When Taylor Swift's current world tour swung through New Jersey last weekend, the singer stopped between songs to address the 60,000 or so fans who had turned out for her show. Rolling Stone's shamelessly affectionate review of the concert quoted the singer as saying, "There are many types of people here tonight. But we have one thing in common."
No, actually, you don't.
The everygirl that country music fans first fell in love with nearly a decade ago has outgrown not only the music, but also the persona, that originally endeared her to audiences worldwide. In the past couple of years, she has entirely abandoned her first musical genre -- all while country radio desperately continues to claim her as one of its own -- both symbolically (having relocated from Nashville to New York City) and sonically (her latest album, last year's 1989, is about as far removed from country as her Manhattan penthouse). With that change has come a new Taylor, one whose quest to empower her young female fans has, seemingly unbeknownst to them and their parents, ended in the most ironic of ways.
Sure, Swift can stand on stage in East Rutherford and tell the impressionable girls packed into MetLife Stadium that they are "not the opinion of someone who doesn't know you," but the woman who purports life lessons to her followers apparently doesn't realize that she has become the very one who doesn't know them. Just a few years ago, Swift carried the banner for ordinary girls shunned for humbly wearing sneakers and sitting unnoticed in the bleachers; today, she probably wouldn't even know what to say to a single one of them.
It's unfortunate to see scores of parents encouraging their young daughters to cling to a role model who long ago left them behind for the temptations of brighter, more glamorous pastures. The Taylor Swift whom teenage girls could relate to through music is long gone, having been replaced by a woman who has become more celebrity than musician. The singer's empowering words may still be present at her concerts -- where a vast majority of tickets are face-value priced in triple digits, by the way, making them less than easily accessible to the less-well-off fans she purports to represent -- but her deeds say something else. Swift may consider herself a role model, but if you have a young girl at home, you may want to give a little more thought to encouraging her to follow suit. That is, unless you want your daughter to pattern herself after someone who:
- Surrounds herself only with other rich, famous and powerful women. Swift may present the non-catty illusion of promoting feminism by (very publicly) socializing with other females, but of the revolving door of guest stars who have joined her on stage at various tour stops thus far, all were familiar faces; none were unknowns looking for a break. Good for Swift for inviting the U.S. Women's World Cup soccer team on stage over the weekend, but where was their invitation when they were just a bunch of scrappy athletes, and not world champions being honored with a New York ticker-tape parade?
- Uses others to build her own brand. It is hardly a coincidence that Swift made her name in country music by titling her first single after another whose name was already established: Tim McGraw. Today, Swift hardly needs famous friends to keep her name in the press, but surely she knows that doubling up on celebrity power isn't exactly going to turn entertainment media away. Unlike most of us, whose relationships are legitimate and crafted organically, Swift's friendships seem to be the product of strategy as much as actual bonding. I've never been present when she's spent time with friends, so I can't say for sure how substantive her relationships are, but when a Google search of "Taylor Swift friends" reveals links to articles like Cosmopolitan's "16 of Taylor Swift's Best BFFs" and Yahoo's "Ranking 25 of Taylor Swift's Best Best Friends," it's easy to get the feeling that there's more to these friendships than, well, friendship. Really, is your daughter going to be as excited to visit Swift's Instagram page to see her hanging out with some random girl, as opposed to other celebrities like Sarah Hyland and Lorde? The fact that various mainstream media outlets are ranking her friends tells her young fans that it's better to pursue friendships with the established, rich and famous, not the quirky, awkward and anonymous.
- Is marginally and conditionally charitable. Swift may dump a small portion of her vast fortune into the occasional charitable cause, and in fact has been recognized among the industry's most philanthropic entertainers, but only in fan-voted surveys that amount to glorified popularity contests. To be fair, Swift has generously given back to fans, but keep this in mind: 11-year-old cancer patient Naomi Oakes got the singer's attention only after her illness had caused her to miss one of Swift's concerts. And, she publicized her 2014 "Swiftmas" campaign by video-recording herself wrapping and delivering gifts to fans, then making sure to leave no doubt of her generosity by uploading its evidence to YouTube.
- Promotes vanity. Swift's musical transition was not her only personal expansion; in recent years she has also moved beyond music and become an entrepreneur, putting her mighty name behind everything from a line of greeting cards to soft drinks. But her deals with both CoverGirl and Elizabeth Arden cosmetics are what really seem to fly in the face of the love-who-you-are message that Swift preached to fans years ago. You can argue that endorsing low-cost brands like L.E.I. and Keds years ago may have spoken to average, non-wealthy fans, but in 2015, it's safe to say that when it comes to what she herself would wear in public, Swift and discount brands are never, ever getting back together.
How Swift has moved completely past musical styles, hometowns and ideology, and yet managed to watch her fanbase continue to grow every year, is testament to her impressive business acumen and strategic planning. In that regard, she may be everything you want your daughter to become. Just remember that, if she truly grows up to be like Taylor, the day will probably come when she simply won't know you anymore.