Monday, May 18, 2015

Feminism, "Bad Blood" and The T-Swift Revolution

It's not a real surprise to anyone here that I love Taylor Swift. If I could figure out a way to become her friend, I would in a heartbeat. The truth is that the reason I love Taylor -- and the reason that so many people around the world do, too -- is because she's not afraid to be honest and vulnerable and to occasionally rub other people the wrong way, but do it with grace and poise. Taylor is the kind of person who you know you could curl up with on a couch on a Sunday morning and talk about your life over a steaming mug of coffee. She's the kind of person who will make you -- not buy you -- a Christmas card. She's the kind of friend who would send you a care package if you were having a rough week at work -- one that would have balsam candles and herbal teas. I've never met Taylor Swift, but this is the kind of person and friend she always appears to be. You can dismiss her as an artist if you want, but it would be extremely difficult to dismiss her good heart as a person and the countless things she does for her fans.

So when Taylor Swift embarked on a journey that moved her to New York -- a journey that didn't include a boyfriend -- I became even more impressed with her because slowly, but subtly, Taylor began to change in the best way possible. She did what we all do at some point in our lives: she began to surround herself with people who were different from her, but who challenged her. She focused on herself and her new adventures in life. She was focused on knowing more about who SHE was. And that was extremely admirable. Along the way, Taylor Swift began to slowly talk more openly about feminism and issues surrounding women.

I always thought that Taylor Swift was the kind of person who feminists should have rallied around. Instead, I found it fascinating that people -- women, particularly -- mocked her. They dismissed her, thinking her to be juvenile for writing songs about break-ups. They rolled their eyes whenever she was mentioned. They joked about what guy she must be dating and whether or not she would be writing a song about them soon. They, unknowingly, perpetuated a problem that has been in existence in the music world (and really, the world at large): a woman cannot write a break-up song without being deemed "sad" or "desperate" or "pathetic." But if a man writes a break-up song, it's heralded as "beautiful" and "emotional." I think I mentioned this before in another post of mine about Taylor Swift, but Maroon 5 literally has an entire album (Songs About Jane) devoted to one ex-girlfriend and I have never heard any -- any -- criticisms of that fact. And yet, I constantly hear snide remarks regarding Taylor's music, dismissing it while elevating the male equivalent.

What's that hashtag, again? Oh, right.


1989 is a fantastic and daring album. I wrote about it before, so I won't reiterate what I said in my review, but it truly is Taylor Swift at her best: being honest, raw, vulnerable, fun, and inventive. One of the songs on the album -- "Bad Blood" -- was recently released as a single and the music video debuted at the Billboard Music Awards. Taylor had teased the video for quite a while on her Instagram, releasing character images each day. The guest stars ranged from best friend Karlie Kloss to supermodel Cindy Crawford, actress and producer Lena Dunham, and actress Ellen Pompeo. I loved the music video on my first viewing. I thought it was visually stunning (with credit to Joseph Kahn for directing it). It was fun. Things blew up! Taylor got to have an army! There were SO MANY AWESOME WOMEN IN IT.

It was only on my second viewing that I actually began to really think about the message behind the video and the song itself. "Bad Blood" is a song about a female friendship that goes sour because there's a lack of trust and mutual respect. Someone is stabbed in the back. Sound familiar? If you're a woman, it probably sounds like half a dozen different relationships you've had in your life. "Bad Blood" is primarily interested in talking about the feeling of betrayal. It's a declaration song, really, bursting at the seams with emotion and pain. But it's more than just that -- the video sends a really powerful message about feminism.

Every woman should surround herself with female friends who challenge her, inspire her, educate her, and empower her. That is the essence of feminism, right there: ladies supporting ladies. Now, here's a kicker (and I've discussed this a lot with my friend Chelsea, who could talk for hours about feminism): not every woman will get along with every other woman. That's not what feminism is. Feminism -- and #LadiesSupportingLadies -- isn't about being friends with everyone. It's about not slamming other women so that men can be boosted. It's about respecting each other enough to either embrace one another or keep a respectable distance from each other.

