On February 8th, 2015, following the release of her fifth studio album, 1989, Taylor Swift walked the Grammys red carpet in a stunning blue ombré gown and took home awards for Best Pop Solo Performance, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year, three of the most prestigious acclamations of the night. And yet, despite her immense successes, all anyone wanted to discuss was her love life.
After instructing her camera operator to get a shot of the aforementioned dress, an Entertainment Tonight reporter proclaimed, "I just wanted to show the legs, 'cause as I was telling you... you're going to walk home with more than just a trophy tonight. I think lots of men."
When Taylor, maintaining her dignity despite the grossly undignified question, responded, "I'm not going to walk home with any men tonight," she was met with lewd laughter.
This morbid fascination with the singer's love life has spanned her entire career, with everyone from talk show hosts to gossip blogs to Twitter fans speculating about Swift's latest beau. It seems that, despite her continuous record-breaking, chart-topping, and industry-molding, all the media cycles care about is who she shares those successes with. No matter how many of her songs chart in the Billboard Top 200, or how many chai cookies she bakes for devoted fans during her trademark secret sessions, or how many notable causes she donates to and supports, her warped dating history overshadows her accomplishments. But why?
The Rumor Obscuring The Eras Tour
Swift recently embarked on the American leg of her Eras Tour, one of the most ambitious live shows in history. The set list contains 44 songs, some of which rotate intermittently, and spans over three hours, during which Taylor guides her packed stadium audience on a journey through her ten albums, from her self-titled record to October 2022's Midnights. (By comparison, Harry Styles spent an average of one hour and fifteen minutes on stage each night of Love on Tour, according to Seat Geak, less than half of Taylor's duration. A three-hour setlist is unheard of).
Because of this enormous feat—and the many concert videos circulating Tiktok—she's more prevalent in the media than usual. Recently, for the wrong reasons.
Of course, a celebrity breakup will naturally create buzz, especially if one of said celebrities is a beloved A-lister. However, the articles discussing the news seem intent on eclipsing Eras Tour's accomplishments with a few recycled quotes from "close sources" surrounded by sensationalized speculation. "Taylor Swift Added Breakup Songs to Eras Tour Before Joe Alwyn Split," writes People. "So, Taylor Added a Breakup Song to the Eras Tour Setlist More Than a Week Before the Joe Alwyn News," pens Cosmopolitan. Even related news of potential new music videos is punctuated with "amid the Joe Alwyn split." What was once a celebration of Taylor's phenomenal career thus far has become a beacon of hearsay.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a recent article discussing the tour without mention of Joe and Taylor's six-year relationship. Suddenly, her immense success boils down to a London Boy and a "J" necklace.
This is troubling, as it represents the larger plight of female artists, who must constantly overcome reductive journalism that paints them as "serial daters," "heartbreakers," or even "calculating" manipulators. Swift, specifically, often addresses the detrimental double standard women in the music industry face when writing about love. "You're going to have people who are going to say, 'Oh, you know, like, she just writes songs about her ex-boyfriends.' And frankly, I think that is a very sexist angle to take," Swift told the Australian talk show hosts of Jules, Merrick, & Sophie.
"No one says that about Ed Sheeran [or] Bruno Mars. They're all writing songs about their exes, their love lives, and no one raises a red flag there." For years, she's been forced to ignore or respond to outlandish criticisms regarding the nature of her music, despite being one among many singers that wax poetic about love lost.
So, why is it different for Taylor?
In my opinion, it all boils down to power.
"Make Her Radioactive"
Taylor Swift has released twelve studio albums, including two rerecordings. She has accumulated an estimated 114 million unit record sales across those albums and is currently on track to surpass a $1 Billion net worth. Furthermore, she has won a whopping 540 awards over the course of her career thus far, including an astounding 13 Grammys and 46 Grammy nominations.
Even aside from statistics, Taylor is constantly raising the bar. Just when you think she hit her peak during her Red era, she welcomes us to New York with 1989. And then, during a global pandemic that tanked every artist's productivity, Swift came back stronger than a 90s trend with alternative masterpiece Folklore.
Her work spans genres, decades, trends, relationships, emotions, and life stages. Following the progression of Taylor's music is like witnessing her metamorphosis from "shy high school girl" to "pensive and emotionally complex woman." She's triumphed over rumor after rumor after scandal after scandal, most of which were baseless attacks on her character. She is, as her fans like to say, the music industry.
People don't like that.
Oddly enough, a quote from 2022's Do Revenge describes this bitterness best when Drea says, "Oh, honey, it is much easier to destroy a girl. Take your pick: [censored]-shame her, turn her friends against her, prey on her vanity, turn her into a troll, exploit her darkest secrets. Make her radioactive, and no one will help her."
And make Taylor radioactive the media did. Or, at least, they tried to (and continue to try to) time and time again.
You need only look up "Taylor Swift's boyfriends" to find a slew of misinformation regarding her love life. According to Ellen DeGeneres, she once dated Zack Effron because they co-starred in an animated movie together. And, because Taylor apparently can't exist without ridicule, she's had to address dating rumors regarding the majority of the friends she is pictured with.
Turning Taylor's friends against her proved simple enough. Countless outlets criticized her mid-2010s friendship group, affectionately titled "The Squad," asserting that she was parading around with her "model friends" as some sort of shallow PR move. Swift later disbanded the group, expressing regret at having ever formed it in the first place. "The patriarchy allows men to have bro packs," she told The Rolling Stone. "If you're a male artist, there's an understanding that you have respect for your counterparts." To juxtapose, when asked about her relationship with the women in The Squad, Taylor said, "It's assumed that we hate each other."
The media preyed on her vanity by discussing her slender frame and eating habits, especially during her 1989 era. Even comedian Nikki Glaser jumped on the bandwagon, joking that Taylor was "too skinny" in a stand-up routine (though she has since apologized). Swift later opened up about her eating disorder in Netflix's Miss Americana, putting those comments into a shameful perspective.
As for turning Swift into a troll, exploiting her darkest secrets, and making her radioactive, I don't think any of us need to be reminded of a certain rap singer and Kardashian's edited phone call (the result of which was Reputation, quintessential pop perfection).
The point is, despite (or perhaps because of) Taylor Swift's tremendous accomplishments, journalists, television hosts, and internet trolls alike insist on reducing her to a serial-dating masochist intent on dragging famous men down with her, and the nature of the media storm surrounding Swift's breakup with Alwyn is simply the continued legacy of this stereotype. Instead of reveling in the magnificence of the Eras Tour, outlets must discuss the set's singular song swap days before news of the breakup.
And, despite the pool of interesting and truthful events in Swift's life, the general public must fixate on the end of a relationship she kept almost completely private.
I am not delirious. I know that word of Taylor and Joe's split (to quote, well, every publication) was bound to break somehow, and it's the job of journalists to scribe stories people will read. The problem arrives when this news undermines Swift's tireless tour efforts and regresses news circles to the antiquated days of breakup-song-bashing. Swift should not be defined by her love life, as she has continued to be for over a decade.
Her career recently hit another all-time high. Let's focus on that.