When Taylor Swift pranced onto the stage dressed in a white circus ringmaster’s costume at the most recent Grammy Awards, I thought fleetingly that perhaps this girl was not Swift, but rather Britney Spears performing an homage to her 2008 album Circus. This fantasy was quickly quashed as the first twangs of “We Are Never Getting Back Together” filled the auditorium. Her subsequent attempt at dancing, a display of arrhythmic stomping and waving, further drove home that this young girl was no Spears. I am not quite sure what the stage full of clown back-up dancers and men on stilts had to do with her break-up song, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it. At one point, Swift replaced a few lyrics in her song, quipping in a British accent, “He calls me up, and he is like, ‘I still love you,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I am busy opening the Grammys, but we’re never getting back together.’” The audience shrieked with delight. It occurred to me that while Taylor Swift may not be another Britney Spears, she certainly is a one-woman circus. In lieu of directing an elephant march, she keeps her audience entertained with a steady parade of failed relationships.
There is a word for people who manipulate their significant others for selfish benefit, but it does not usually apply to 23 year-old girls. That word is “womanizer.” Of course, Taylor does not manipulate the women in her life, but rather, the men, so let’s call her a “‘manizer.”’ If a man impersonated his ex-girlfriend on stage at an award show and re-enacted dumping her, he would be considered a womanizer, or, more commonly, a douche. When Taylor Swift did the exact same thing, though, the crowd cheered her on, praising her confidence and sassy attitude.
Swift manages to go on tour, record albums, make music videos, and date and break up with every boy in sight, all while somehow maintaining her image as a “wholesome” celebrity among her fan base of little girls and their mothers. Unlike pop stars before her, she has managed to avoid rehab, jail, and having children out of wedlock. In the beginning of Swift’s career, the sweet 17 year-old sang of fairy tale relationships and young love. Her current claim to fame, however, is break-up anthems.
Since her first album, Swift has dated an impressive array of celebrities, from bad-boy personality John Mayer to, most recently, teen sensation Harry Styles of One Direction. Her fans have stayed with her throughout, weeping when she sings of grief, and cheering when she is ready to move on and get even. Her most recent single, “I Knew You Were Trouble” introduces country singer Swift’s foray into the world of dub-step, though she does not, of course, abandon her favorite— and only— subject, relationships. One second Swift is “lying on the cold, hard ground,” the next, the bass drops and her listeners are thrown into a sea into of pulsating womps and banshee shrieks. The song is more Skrillex than Dolly Parton, but the message is the same as any of her other breakup songs: “Boys suck, and I was wronged. I am better than him.”
It seems that without men, Taylor Swift would make no music. Swift needs to date men so that she can break up with them and then write songs about it. Her longest relationship since she appeared in the public eye has been four months long. During each dating stint, she parades around in front of camera with her arm candy, takes him to a few events, perhaps purchases a house in his neighborhood to show her devotion, and, then, inevitably, the relationship ends suddenly. With upwards of five supposedly serious relationships in the past year and a half, Taylor has certainly collected enough material to make plenty of singles full of angst, sadness, and regret.
If you need further evidence of Swift’s manizing ways, just watch the October 25th episode of Ellen. On air, Ellen, the arbiter of all wisdom, flashed images of Hollywood actors on a projector and asked Taylor to ring the bell when she saw a man she had dated and written about. Swift squealed with reluctance, begging, “Stop it, stop it. This makes me feel so bad about myself…It just makes me really question what I stand for as a human being.” Joking or not, Swift hit the mark— she should feel bad. But it is just such television interviews as this that secure Swift’s popularity. By creating a slide show of Swift’s past affairs, Ellen has displayed the singer’s personal life as a source of entertainment for an audience that follows Swift’s dating endeavors even more closely than the lyrics of her songs. Like many celebrities of our time, Swift has become most recognizable as a public figure. Her music exploits the general public’s interest, and she rakes in the cash.
Swift’s relationships follow a formula that optimizes record sales. First, she or her publicist finds the boy toy—attractive, usually brunette, and always somewhat famous. Second, she falls madly in love with said boy in a matter of days. Third, paparazzi begin to tail the couple, and trashy magazines publish the photos on their front page. Swift doesn’t even need to do press for her upcoming albums; the tabloids do it for her. US Weekly runs a story on Taylor’s new “soul mate,” most recently a British boy new to Hollywood, and readers know they can look forward to a song about their breakup in the future. Fourth, Swift manages to date enough men that her songs maintain some semblance of mystery. Each song can apply to Swift’s ex-boyfriend of the listener’s choice. Finally, Swift’s song heads straight to the top of the charts and into the heads of millions of radio listeners.
She manages to get away with her philandering lifestyle because she is a woman, because she is sweet and innocent, because she could never be the wrongdoer in a relationship. Right? Wrong. We only hear from Swift. We have not, and probably will not, hear from the disgruntled boyfriends of the past. After all, Taylor Swift is the ringmaster, and the rest of the world is just her troupe of clowns.