So in the "Bad Blood" music video, it's really important that we see Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez's alter egos display this idea quite clearly. The video begins with Taylor Swift (Catastrophe) and Selena Gomez (Arsyn) taking out bad guys together. Let me repeat that: they're taking down men. Together. And they're strong and fierce and kicking a lot of butt. Why? Because they're doing it side-by-side. But then... then, Arsyn distracts Catastrophe and takes what she wants from her, literally killing Catastrophe in the process.

Poignant, no? There's a clear message here that when women seek to destroy each other (and what's SO important is that every woman in this video is a destroyer, an assassin, a warrior princess -- because EVERY woman has the capacity to fight and to be vicious), they end up killing each other in the process. Catastrophe is reborn with the assistance of a lot of female fighters, all with various skill sets and knowledge -- all extremely different women with unique personalities, too. Sensing the symbolism yet? I thought it was really interesting and telling that Taylor chose to spend 98% of the music video focused on these women: on these people preparing themselves and Catastrophe for battle.

Because isn't that, as I said above, what feminism is really all about? What #LadiesSupportingLadies is all about? This is an idea that each woman has something to offer the world and to offer other women. Women who are sympathetic by nature can teach women who are more jaded how to empathize with others. Women who are timid can learn how to stand up for themselves and find their voices if women who are opinionated and extroverted stand beside them. Women who are book-smart can help other women learn how to study. Women who are spiritual can help other women find meaning in an otherwise hopeless situation. Women need other women. Women can always LEARN from other women. But only when we allow ourselves the chance.

Catastrophe is taught by all kinds of women in the "Bad Blood" video. Even when she's dueling with others, she's not fighting with them -- she's learning FROM them. That's what's important. That is what the focus of "Bad Blood" was about. The song is about a woman who tears another woman down; the video is about that same feeling of betrayal but also about how to take your bitterness and turn it into something productive, something useful.

So when Catastrophe and her squad are finally prepared for battle, they approach Arsyn and her army from across a desert-like landscape and... the video ends just as the women throw the first punch at each other. If you think that's surprising, you'd be in the majority. In any other music video, at the hands of any other producer, the majority of the video would be focused on the battle and it would end with Taylor Swift's alter ego victorious, standing over her enemy. The message, then, would be clear: Taylor wins. If you mess with her and her friends, you'll be taken down every single time. She's the victor, never the vanquished. That's just how the story goes, right?

But that's not how the story goes in "Bad Blood," which is really important. Catastrophe and Arsyn approach each other equally -- they both have armies. They both are skilled. They both are powerful. There is equality even in adversity for these women. Here is the message of "Bad Blood" in a nutshell that Taylor Swift so accurately conveys: women are always stronger when they're together, no matter what their beliefs, ages, races, etc.

Women are ALWAYS stronger when they're together.

Catastrophe and Arsyn certainly are. Catastrophe is stronger because she surrounded herself with powerful women and learned all they had to teach her. Taylor Swift is stronger because of this, too. She's a stronger version of herself because of the women she's chosen to allow into her life. Love isn't what's most important in this life, friends. Our society makes it seem that way -- that the fairytale ending is what we should all strive to achieve. Love is important. Being in love is wonderful.

But being the best version of yourself for yourself and for the people around you? That is what is important. The friendships you forge during pivotal points in your life are the relationships that will shape who you are, who you become, and will cause you to realize how strong you are and, conversely, how much we all -- as human beings -- need friends.

Women need other women.

And that's what feminism is all about, Charlie Brown.


  1. Great article! You made some very good and important points!

  2. I thought the video was a documentary written by a young woman who accidentally was sent 30 years into the future in a time-traveling DeLorean.

    As a man, I can't relate to your article. The message of the song stems much deeper than the relation between the women.

  3. Loved it! So true.
    The video can be misinterpreted but I think you nailed it!

    1. Yes, because art, has one meaning to everyone...

  4. I THOUGHT IT WAS FOR A SUPERHERO SPY MOVIE AND I suspected Selena(Arsyn) was the villain cuz don't she and select hate each other? I was soo suprised she was in the vid!