I might be a little biased, in that Taylor Swift is one of my personal favorite artists and Jody Rosen is one of my personal favorite music writers, but I can’t think of a better piece of pop-culture journalism/criticism all year than Rosen’s profile of Swift, which is on the cover of New York magazine this week and debuted on the Internet Sunday night. Here are three reasons this lengthy profile is worth your time – even if you’re a T-Swift hater. (Also, shame on you.)
1. The piece addresses many of the criticisms Taylor Swift has endured over the years.
Taylor Swift isn’t a feminist. Taylor Swift writes about love too much. Taylor Swift is a bad role model. Taylor Swift dates too many celebrities. Taylor Swift is a bad singer. Rosen doesn’t gloss over any of these criticisms. Rather, he systematically debunks many of them and lets Swift chime in on several. Whether you agree with Swift’s remarks or Rosen’s analysis, the consideration of alternative viewpoints is a major note in this story’s favor.
For the record, Rosen makes some extremely convincing points in favor of describing Taylor Swift as a feminist, regardless of accusations against such a distinction. Rosen writes,
“Call Swift a stooge for the patriarchy if you like, but the message of her concerts is a different one: that great power is unleashed when a female takes a guitar and pen in hand and makes some art.”
Swift inspires her fans to express their feelings, even when those feelings might be complicated or difficult to grapple with.
In my experience, Swift’s fans love her because they feel like she’s telling them her truth, not because they share the same philosophies on romance. There’s an argument to be made for the idea that Swift ought to focus less on her relationships with men and more on her relationships with other women, or her family, or her music, or herself. But Taylor Swift writes what she feels, which is more than can be said for most of the pop stars that Rosen cites in his piece as her competitors.
2. Rosen unearthed some juicy tidbits from the time he spent with Taylor Swift.
Taylor Swift has a framed photograph of her infamous interaction with Kanye West on the 2009 VMAs in her apartment. These and other fascinating details provide this piece with its most easily quotable sections, but they also reveal aspects of Swift’s personality that haven’t really been uncovered until now.
“You might not know it from her public persona, but Swift is funny; she has a dry, ready wit.”
Later, he asks Taylor Swift the questions on every gossip blogger’s mind – what do you think of your ex-boyfriends? – and she answers thoughtfully, making sure to put her failed relationships in context with the rest of her success. You get the sense from the piece that Taylor Swift is smarter and more self-aware than she’s often willing to let on.
3. Rosen spends much of the piece talking about Taylor Swift’s primary appeal: her songwriting.
Rosen isn’t the first person to note that Taylor Swift is a master of the songwriting craft, but he might be the first to offer concrete examples of her excellence with such specificity.
“With each album, she’s refined her craft. Consider a refrain from another big hit, ‘Mine’ (2010): ‘You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.” That’s awfully deft writing: a little miracle of narrative concision, vacuum-packing a novel’s worth of backstory into ten words and two bars of music.”
Rosen’s piece is overwhelmingly positive, but his prior work suggests that he wouldn’t have hesitated to present harsher criticisms of Swift or her music if he genuinely felt if his observations demanded it.
The plentiful details also justify Rosen’s bold claim that Taylor Swift is the biggest pop star in the world right now, and a unique anomaly in the history of American popular culture. I can practically hear the millions of screaming fans chanting their agreement.
To read more of my thoughts on Jody Rosen, here’s a blog post I wrote over the summer about Critics I Admire.