August 28, 2010

Taylor Swift: Mommies, Daddies, and "Mine"

Edit: Comments on this post are now closed. Things got sort of heated.... I need to establish some boundaries for commenting!

Where does Taylor Swift live? I'm not asking you to clarify which state in the American south--or perhaps more accurately which sub-section of Los Angeles-- what I'm asking is, what reality does Taylor Swift inhabit where her life is perpetually in orbit of a saccharine-sweet, romcom love affair?

Swift's new song, and the accompanying video, does not ask of her fans even the slightest shift or growth in taste. In "Mine," as per usual, Taylor sings about a perfect romance inhibited by some irritating, but conquerable, roadblock. This time it's her relationship issues stemming from her parents' bad marriage. In previous songs it's been high school cliques, totally lame-o other women, and Montague/Capulet-esque parental objections to her unstoppable love(s).

The video that pairs with "Mine" is equally formulaic. Besides an inexplicable bit where she wanders in a forrest that is decorated with the tangible iteration of Facebook's "View More Photos" page, the video itself is really just a montage of romantic comedy clichés. There is walking along natural bodies of water. There are fields of unspecified Plants. There is gazing. There are 2am arguments. There is a passionate reconciliation. What there is not is groundbreaking, nor envelope pushing.

Still, there is a ton of media out there that deals with "artistic" representations of love in said mundane/expected fashion. There are two things that I thought were especially worth noting about this song and the accompanying video. The first is the possessive language, which you might have noticed as something from my previous posts as something that frequently gets my feminist goat.

This song is rife with freaky-deaky, weirdo language that frames Swift as someone perpetually under the ownership, or at least care, of a male authority. The lyrics describe her as not a woman, but as a "careless man's careful daughter" that her new boyfriend has "made a rebel of." This is problematic to me, in the sense that it implies a transfer of her ownership from one man to another. I think it's weird in this song that she doesn't seem to have any sense of her own identity away from the love interest, or her father. I do, however, give her props for the use of the line "we got bills to pay." Though grammatically incorrect, it implies that Taylor will be helping to pay the bills though some means of gainful employment. Let's go back in time 50 years so that I can congratulate her on being progressive!

The other thing I found noteworthy was how Taylor was dealing with the transition from teen star to general entertainer. As much as she infantilizes herself, Swift is distinctly more adult here as compared to her previous videos. She's got bills to pay! She has children! Usually when you see "teen" stars (she's 20) make the transition from adolescence, they do it via the sexy route, à la Britney, LiLo, and Miley. This video is unique in the sense that Taylor Swift appears to be trying to age herself into a more matronly, albeit still conventionally attractive, role. It's not often that we are encouraged to make an association between young pop starlets and motherhood....


Edit: Comments on this post are now closed. Things got sort of heated.... I need to establish some boundaries for commenting!

39 comments:

  1. You make good points about the transition towards matronly, as a departure from the way teen-starlet maturity usually plays out...
    I read the lyrics about "careless man's careful daughter" and the video's insistence on motherhood-as-culmination as making this be a music video for the promotion of purity rings, and fathers giving their brides away in marriage ceremonies.

    It makes me want to mail Taylor Swift a copy of Jessica Valenti's "The Purity Myth."

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  2. I know this has nothing to do with anything, but isn't she actually from Pennsylvania?

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  3. haha i think she's from pa, but moved to nashville

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  4. i know this has nothing to do with anything, but isn't jamie keiles pretty awesome?

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  5. Can we talk about how she's still wearing white dresses in every single video she does? The virginal good girl vibe is as formulaicly T.Swift as is everything else in her videos.

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  6. If there is one thing I do not demand from TSwift, it is envelope-pushing. In that, I have been a satisfied fan of her perfect fairy tale pop.

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  7. Videos like this always seem to me like the artists just really want to be actors. Especially her, because all of her videos star her in weirdly dramatic fashion.

