Taylor Swift is only a few days away from releasing her sixth album Reputation on November 10, and we assume this was not the news story she wanted making headlines. Unfortunately for the singer, her efforts to quiet a blogger who questioned her politics, or lack thereof, has resulted in a scandal that is leaving many writers and fans feeling as though Swift is going after their First Amendment.
On September 5, leftist pop culture site PopFront published an essay titled “Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation.” The article pointed out parallels between Swift’s lead Reputation single “Look What You Made Me Do” and the alt right, citing white supremacists websites that were quoting the song as a call to arms for the Aryan nation. Megan Herning, who wrote the article for PopFront, noted visual causes for concern in Swift’s accompanying music video as well, including Swift standing over a factory of ‘squad’ members, which resembled Hitler looking over his troops in Nazi Germany, an image she called “uncanny and unsettling.”
“It is hard to believe that Taylor had no idea that the lyrics of her latest single read like a defense of white privilege and white anger — specifically, white people who feel that they are being left behind as other races and groups start to receive dignity and legally recognized rights,” writes Herning. “‘We will not be replaced’ and ‘I don’t like your kingdom keys’ are not different in tone or message. Both are saying that whites feel threatened and don’t want to share their privilege. And there is no way to know for sure if Taylor is a Trump supporter or identifies with the white nationalist message, but her silence has not gone unnoticed.”
Herning concludes the article by calling on Swift to denounce any real or fabricated ties to the alt right, writing “And while pop musicians are not respected world leaders, they have a huge audience and their music often reflects their values. So Taylor’s silence is not innocent, it is calculated. And if that is not true, she needs to state her beliefs out loud for the world — no matter what fan base she might lose, because in America 2017, silence in the face of injustice means support for the oppressor.”
On October 25, Swift’s lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to Herning, instructing her to detract the article and remove it from the small PopFront site. Herning contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who have now published a statement on the case, saying that the letter attempted to intimidate Herning into not making it public. The ACLU even went as far as using Swift’s own lyrics to clap back at the letter, writing “Not in her wildest dreams can Ms. Swift use copyright law to suppress this exposure of a threat to constitutionally protected speech,” and “Criticism is never pleasant, but a celebrity has to shake it off, even if the critique may damage her reputation.”
The ACLU has asked Swift’s lawyers to confirm by November 13 that they won’t be moving forward with a lawsuit, a date at this point we’re assuming was chosen because Swift’s favourite number is 13. Gotta hit ’em where it hurts.
While we don’t think Swift is a Nazi sympathizer, sending a letter to quiet a journalist is just about the worst move that could be made in this situation. Swift has often used the ill-fitting underdog card for the advancement of her brand, from being an outsider in Nashville (she was raised in a wealthy family in Pennsylvania), to being interrupted by Kanye West at the 2009 VMAs (she went on to win many more VMAs), to being targeted by ‘mean girls’ like Katy Perry (Perry has publicly stated she wants to move past their feud, with Taylor never responding).
Keeping a tight lid on the public persona of Taylor Swift has undoubtedly helped her become one of the biggest superstars in the world, promoting a brand that parents love. With her new album Reputation, Taylor Swift poses on the cover with newsprint surrounding her, yet another attempt to remind fans that the ‘media’ is out to get her. But for an artist that has enjoyed so much success at such an early age, does she really think that she’s still the victim, the underdog, the person who never has anything nice written about them? It would appear Swift has never learned how to read the good reviews and forget that bad.