Still ‘Fifteen’

Taylor Swift’s immature, boy-centric lyrics haven’t grown up.

Bronwyn Miller

In case you haven’t heard, Taylor Swift has a new album out. It’s at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and it sold 1.21 million copies in its opening week, representing the biggest single week for a release since 2002.

It’s safe to say that she’s pretty popular. A songwriter and a businesswoman, she’s also seen by many as a role model. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman named her as such this summer. Her role model status is often touted by the media, contrasting her with more “provocative” female stars. But the way in which she is labeled a saving grace among other celebrities ignores the problematic issues that she, too, presents for females.

Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t hate Taylor Swift. In fact, when I was 17, Taylor Swift and I were both judges for a contest called Holiday Holla, and we spent an entire day together. We had a great time, and I thought she was a lovely person, very similar to my other 17-year-old friends.

The problem is, five years later, I’m thinking about the GRE and learning the meaning of “taking the high road.” Swift’s lyrics still sound like they were directly lifted from the Xanga I had when I was in seventh grade. I think “We are never, ever getting back together.” was in my AIM profile for about four months after things went sour with someone I “went out with” when I was 13.

My concern is the very one-dimensional, entirely boy-dependent view of girls and women Swift consistently promotes in her songs even now that she’s approaching 23. Pining after a “love story” and “dreaming about the day when [he]’ll wake up and find / that what [he’s] lookin’ for has been here the whole time” condemns us into a pretty passive position.

Moreover, encouraging us to whine endlessly about breakups and publicly embarrass the guys who have dumped us doesn’t exactly scream “girl power.” The mentality in her songs forever stamps her as a victim, someone who is perfect and did nothing wrong while some villainous boy completely screwed her over; thus, she is now entirely justified in making the world hate him.

Isn’t this pattern getting a bit tired? Accepting responsibility for our own faults and wrongdoing is part of growing up. If she’s truly been terribly mistreated by every guy that she’s ever dated, then I stand corrected. But I have a suspicion that — based on the petty shots she consistently takes at her exes in her songs — it’s a reaction that’s more immature than justified.

Here in the real world, taking a page out of Taylor Swift’s “Breakup 101” manual doesn’t make us look cute or sweet or innocent. Bashing our exes on Facebook just makes us look rude and immature.

It’s not just about the guys, either. Swift is consistently portrayed as the virginal girl next door in a white dress that prevails over her promiscuous or dirty counterpart. Her songs and videos warn girls with the same confining stereotype we’ve been getting our entire lives: Being innocent and “pure” will lead to love and success; being too sexual and “giving it all away” will ruin your life. This sexual behavior dichotomy is nothing new.

It’s undeniable that Swift’s success as a young female songwriter is impressive. Some of her messages can be helpful — a 14-year-old girl being shown to focus on her goals and not sleep with someone just because he says “I love you” is, of course, not a bad thing. But an overall look at the tame, conservative, male-centric messages that pervade Swift’s lyrics doesn’t make her success feel so groundbreaking.