Monday, March 18, 2013

et tu, jeopardy?

The quiz show Jeopardy recently had as a clue:

Answer: Who is Taylor Swift. Seriously, Jeopardy? It's a little disappointing that a major network show, usually lauded for its clever contestants, would join the bandwagon and poke fun at Swift. We expect the internet to indulge in slut-shaming and finger-pointing, especially at celebrities, but Jeopardy?

Swift has been the focus of a lot of (mostly internet-derived) criticism lately because her songs, usually of the break-up variety, can be tied to a series of high-profile boyfriends (John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal, Taylor Lautner, Harry Styles, the Kennedy kid.) It's become a sport to not just poke fun, but to speculate who is who in which song. A celebrity lives their life mostly out in the open — especially these days. But who really cares if she dates a lot, or forms short-lived relationships, or is just a young girl having fun? People seem to be bothered not just by her access to the famous men, but that she may be using her love life as song fodder and dares to document her (repeatedly) broken heart when it all goes south. But isn't that what most of country music, and a whole lot of all genres of music is about, anyway?

Once upon a time, a few mistakes ago
I was in your sights, you got me alone
You found me, you found me, you found me
I guess you didn't care, and I guess I liked that
And when I fell hard, you took a step back
Without me, without me, without me
And he's long gone when he's next to me
And I realize the blame is on me
'Cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in
So shame on me now
Flew me to places I'd never been
'Til you put me down, oh
I knew you were trouble when you walked in
So shame on me now
"I Knew You Were Trouble," Taylor Swift
Swift isn't the only female musician whose private life has been a target for jokes and outrage recently. Rihanna's relationship with Chris Brown has earned her lots of attention, the majority of it negative. There may be more cause for concern in this coupling, but like Swift, whomever Rihanna chooses to date (or forgive for past crimes) is really no one's business. It is interesting that the criticism surrounding Swift is centered equally on her love life and her music, whereas with Rihanna it's solely about her past with Brown — he beat her up, was arrested, they parted (maybe), and she has now definitely forgiven him as they are very much back together. I guess Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is not in her repertoire.

It smacks of sexism that these two young women are getting so much negative attention for their romantic couplings. The prudish judgmental tone many commenters take also seems to be tied to our current cultural climate. Attitudes about singers and their lovers were certainly different in the 1970s. Everyone is still trying to figure out the identity of the guy in the Carly Simon song "You're So Vain." Is it Warren Beatty? Mick Jagger? James Taylor? Does it really matter? It's still a great song. Why do we need to know? Carly wasn't slut-shamed for the fact that there were multiple male possibilities, so why is Taylor Swift?
You had me several years ago when I was still quite naive
Well you said that we made such a pretty pair
And that you would never leave
But you gave away the things you loved and one of them was me
I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee
Clouds in my coffee, and...

You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you
You're so vain, I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you? Don't You? Don't You?
"You're So Vain," Carly Simon
The story of the sexual goings-on behind the making of one of the greatest rock albums, Rumours, by Fleetwood Mac, is still interesting, but no one ever slut-shamed Stevie Nicks as far as I know. She had relationships with bandmates Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood (and later, with Don Henley and Joe Walsh.) What has changed?

Loving you
Isn't the right thing to do
How can I
Ever change things that I feel?
If I could
Maybe I'd give you my world
How can I
When you won't take it from me?
You can go your own way!
"Go Your Own Way," Fleetwood Mac (witten by Lindsey Buckingham)
Certainly no one ever slut-shamed Mick Jagger, and who knows how many young starlets and lovelies have crossed his path, or how many times he wrote songs with Keith Richards about them? It's part of rock 'n roll, part of music. It's what artists do. Picasso made countless paintings of all of his lady-loves. I'm not comparing Taylor Swift or Rihanna or even Jagger to Picasso, but it's clear that these two ladies are getting different, more judgemental treatment.
Oooh we called it off again last night
But Oooh, this time I'm telling you, I'm telling you
We are never ever ever getting back together
We are never ever ever getting back together
You go talk to your friends talk
To my friends talk to me
But we are never ever ever ever getting back together
Like ever...
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," Taylor Swift

Swift's songs are exactly what they should be for a young woman her age. She's writing about love and loss and romance — the stuff all young women talk about with each other. So what's the problem? Could it be that people are bothered because Swift's star has risen so high, so quickly? Do we always have to set our idols up and then tear them down as quickly as possible? Swift may be  overly sensitive to some of the jokes done recently at her expense, but it's understandable. Enough already. Let a girl date. And talk about it, Or write a song about it. Or blog about it. Love is messy. Songs tell stories. And even young women need break-up anthems. With no judgements.
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