Swifty and the double standards of song lyrics
Today, Taylor Swift dropped her latest track, 'Gorgeous', and so far it seems to have the fans raving. I'm not a big T-Swift follower but I really enjoyed the 1989 album, so I thought I'd check it out. By the end of the first verse, I was feeling slightly perturbed. By the chorus, I was frowning. Verse two had me raising both eyebrows.
Why? Because I couldn't help but think that this song sounds all kind of wrong.
You should take it as a compliment That I got drunk and made fun of the way you talk You should think about the consequence Of your magnetic field being a little too strong
At this stage, I genuinely thought she was being sarcastic, singing about some put-downs men had made toward her/women in general. The whole 'magnetic field' thing - I have for real been told things along those lines. 'You just have this sexual aura, men can't help themselves.' Sh*t like that. So at this point I thought nice, Taylor's taking the issue on.
I was wrong.
The pre-chorus gives us this blame-the-object-of-your-affection gem:
You've ruined my life by not being mine
This frankly put me in mind of some horrific news stories involving men who used this exact justification for perpetrating acts of violence against women who had turned them down. It wasn't going well.
And then we get this chorus:
You're so gorgeous I can't say anything to your face 'Cause look at your face And I'm so furious At you for making me feel this way But what can I say? You're gorgeous
So you fancy him but you haven't told him but you're furious with him because it's his fault you feel the way you do. Surely I'm not the only one for whom this is ringing some alarm bells?
I know some people would say I'm taking it too seriously - it's just a pop song, chill out. But for me this song taps into some fundamental double standards about how we perceive discussion of desire and relationships in music through a male/female divide.
No one's forgotten the furore around Robin Thicke and Pharrell's 'Blurred Lines', after all. 'But you're a good girl!/The way you grab me/Must wanna get nasty". In 'Gorgeous', Taylor sings:
And you should think about the consequence Of you touching my hand in the darkened room
In the context of a sweet, attractive woman, is this just given a pass? Because I feel like if a man sang it, the response might be different. Enough of my fellow women have felt the sickening dread of finding themselves cornered by a man they accidentally made eye contact with in a club to know that there's a tone of threat to those words. It's just we don't perceive the same kind of threat from a woman.
Then again, it might not have made any difference to popular opinion if a man had released 'Gorgeous'. People sing all sorts of things. One of Tom Jones' most popular songs is about a man who murders a cheating lover. When Welsh rugby fans were urged to stop singing it because of fears that it trivialised murdering a woman, Jones retorted that people should stop taking the lyrics so literally.
I can imagine that if Lana Del Rey had released 'Gorgeous', I would listen through a different lens because she has a history of taking on a persona, creating a character in her songs that seems a clear construct from which to story-tell. Taylor, by contrast, seems to wear her heart on her sleeve, and as the fans lean in to speculate as to which man she might be talking about, what makes this song unpalatable to me is being acclaimed as 'romantic' by some of them.
I'm not calling for every song to be vetted, deconstructed and censored. Music, like all art, is about expression and storytelling. I don't think that 'Gorgeous' is necessarily autobiographical on Taylor's part, or that she's endorsing all the attitudes it portrays.
But it worries me that this song could in any way be perceived as romantic. If a man sang/said those kinds of things about me, I'd run a mile.
Image: photosforclass.com, creative common images