My generation adores Taylor Swift. She’s a millennial icon who seems to perfectly blend feminism and the traditional pop-star mystique. Cheerful and blithely enjoyable, Swift is idolized by millions. But to me, she hardly makes any sense. Her ideology is riddled with contradictions. Swift claims to be a feminist demanding fundamental change, but pop stars are built to be sweet, likable, and sellable: things that are significantly at odds with attacking the status quo. Taylor Swift isn’t any different.

Swift’s formidable social media presence is carefully groomed to appear candid. Taylor isn’t really a feminist icon looking to push through the glass ceiling. She’s an entertainment empire. Her more recent work has actually embraced the objectification of women that many feminists so ardently denounce. In her video for Bad Blood, she literally recruits supermodels and glorifies them as superheroes [1].

She’s not fighting for feminism — she’s fighting for popularity, and to do so, she must make it seem like she cares deeply about fundamental issues in society. But, that’s why I find Taylor interesting — she purportedly rails against traditional hierarchical structures all while using them to secure an almost divine position in teenage hearts.

Taylor has many interesting contradictory parts about her. One of my favorite inconsistencies about Taylor centers around the thing that she identifies with most — her name. When I first heard about Taylor, it was her unique name that caught my attention. It really stood out as the apogee of new age trends towards unisex names.

Before Swift, I hadn’t heard of many females named Taylor. I even went out on a limb and guessed that a whole new generation of female Taylors would spring up in the late 2000s due to Swift’s popularity, basking in the glory of their strong, feminine idol. It was the perfect story — a new misfit country singer casting off gender stereotypes with a gender-neutral name and tomboy personality.

Alas, it was not to be.

As she became more mainstream, Swift shed her oddball characteristics and readily embraced contemporary gender roles. She became a beautiful pop star butterfly, with beautiful butterfly friends (just watch the Bad Blood music video again). If you do a little research, her name parallels the rest of her fame and personality. She’s been riding her progressive iconoclast wave since before she even popped out of the womb —she makes a point to rant about contemporary power structures, but not quite enough that she’s in danger of losing money. She pushes her agenda just far enough so that she doesn’t step on the toes of anyone important.

Taylor the name has many parallels with Taylor the person. Taylor the name started becoming popular in the mid-1980's, right when Swift was born. Swift’s parents were early adopters, but they were decidedly part of a recent fad. Taylor became incredibly popular in a very short period of time. Hardly anyone named their child Taylor in 1980. But by 1995, Taylor had become the 6th most popular girls name in the United States [2].

Just as Taylor the name saw growing popularity in the early 1990s, Taylor the person began riding her own wave of popularity a decade later. She increasingly capitalized on her newly minted success and moved away from her country origins towards mainstream pop.

Likewise, Taylor the name originally served as an iconoclast cry against a misogynistic world. Unable to decipher the gender of “Taylor” on paper, employers, teachers, and others could not be biased against a Taylor due to gender. The name, however, gradually began to lose it’s unisex connotations. By the time Taylor peaked in terms of popularity in 1995, it was the 6th most popular girls name but the 69th most popular boys name. Taylor, the girl, had won out.

It’s fitting since Taylor, the pop star, has also won out. She’s not the underdog anymore. She’s not the bashful country singer she used to be. She’s grown into a dominant force in the music industry. She’s done everything right and won the heart of America. Unfortunately, if she strayed a bit further from the well-worn path, she might have inspired real change in the world.

Which brings me back to Taylor the name. When Scott and Andrea Swift named their daughter, they didn’t choose a name so that their daughter’s gender-neutral name would blunt the blow of a misogynistic world. They also didn’t choose a name so that their daughter could serve as a rallying cry for a new feminist generation. Fittingly, she was named after James Taylor, one of the most commercially successful singers of the 1970s [3].

References:

  1. If you’d like to see a pop song with all the components you need to make something a viral sensation, you should watch Bad Blood. It has supermodels, weapons, and a catchy beat.
  2. The Social Security Administration actually has great statistics on baby names per year http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/popularnames.cgi.
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taylor_Swift#cite_ref-5.