To declare yourself a Taylor Swift fan is to be inevitably met with jibes of irritation and resentment. So why is it so fashionable to love-to-hate Swift? Some may put it down to a sense of victimhood or conceit for which Swift has been accused of distracting from genuine feminine expression or perhaps it is a frustration with her relentless disparaging of her ex-relationships? Swift’s reluctance to allow her music on Spotify through 2014-2017 certainly didn’t help ease the fact it was becoming increasingly popular to oppose the country-turned-pop star.
Since 2012’s Red, Swift has been moving away from the stripped back, pining, country-girl tones of ‘Dear John’ to try her hand at pop. By the release of her 6th studio album, Reputation, Swift and her team were eager to not only push the change in sound to its limits with drum machine beats and half-rap, but took to a total rebranding. Swift’s new ‘reputation’ is premised upon a rejection of concerns over her image in the media. Essentially, Swift was opting to ‘Shake it Off’. But is a killing off of her old self a sure sign that she is concerned about her reputation more than ever?
The Taylor Swift: Reputation Stadium Tour film was released on Netflix last week. Filmed at the AT&T Stadium in Dallas where she played to 210,000 on her final leg of her sold out world tour, the movie was, much like the tour itself, a resounding success. The production quality of the film is exceptional: the camera zooms in and out of panoramic views of the stadium and the fine detail of Swift’s expressions, costumes, set and backup dancers to create a highly immersive experience.
Swift accepts the risk of being criticised for over-production or too much drama in her performance, and I for one, am very thankful she chose to do so. Her team created a show which can only be described as a spectacle: the combination of the force of the music and the sheer wow factor of the firework displays, lights and highly intricate set designs was, for a fan, downright emotional. In periods of quiet, both on film and in person, you can hear fans desperately screaming “I love you Taylor,” in view of an audience of crying, screaming fans (myself included). Whether you came to the tour as a 13-year-old girl dressed in a Junior Jewels t-shirt or a Dad reluctantly forced into supervision, the production quality and Swift’s never-faltering high energy meant there was certainly something for everyone. What this movie does for those resentful of Swift is deny them the opportunity to refute her commitment to a performance.
In accordance with her new scheme of rebranding, the Reputation Tour followed her newly unapologetic narrative. Both the movie and the tour itself began with a compilation of reporters voices all seeking to slander Swift’s image, behind various videos of herself avoiding paparazzi, accepting awards, and as a young teenager. The pattern of these shifting images is maintained across the concert as the production switches between clips of Swift sporting tight blonde ringlets and singing ‘You Belong with Me’, before she falls onto a sea of backup dancers in a sacrificial-like performance on a blood red stage. The ‘nice girl’ image of the country girl from Nashville is sharply contrasted with the nightmarish, destructive Swift who boldly declares she will be ‘the actress starring in your bad dreams.’
Obviously, this constantly shifting persona and display of imagery is intentional: Swift is acutely aware that to fix herself resolutely in the angry, commanding image of the reputation era would be detrimental to her fan base who will never want to let go completely of the ‘old Taylor’. The continual switching between dark, serpentine set design to support the frustrated lyrical tones of ‘Bad Blood’ and the stripped down conversation she has with her fans as she sits down at her guitar about to play ‘All Too Well’, perfectly exemplifies Swift’s holding onto of her past success.
It would be naïve to think that Swift, or any other popstar, present themselves as anything to do with how they really are behind closed doors. The reinvention of her ‘reputation’ is not a change of character nor a sudden shift in her attitude to the spotlight. The reputation era was simply a rebranding of sound, lyricism, production and image which worked to provoke her audience and, ironically, sustain her reputation. As much as Swift may force an angry lip bite on stage or dress her dancers in snakeskin, her fans will always be reminiscent of the country girl who sung about the teardrops on her guitar. If the old Taylor is dead, she will soon be resurrected.