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  8. I do agree, however I also appreciate girls who don't resort to the uberslut role to make it in Hollywood. So on some level, it's the lesser of two evils perhaps...? Let's just try to add some depth... Then I also have to wonder, how much of what she sings about is from her vs her writers/publicist?

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  9. Well...at least Swift is done singing about high school romances, I guess? Hopefully? Please?

    Nice post. Also, I second sending Swift a copy of The Purity Myth, possibly hand-delivered by Ms. Valenti and accompanied by a firm slap upside the head. Taylor Swift does not deserve to be as popular as she is, especially given the messages...well, okay, *message,* of all of her songs.

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  10. I've really enjoyed reading your blog over the past couple of months. You definitely have some insightful ideas about today's teenagers and how they fit into and interact with our society.

    This post about Mine has some interesting points, but being familiar with the song lyrics, I found the post a bit misleading. You completely leave out the part of the song about how Taylor keeps calling the boy "mine" (that's even the name of the track!). Instead, you only focus on the more subtle ways she describes herself as a possession, when in fact the male being her possession is much more blatant.
    Perhaps given history it is more important to avoid alluding to women being possessions, but I think the main problem is that many songs view lovers (male or female) as possessions. Food for thought: Jason Mraz's song "I'm yours" --- sung by a male it is sweet and adorable. If a woman sang it do you think it would get all the fem bloggers up in arms?

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  11. I mostly agree with Alexa. The "you made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter" line and the good girl motif are problematic, but other parts of the lyrics and the video seem to portray a pretty egalitarian situation. Unrelatedly, I think it's also good for children of divorced parents to hear "You aren't necessarily doomed to fuck up your relationships!"

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  12. The idea of "you're the best thing that's ever been mine" is weird. He's not a thing. And it's very strange to me that she says she was "raised for the good boy" (implying that he's not), but he's, like, working his way through college. That seems like an excellent life choice, so I don't know what makes him the bad boy in the situation.

    I'm less concerned about the feminist implications of the song and more concerned with just how damn weird a song choice it is for her both as Taylor Swift, High School Crooner and just as Taylor Swift, 20-year-old Who Shouldn't Be Singing About Middle Age.

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  13. Taylor Swift is a country singer and as such sings songs that are fairly country formulaic - they tell stories: break up songs, falling in love songs, fairy tale romance, heart break, fast cars, etc. It is not surprising that she is making the transition to adulthood without going the sexy route a la Britney, because Taylor is a country singer and most do not go the sexy route. It doesn't sell to the country fan base.

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  14. Another Brilliant post Jamie!

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  15. very thought-provoking post, that much is for sure. I agree with Smoovie though, when it comes to the message for children of divorced parents.

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  16. Regardless of the truths of the people-being-people-not-objects and "mine" debate, the fact remains that we refer to people as being 'ours' all the time. 'My boyfriend', 'My girlfriend', 'my kids', 'my wife/husband'. I don't believe Taylor was implying ownership as much as she was highlighting the fact that she was happy in this relationship and the boyfriend was 'the best'. On a side note, I want to point out that Taylor not only writes all her own songs, but is a co-producer for most of her albums & videos. She has also stated repeatedly that she is facinated with the idea of love and different relationships. Taylor's parents are still married, and so this song may be about a completely different girl in a different situation, someone she is friends or even just acquaintances with.

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  17. Also, Taylor Swift is not country. She's pop.

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  18. For a pop singer, she gets a lot of airplay in the country stations in KY where I live (then again, so does Bon Jovi for that one crap country song that they created). I'd imagine it's because she sounds country, and even though artists like her don't sing traditional country songs, country in general likes them because they're pretty fresh blood in a genre dominated more by older white males than anyone else.

    I think my issue with Taylor Swift is that she is going to have a problem aging herself to be seen as an adult. But then again, when you started out singing about how you are Juliet looking for her Romeo, with the white gown purchase to boot.... well, how do you go to the next stage? She's a safe, boring alternative to Britney and Miley and all the other teen to adult singers, and it's not that much more appealing.

