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After having spent the majority of her adult life in front of the camera, and generally being acknowledged as one of the world’s most recognized celebrities, it might come as something of a surprise to discover that Taylor Swift is also widely known as an anti-hero. The word ‘anti-hero’ may seem like an oxymoron, but it’s actually not. Rather, with the release of her sixth studio album, Reputation, and its accompanying world tour, Ms. Swift has emerged as a new kind of anti-hero: one that isn’t necessarily evil or sinister but rather someone who stands in direct opposition to the status quo. And this new persona has certainly caught people off guard — along with numerous other things about Taylor Swift and her relationship with the public during these past few years.
Reputation: An Introduction
At the time of writing, Reputation has spent a total of five weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and has topped the charts in more than 70 other countries worldwide. And yet, in spite of all this, most people still know very little about the album — even many of those who bought and listened to it.Part of this is due to the album rollout, which was unprecedentedly controlled and reclusive; part of it is due to the fact that Reputation is a vastly different album than its predecessors — indeed, as a whole, this era has been very different from anything we’ve seen from Taylor Swift before.Nonetheless, the Reputation era has been an extremely important and influential time in Taylor Swift’s career, and one that provides an interesting insight into the artist behind the music.
Starting the Reputation Era with a Shocking Announcement
The Reputation era began in quite shocking and dramatic fashion, when, just a few months before the release of the album, Taylor announced that she had broken up with her long-term boyfriend, and co-managing partner, Calvin Harris.The couple had been dating for about a year, which makes the timing of their parting all the more surprising. Indeed, though their relationship had been kept out of the public eye, it seemed very intense and passionate, with both artists posting cryptic tweets that seemed to reference their partner.In a way, this news came as a relief to many fans, who had become increasingly concerned about Taylor’s relationship with Harris, particularly given his reputation as an aggressive and abusive DJ, and the couple’s apparent plans to move in together.
Swift’s Stance on Feminism and Women’s Rights
While it’s been apparent to those who’ve followed Taylor’s career for any length of time that she has always been a feminist, this stance was not truly acknowledged until the release of the album’s lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do”.The song was, to put it lightly, controversial, and it was initially unclear what the song’s lyrics were referring to.However, after the release of the music video, it became appallingly clear: the song was an unapologetic indictment of the ways in which the media had misrepresented and misconstrued her over the past decade, and had been critical of the fact that she had kept relatively silent about their treatment of her. It was also a rallying call for other women to stand up for themselves and to not be victimized by those around them.And, most importantly, it acknowledged that, while the media and fans may have seen her as an enemy, she was also a victim of their misrepresentation and mistreatment.
Taylor Swift as an Activist for Women’s Rights
As the Reputation era unfolded, it became increasingly clear that Taylor was an activist for women’s rights.For example, she donated $250,000 to Time’s Up, an organization designed to protect women from abuse and harassment. She also took part in the Women’s March — an event that saw millions of women march in opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump, who had been accused of sexual assault by over a dozen women.Moreover, she supported her fans who were marching by sending them “swift snacks” — Baked by Melissa cookies.In her acceptance speech for the Artist of the Year award at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards, Taylor thanked her fans for being “open-minded and not judgmental”, and for being “not just music listeners but music thinkers […] not just consumers but producers of things and ideas”.This is perhaps the most important way in which Taylor has taken up the mantle as an anti-hero: she has encouraged her fans to be creators and to make their own mark in the world, rather than merely be passive consumers of what is put in front of them.
Swift’s Reputation as a Victim of Abuse
As has been discussed, Taylor’s relationship with Calvin Harris was a difficult time for her, in which she was both an aggressor (in the public eye) and a victim (privately).Yet one of the most revealing moments of the album was not in the lyrics of a song, or the explanation of a music video, but rather in a court deposition.When testifying in a legal battle with a radio DJ who had groped her, Taylor was forced to discuss the details of what had happened in front of a room full of lawyers.This was an extremely distressing experience for her, and she described the process as “really un-fun” and “absolutely excruciating”.Given that this incident had happened years previously, and that she had kept it private and had not addressed it, this must have been a very difficult experience for her.Moreover, she didn’t have to do it: she could have pleaded the Fifth Amendment, but chose not to. She could have let her lawyers do it for her, but chose not to.She chose to stand up, face her attacker, and speak the words that needed to be spoken in order to protect herself and others from similar abuse.This action was not only brave, but also extremely significant and influential, as it helped to bring the issue of sexual harassment into the spotlight, and to empower others to do the same.
A New Understanding of Fan-Artist Relationships
As has been discussed, the relationship between Taylor and her fans is unique, and extremely intense. And, given the intensity of the Reputation era and its surrounding media storm, the relationship between artist and fan has reached a new level of closeness and intensity.Indeed, many fans have described feeling like they were “living in the era of Taylor Swift”, and that they couldn’t escape the media storm surrounding her, and the drama of her breakups and feuds.This has led to some interesting phenomena, such as the fact that fans have begun to use the word “Swifties” as a self-identifier, to the extent that it has been included in Oxford Dictionaries Online, or that fans have begun to see themselves as “soldiers” in Taylor’s “army”.And, of course, the fact that fans have begun to use the word “reputation” as a catchphrase — as in: “Hey, what’s your reputation?” or “Got a bad reputation?”Moreover, fans have begun to refer to themselves as “Swifities” — a combination of “Swift” and “fans” — and have created a new fandom language, replete with acronyms, emojis, and GIFS.
The Reputation era has been a strange and fascinating time in the history of pop music. It has seen a different side of Taylor Swift, including a new persona and new styles of music and lyrics. What has become clear is that Taylor Swift is a very different artist now than she was 10 years ago.Indeed, this era has seen the beginning of what will likely be a new chapter in Taylor Swift’s career. It has heralded a new kind of anti-hero, and a new relationship between artist and fan, one in which fans are empowered to be creators, rather than merely consumers of art.There are many more reasons why Taylor Swift is the world’s most powerful and influential anti-hero, and they will be explored in