If you're Taylor Swift, you get criticized for just about anything. There was plenty of ridiculousness to complain about during the recent MTV VMAs, but along with love for Justin Timberlake and confusion over Miley Cyrus, viewers insisted: We saw too much Taylor.
For some reason, at 23, Swift seems to have become both a chart-topping and award-winning artistand one of the most reviled singers of her generation. Critics say she spends too much time singing about her relationships and that her voice is weak—both not at all unusual for a singer these days, unfortunately.
The critical T-Swift narrative even inspired Abercrombie & Fitch to design a shirt just to make fun of her love life. She gets more mockery for singing about being a serial monogamist than many male singers do for singing about picking up random women.
Sadly for Swift, the criticism spills over into every other area of her life and work. It's as if she can do no right. This summer, she got slammed for wearing a bikini that covered up too much. That's the bizarre world of celebrity these days—a woman gets criticized just as much for covering up as for stripping down. When my local radio station posted a Facebook story about how Swift left a $500 tip at a restaurant, the comment section rapidly filled up with complaints about her being an overprivileged little showoff.
Perhaps Dodai Stewart at Jezebel best sums up the mindset of those who dislike Taylor just for being Taylor: "Some may argue that Taylor Swift is a role model, a class-act in the drugged-up, sexed-up music industry. But do we need another photogenic cisgendered carefree white girl singing heteronormative songs about mooning over boys?"
Leaving aside the sniping at her race, appearance, and sexuality, Swift—who's effectively taken charge of her own image and career—seems to get more criticism than most young starlets who are carefully prepackaged and managed by a television network or record label.
Whatever you think of her music (I myself would prefer to see her stick a little closer to her country roots and do less wandering off into pop territory), listeners recognize she brings her own vision to it and puts a lot of effort into her songwriting and performances.
Maybe that's why Swift hasn't felt compelled to go the way of so many of her fellow starlets. Not being a carefully polished product of someone else's imagination, she hasn't bolted to some shocking, sexually explicit extreme.
Unfortunately, she's in the minority. We as a society rarely produce an adolescent female star who can turn into a woman without going wild. Unlike some, I'm not convinced that the whole process is deliberate. But almost invariably, yesterday's sweet little Hannah Montana becomes today's Miley Cyrus, singing about drugs and simulating sex acts in her underwear onstage.
Even when a young woman bucks the trend and manages to grow up with dignity relatively intact— the occasional mouthed curse word notwithstanding—our culture still can't seem to find much good to say about her. (Even if, let's be honest, they catch themselves singing along to her irresistibly catchy hits.)
No doubt it's more fun to join a virtual lynch mob than to look for the positive. But I wonder sometimes what young girls in our society are thinking, as they watch this sort of ritual hating of young female stars. Whether classy or trashy, covered-up or nearly nude, they still become a target for criticism.
The girls in our lives who idolize these singers and actresses notice what the media says and what we say about them as they mature. Honestly, we spend so much time tearing down young female celebrities that it gets hard for young fans to recognize any positive. Headlines declaring a pop star's DUIs and nude pics get blurred with those about poor fashion choices and performance gaffes.
The future of young female stars seems so "damned if you do, damned if you don't," and that kind of message ought to disturb us. If we can't offer a little support to the few who manage to survive teen stardom and keep their heads on straight, then we may be doing our part, however small, to condemn future starlets to following the self-destructive path of Miley, Lindsey, Britney, Amanda, and dozens of others. We're helping pile on the pressure for girls who already are dealing with more than enough of it. I'm not trying to say that we should all dump freely on the particularly disturbed young women in the headlines. But if we act like there's no discernible difference between the path that Taylor's taking and the path that Miley has taken, we're sending a very confusing message.
Nor am I saying Swift or any other star is above criticism. Nobody is, because nobody's perfect. I'm simply suggesting that maybe we should reconsider the way we talk about people, even people whom we've never met and whose position in the limelight seems to make them fair game.
If, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:36, we will be held accountable for even our most careless words, we ought to think twice before we use those words in a hurtful or unkind way. They may never reach the ears of Taylor Swift—but for the young daughter or niece or neighbor listening to us speak, they may make all the difference in the world.