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  19. I think you're looking for things that simply aren't there, Jamie. The beauty in songwriting is that it relies on feelings, not grammar. Feelings are extemely hard to capture in just a phrase, and it requires a special talent possessed by few. Also, her use of cliches in the music video simply lay out the story faster for her audience. Finally, in my opinion, "You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter" symbolizes she isn't afraid of relationships like she used to be - NOT that possession of her is passing from one man to another. Honestly, I'm getting tired of your constant overanalyzing. You are creating feminist dilemmas that simply do not exist.

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  20. if you are tired of my overanalyzing, then feel free to stop reading my blog... that's the beauty of the internet :)

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  21. I agree with Jamie, with so much content out there, no need to support those who you don't agree with. Jamie is merely pointing out one of many things in our society that negatively portray women. It's not about each individual portrayal, it's the pervasiveness of this negatively that creates an image of how you are supposed to be. Many young girls look toward these people, like Swift, and model their lives after her and others. Jamie's analysis may be extreme, after-all she's taking a closer look than most.

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  22. Great post. This reminds me of some other posts from a while back about how Swift is just the flip-side of the madonna/whore dichotomy. I like that you're examining her coming-of-age in this light, as well. I did think it was weird that in a Taylor Swift song there was a line about living together (*GASP*) before marriage--"there's a drawer of my things at your place." So this was maybe a (teeny tiny) step away from that purity ring, fetishizing virginity thing.

    Also, I'm not sure if you appreciate call-outs on ableist language, but you use "lame" in your post, just so you know...

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  23. "Feel free to stop reading my blog" says Jamie. Yeah, I mean, the best blogs are the ones where no one questions them and the blogger just writes whatever she wants without getting called out or debated.

    More importantly though, what is so wrong with a message of purity and respect and waiting? I'll take that message any day over the "have sex whenever you want, with whomever you want, it doesn't matter" message that liberal society is pushing everyday.

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  24. Jamie and friends I think you should follow Jamie's advice. If you are tired of Taylor Swift's songs and the problems you see in them, stop listening to Taylor Swift songs.

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  25. I think you might be interested in analyzing "The Fear" by Lily Allen.

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  26. Isn't it remarkable that a young girl is empowered to choose her own path? Isn't that ultimate goal of feminimism? I didn't know there was a feminism test that all must pass. Sounds pretty boring if there is.

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  27. I think you are reading the wrong things into this. The implication of "you made a rebel of a careless mans careful daughter," in the context of the rest of the lyrics clearly implies that it was with his help she is able to become empowered, liberated, free from the scars (or whatever, less dramatic word you want to use, I just can't think of one now) left by a bad father. Sure, it'd be nice if she could heal herself, but in reality, we often have to rely on others in our community for help with some of our inner demons (be it significant other or psychiatrist).

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  28. Typical. The lady lives her life, people want to purchase her material, but since she doesn't behave like a slut, complete with abortions and drug rehab, you must "educate" her.

    Envy is a powerfully evil thing, and you are swimming in it.

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  29. Well, she seems to be writing songs as she sees fit. People can buy them, or not. It would appear she not only is not under the thumb of a male, she isn't under the thumb of a female either.

    She writes about life. It is from her perspective. If you don't care for it, don't buy it. She doesn't have to live her life to please you, or anyone else.

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  30. My love for Taylor knows no bounds. She wears white because she looks good in it. If you can't wear white as a girl, because you are symbolizing virginity, then boys can't wear pink because they must be gay? WE'VE got bills to pay. There's a drawer of my things at your place. True that the whole motherhood thing put me off a bit, but it's just one single off her new album. If it pops up again I'm going to be a little TO'd, b.c. c'mon, can't a single girl just kick it and be awesome? Dudefriend's only 20. Oh well. She shalt redeem herself. I have faith. :) I like this blog but I LOOOOOOOOOVE Taylor swift.

