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Unleashing the Taylor Swift Storm: Why is She Suddenly the Scapegoat for Everything?

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Ms. Weiner is a novelist. Her most recent book is “The Breakaway.”

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Ask the people in your life to name a woman who’s got it good, with wealth and beauty and talent and true love, and I’d bet at least a few of them would name Taylor Swift.

Why Is Taylor Swift So Popular? Let's Investigate

Ms. Swift, the 34-year-old pop icon, who made history last Sunday as the only musician to win four best-album Grammy Awards, checks many of the important boxes. She is white and thin and blonde in a world that continues to privilege whiteness and thinness and blondness. She’s a billionaire with an enviable real estate portfolio, a loyal coterie of girlfriends and, for the past five months or so, a handsome, cheerfully goofy N.F.L. player boyfriend who seems smitten with her. On Sunday, she may take a break from her worldwide Eras tour and fly in from Japan to watch him play in the Super Bowl. Hashtag blessed, right?

But if you spend 10 minutes on X or Threads, or eavesdropping on N.F.L. message boards or watching TikToks, you will notice that factions that do not agree about anything share an absolute certainty that Taylor Swift is trouble. She’s doing too much, except when she’s not doing enough, and she’s always doing it wrong.

I’m not the first to observe that a pretty blonde dating a handsome football player should, at least for white people of a certain age, evoke all the simpler bygone vibes (Friday-night lights, milkshakes with two straws, letterman jackets) that conservatives could want. Except — oops! — the pretty blonde endorses Democrats. And Travis Kelce, the football hero, appears in commercials for vaccines (bad) and Bud Light (somehow worse).A Fan Called Taylor Swift's Tampa Show The 'Errors Tour' & The Singer Had A Few Slip-Ups - Narcity

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And why does she hog the spotlight at his games? She’s Yoko Ono-ing him and jinxing his team, the Kansas City Chiefs, except when she misses a game — and is still, somehow, jinxing the team, which made it to the Super Bowl anyway, proof right there, somehow, of a vast left-wing conspiracy.

Of course, anyone subjected to that much distilled man-cave fury should be beloved by the opposing team, the folks with dye in their hair and pronouns in their online biographies, right?

Think again.

Environmentally minded critics have called Ms. Swift a climate criminal for frequently flying on a private jet. In 2022, she topped a list of “celebrity emitters” that blamed her jet for pumping 8,293.54 metric tons of CO₂ emissions into the atmosphere. (A spokeswoman told the Washington Post that those figures were misleading, since Ms. Swift regularly lent the plane to others.) They got even angrier when her representatives sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Florida college student who tracked and publicized that data.

If the jet is a problem, the money that pays for it is an even bigger one. Summarizing a whole lot of online chatter, an article in the Australian outlet SBS asks, who is making Ms. Swift’s merchandise? “Are they working reasonable hours and paid appropriately? Did she really need to release that much merchandise? Are her tickets being sold to fans at a reasonable price?”

Ms. Swift gave the staff of her Eras tour $100,000 bonuses, for a reported total of more than $55 million, and she quietly made large donations to food pantries in the cities the tour passed through. But to these critics, an ethical billionaire is a contradiction in terms, and Ms. Swift’s at fault for trying to reach the top of oppressive power structures when she could be trying to dismantle them instead.

Of course, race is also part of the debate. Some people are angered by Ms. Swift’s failure to condemn her recent ex Matty Healy, the lead singer of the British band The 1975, who was filmed onstage giving what appeared to be a Nazi salute. During interviews, he lobbed vile insults at the rapper Ice Spice and talked about watching pornography that degraded Black women.

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“Whether she’s dating Healy or this is all an elaborate PR scheme,” Kelly Pau wrote in Salon, “Swift has proven herself to be another white woman who claims to be an ally, claims Black Lives Matter and calls herself a feminist — but only as long as it serves her.”

Others point out that Mr. Kelce’s previous girlfriend is Black and that in some quarters, his relationship with Ms. Swift is being celebrated as a kind of glorious return to sanity. In that scenario, Ms. Swift is defended as the right’s “symbol of pure whiteness,” the MSNBC analyst Brittany Packnett Cunningham wrote on Threads. “And in their ‘replacement fears,’ defending her is defending whiteness itself.”

But wait, there’s more. Some fans are disappointed that Ms. Swift attended a Brooklyn stop on the comedian Ramy Youssef’s More Feelings tour, an event that raised money for Gazan relief efforts. “She owes Israelis and Jewish Americans an apology,” said the talk-show host Megyn Kelly. Meanwhile, fans using the hashtag #SwiftiesforPalestine have asked Ms. Swift to call for an immediate cease-fire, cut ties with Israeli companies and to publicly support Palestinians.

Fans with disabilities have complained that Ms. Swift’s accessible-ticket sales were a mess — and that her concerts didn’t offer enough A.D.A.-compliant seats.

Even Ms. Swift’s affection for cats has come under fire. In particular, critics say, her affection for her two Scottish Fold cats boosted the breed’s popularity, causing unscrupulous opportunists to over-breed them, which resulted in unfortunate genetic mutations.

A racist ex! A pollutant-spewing private jet! White feminism! The sins of capitalism! Mutant cats! All her fault!

It’s a tale as old as time: how it’s impossible for any woman — whether superstar or mere mortal — to get it right. It’s “Barbie” monologue (Taylor’s version):

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You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be too powerful. You have to be a career woman but not ambitious.

You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining.

But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.

Despite winning pretty much everything, it seems, Taylor Swift can’t win.

But in that sea of TikToks and X posts, open letters and petitions and demands, there’s something heartening happening, too.

When I was a teenager, I’m not sure it would have occurred to me to think about how whiteness might have been at work on the pop charts or demand that Debbie Gibson seize the means of production. It’s encouraging to see Ms. Swift’s young fans talking about race and power and privilege and gender.

And it’s hard to imagine that those critics wouldn’t also think about their own lives, their own feminism and carbon footprint, the stands they take, the pets they choose. In demanding Taylor Swift do better — even when there’s no consensus about what “better” looks like — a whole lot of Swifties may end up doing better themselves.


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