F Sharp: Confessions of a former Swiftie

Dariel Fillomeno | Daily Trojan

No discussion about women in music is complete without mention of Taylor Swift. Few celebrities have been as harshly critiqued or widely idolized in the past decade as the country-turned-pop star. Behind the singer’s cult of personality lies an army of Swifties — a group to which I belonged for some time.

My high school friend group worshipped at Swift’s shrine. When I turned 15, I remember sitting on the blue plastic bench (my lunchtime spot for the year), my friends crouched beside me playing “Fifteen,” a coming-of-age tradition.

“Fifteen” shows Swift at her most nostalgic, reflecting on the larger-than-life wonder of adolescence. Her biggest worry is that she won’t catch the attention of enough handsome senior boys. When she gets one to like her, their first kiss makes her head spin and she swears he’s “the one.”  

On the other hand, I spent age 15 in a relationship with a boy I didn’t like. Our first kiss came a month into “dating” because I felt pressured into it. For a year, I hated any physical displays of affection and dreaded the thought of him being the person I spent the rest of my life with. Fifteen wasn’t a magical time of discovery and hope, but a drudge through self-loathing and internalized hatred as a result of failed high school relationships.

When I broke up with him, I chopped off my hair and molded it into a pixie cut. Shortly after, Swift ditched her country roots and became the biggest pop star on the planet with “1989.” We both asserted power by redefining how others saw us — she through sound and I through appearance. Seeing her succeed on her own terms made me realize I could do the same. As long as we carried ourselves with confidence, everything else would work itself out.

Like so many others, everyone in my friend group picked up a deluxe copy of “1989” from Target. It was the only thing we listened to together, and it became a symbol of our bond. I could reach out to them and the world through Swift. If everyone loved her, then they could love me through her music as well.

I told a boy I was interested in him as a brother — only for him to drag my name through the mud in retaliation for not reciprocating his feelings. I spent days crying over the lost friendship, perplexed by what I did wrong. Should I have rolled over and given him what he wanted, exchanging public ridicule for private shame? Was the pain he caused me somehow my fault for not complying?

Not if Swift had anything to say about it. In 2016, Kanye West released “Famous,” a song Swift objected to because in it, West called her a “bitch” and took credit for her success. After winning Album of the Year at the Grammys, she scorned West in her acceptance speech, claiming victory in the name of any women whose success had been belittled by a man — including myself. In Swift’s world, kindness triumphed over lies. Her victory was mine.

But it didn’t last. The tides turned when Kim Kardashian exposed her as a “snake” on Snapchat, sharing recorded conversations confirming Swift’s foreknowledge and approval of the very lyric she bashed West for supposedly blindsiding her with at the Grammys. Swift’s explanations for her behavior came off as half-hearted excuses, and the internet subsequently canceled her. I didn’t know what to do. This person I made out to be perfect in my mind could be downright manipulative, even mean. The pedestal I thought she stood on was actually little more than a manufactured illusion.

The concept of “Taylor Swift” was just that. The world I thought she created wasn’t real either. The friends who played “Fifteen” at the lunch benches discarded me when I became an inconvenience. A culture that promoted and valued women turned out to be one filled with abuse. The music world cared more about sales and streams than challenging consumers with innovative content.

“Reputation” sealed this for me. Swift doubled down on playing the victim and blaming others for her mistakes. She again remade her sound in an effort to transform her scales into wings. I sat through all 15 tracks, unfazed and unfooled. I knew better than to fall for her tricks again.

I’m not sure if this is solely my experience or that of a multitude of disenfranchised former Swifties. My relationship with Swift today is rocky at best. I realize I can’t distance myself from her legacy because I, like so many others, am a part of it.

It wasn’t fair for me, or anyone else to expect so much from her. When fandom eclipses your sense of identity, it can be difficult to draw a line in the sand. I let my infatuation with the person she marketed eclipse my love of the music, a mistake many of her fans continue to make.

I now keep my distance while listening to her discography and observing her career, having separated myself from my perceptions of Swift. For my 20th birthday, I’m still going cheer her on from afar, but this time I promise to write my own story instead of copying hers.

Baylee Shlichtman is junior majoring in journalism. Her column, “F Sharp,” runs every other Monday.