Derision of Taylor Swift emerges from a contempt for young women

Pop star no less deserving of Artist of the Decade award than Dylan or Springsteen

“Young women have their own voices, and their own cultural troubadour now in Taylor Swift.” Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

“Young women have their own voices, and their own cultural troubadour now in Taylor Swift.” Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

 

If you were asked to think of the all-time great musicians, who springs to mind? The American Music Awards named the Beatles as the artist of the 1960s, Stevie Wonder the 1970s, Michael Jackson the 1980s.

The likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, David Bowie are all probably deserving of a look in too. On Sunday, Taylor Swift will receive the coveted Artist of the Decade award at the American Music Awards, in a decision that will cement her deserved slot in the annals of music history, and anger every dad with access to the news.

Taylor Swift? Same category as the Beatles! Couldn’t be. How could the former country singer – obsessed with blue jeans and pick-up trucks – turn pop star with an army of synth-y dance tracks in her catalogue ever live up to the genius that is the Beatles, or Dylan, say?

A devotion to the music of Swift, or indeed her peers such as Ariana Grande or Billie Eilish, is deemed frivolous

The interests of young women, and the music they produce, are often dismissed with a sneering superiority. It’s deemed less serious, too juvenile, a passing fad, simply the product of standard-issue fair-weather teenage obsession. It’s uncool, too.

In July 2018 the streets of Dublin 1 filled with gaggles of teenage girls and young women on their way to Croke Park to see Swift perform – many in costumes that paid homage to Swift’s most iconic looks.

Swift, like all popular musicians, has a knack for bringing out fans in droves whenever she tours.

Is there really much difference in that than to the legions of greying men who surface the second U2 announce their latest album? Or perhaps those who hover around the 3Arena waiting to see Dylan play the same songs for the seventh time?

Obsessive fans

Great musicians generate obsessive fans – and the craze that surrounds Swift is no different to that which surrounds Dylan or Springsteen, or Bono or Neil Young.

It’s noteworthy, though, that what is considered to be legitimate and worthy interest in the so-called “greats”, is cast off as faddish obsession beholden to teenage naivete when it comes to the pop stars young women and girls like.

You could, for example, spend your life poring over the litany of academic tomes about Dylan: All the Songs – the Story Behind Every Track by Philippe Margotin, or the broader Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz, or the myopically specific Revolution in the Air: the Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973 by Clinton Heylin. Enough ink has been spilled, and enough pages written, about Dylan that it is a marvel that the Amazon rainforest has sustained itself this long.

Meanwhile, a devotion to the music of Swift, or indeed her peers such as Ariana Grande or Billie Eilish, is deemed frivolous. Certainly not worthy of a library full of literature. Swift only writes about boys, her interests are narrow, and her lyrics lack depth.

That Swift and Springsteen share an interest in lyrically cataloguing the experience of growing up in America, or that Dylan has written as many lovesick break-up tracks as Swift, seems to elude many.

None of this, of course, is Dylan’s or Springsteen’s fault. Nor is it even necessarily a bad thing to have a book shelf teetering under the weight of forensic lyrical analysis and Dylan hagiography.

What these artists all share – Swift too – is an affinity with great songwriting, and an interest in producing music that people want to listen to, time and time again

But young women have their own voices, and their own cultural troubadour now in Swift. Our generation’s answer to Dylan – a songwriter as technically masterful, and a character as entertaining, with as much substance as any of the aforementioned greats.

But the sound you just heard was every man in a one-mile radius collectively scoffing at the suggestion.

Sure, Swift has never written her own Blood on the Tracks, but Dylan has never written his own Red. Love Story is an anthem worthy of Springsteen. Paper Rings is a pop-punk bop befitting Debbie Harry, and as much as a dancefloor filler as anything in Madonna’s oeuvre. All Too Well – the centrepiece of Swift’s career – is no less accomplished than Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.

Contempt

The derision that greets Swift emerges from a contempt for young women. Young women are frivolous; young women are silly. Young women are certainly not ‘cool’. How then could their interests and obsessions be?

It’s true, Swift isn’t cool – but none of these people are. U2 are fronted with a man whose nomenclature derives from a hearing-aid shop off O’Connell Street; and Dylan had the baffling born-again Christian phase.

But what these artists all share – Swift too – is an affinity with great songwriting, and an interest in producing music that people want to listen to, time and time again.

Go and see Dylan on his literal Never Ending tour, but don’t miss the fact that something else is happening – and that’s Swift singing to a crowd of adoring and obsessive fans no different to those front row at any of the other greats’ concerts. All uncool, all as demanding of valorisation as the others.

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