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  31. Taylor's power as a woman is because of her purity, faith, and nature. She has something that has been forgotten by women and is not taught to young ladies now days. Also, she is not a man hating baby killing feminist with an inferiority complex and something to prove which has become something of the norm. She does not struggle to be superior or equal, she is just being herself and realizes that in Nashville you can succeed as yourself unlike other places where women have to become whores or gutter trash to "succeed" aka get rich in the music industry. That sets her so far above the other crowd....they could not touch the soles of her feet if they were at 20,000 feet in a 747. Such feminism is a dangerous trap that chips away at your being and injects anger into your soul. I know because my mother used to be a feminist and has since seen the light.

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  32. Here's my favorite quote from the article:

    I do, however, give her props for the use of the line "we got bills to pay." Let's go back in time 50 years so that I can congratulate her on being progressive!

    Somebody doesn't know what the phrase "give props" means.

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  33. Sorry, but I think that Jamie Keiles is reading her own hang ups and insecurities into the song... and her hostility.. well, I can't help but want to ask what planet she's on, because her comments are rather knee jerk reactionary. I feel sorry for her, because she seems pretty messed up.

    Reading the lyrics informs you that this is a song about a woman who has fallen in love with a guy who is responsible, pulls his own weight, and makes her happy. That she, as she describes herself, a careful daughter, careful because her father was careless, I read irresponsible, had doubts about relationships, because of the problems she recognized in her parents' relationship. I mean, where is there anything that infers that the woman in the song is some sheltered little bird who is the property of anyone?

    Again, Jamie, when people read things into something that aren't in evidence, it means that they are projecting. People who project do so because they have serious problems.. and you need to deal with yours, because it's unhealthy and abnormal. You're objectifying and twisting things to suit your warped world.

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  34. Isn't commentary on a music video an awfully trivial thing to attack someone for, various anons? Go ahead and disagree with her interpretation, and explain your point of view, but this is a tiny snapshot of Jamie's ideology. She clearly has no especial love for Swift, anyway, so fans are bound to disagree. (I do hope I'm not jumping to your defense inappropriately.)

    BACK TO THE SONG: I think that Jamie's interpretation can be further justified when one looks at earlier Swift songs - the same ideas are there much more strongly. It would follow that the same ideas would be there in "Mine," even if they are more subtle.

    (when will I manage to write a simple senten- that was one!)

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  35. Hey, I checked back to see if you responded to my previous comment, and I relate to the person who said this below me: "Yeah, I mean, the best blogs are the ones where no one questions them and the blogger just writes whatever she wants without getting called out or debated."

    I like many of your posts, but I think you took the lyrics out of context and twisted them to make them say what you wanted. I'm sorry if it came off abrasively, but I know you're talented and I think you could be writing about more important things. Just as a business owner would take negative feedback to heart, I think you should try and consider where I'm coming from. In a sense, I have been a "loyal customer" of your "business"...

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  36. Taylor's purity isn't power. Her "power" has mostly come from Kanye West's outburst. Otherwise, she follows a country stereotype: that of a sweet country girl who has no real opinions or thoughts beyond that of fairy tale romance.

    What would happen to Taylor if she was to break from the mold of sweet innocent little girl? She'd lose fans.. she's not pop enough to maintain the fan base that tuned in since the Kanye West debacle. Faith Hill demonstrated well what happens when a country star tries to go pop... she's seen as betraying the country base, loses fans, and has to go back to the country route because she isn't pop enough to succeed.

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  37. Once again this post left me with no doubt that liberals are attempting to engineer a new source for the West's spiritual fulfillment and you're doing it by destroying its existing spirituality. Supposedly, without the West's dependence on less developed cultures, and their spirituality, there will be no investment from the West for upliftment (and its associated and desirable low birth rates). How dumb is that?! The West's SPIRITUALITY is the ONLY driving force behind the upliftment attempts.

    "The issue here [is]...that the feminazis want to decide what kind of relationships are sexist and not sexist..." Cassy Fiano, http://www.newsrealblog.com/2010/09/03/feminazis-open-fire-on-taylor-swift/

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  38. who are you people?

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