Sunday, January 4, 2015

Cause We're Young and We're Reckless: Is Taylor Swift's Addictive Hit "Blank Space" Creating a Culture of Destructive and Disposable Relationships?

“[W]e don’t want to take female empowerment to the place of male degradation.”
- Kelly Cutrone America’s Next Top Model Season 21 Episode 8

                I am a fan of pop music. It also isn’t a secret that most pop music sounds the same. Have you ever listened to “Roar” by Katy Perry and “Brave” by Sara Bareilles back to back? It is basically the same song with almost identical messages; regardless, both are songs I know all of the words to. Recently, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” was playing on the radio as my boyfriend and I were going home after a Saturday evening brew. He cringed as I turned it up and proceeded to sing all of the words for the remainder of the song. I clicked on one of the other four preset pop stations and happened on the song again. Please note that this drive is maybe eight minutes long and the song is just shy of four, so this is torture for my very patient man. This motivated me to inquire into his dislike of this pop gem. So I asked, Why? His response was what I expected. It is too pop, too main stream, and pointless. This song like many other pop culture tween phenomenon has its place in shaping young people. This is my rebuttal of its importance.

It is not a secret that “Blank Space” is a huge hit. It is number one on iTunes and the Billboard top 100. It is also not too hard to figure out Miss Swift’s motivation for writing the hit: media coverage of her high profile and somewhat fleeting relationships (“Ain't it funny rumors fly / And I know you heard about me.” 0:34). The potentially hazardous part of this is the message combined with popularity and the impressionable demographic that it reaches.

“Cause darling I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream”:  Being Yourself Can Include Crazy

In the accompanying video, Swift is portrayed as a character whose “insane” reactions are spurred at the slightest of what would hardly be called indiscretions. The whole depiction is that she is the ideal and perfect woman on the surface, but underneath is a bubbling mess. She could ruin a life at the glance of a message from her man’s female friend. This false identity and two-faced behavior is alluring when portrayed by a beautiful woman who is acting, but a young woman taking on the responsibility of someone else in her life, it is a bad example. Yes, it is important to place importance on young women learning their place in the world and feeling empowered, but that doesn’t give them the right to believe that their personality “could make all the tables turn” (1:56). This implies that Swift is the soul controlling force in her relationship and does not share equal footing with the man whose identity changes as easily as a coffee order.

“But I got a blank space baby / And I'll write your name”: Men are Disposable

These lyrics are preceded by Swift, as the song’s protagonist, stating that she has a long list of ex-lovers. This is commonly misheard as “lot of Starbucks lovers”. This mondegreen works because when she speaks of the blank space where her new lovers name is to be written, you hear the unmistakable click of a sharpie that you can easily envision in the hand of a barista. The imagery here and the attitude toward her current love interest are enforced by the hall of portraits in Swift’s home in the video. She adds the recently completed portrait of her current beau to the plethora of others that grace the walls, one of which has its very own axe embedded in its canvas. It is apparent that the woman portrayed by Swift is going through these men as fast as the milk in her latte is cooled.

“Boys only want love if it's torture / Don't say I didn't say I didn't warn you”: You Must Torture to Be Loved

This is the most striking part of the song, both in the change in melody and the imagery in the video. Swift’s lyrics and behavior grows more violent with every verse, culminating in the ultimate symbol of love and sexuality. As she claims that torture is the way to a man’s love, she used a candy red apple as a voodoo doll of her man’s head. His reaction is sexualized while still expressing painful feelings. He then discovers the defaced portraits of the men that came before and it is implied at this point that she poisons him with said apple. Now we see all of her true colors and how her love interest didn’t try to leave until it was too late. We then see the arrival of her new victim.

“Blank Space” may be a pop hit, but its message must also be taken with a grain of salt. We must take into consideration the theatricality of the video. Given the demographic of Top 40 radio “Top 40 does reach listeners younger than 18… ‘The radio is where they first hear the songs they’re putting on their iPods’” (Lariviere). It’s concerning what impression this melodic and catchy tune may have on the young people who already struggle with learning how to navigate and cultivate healthy relationships.

Taylor Swift – Blank Space – YouTube
Choosing the Right Radio Format for Your Target Audience, By David Lariviere, –