift could be worse, so maybe it’s finally time to shake off the cynicism and accept Swift’s dominance in music. Trust me, listening to the radio will be much easier because we’re not escaping her anyway.
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