Editorial: We won’t “Shake it off”



The 2016 Grammy Awards were overall serious in tone—likely because the event was marked by performers making political statements. Lady Gaga delivered a passionate tribute to the late David Bowie. Kendrick Lamar’s performance dealt with his black heritage and condemned American injustice. Taylor Swift’s “Album of the Year” acceptance speech alluded to her feud with Kanye West. 

While the feud between Swift and West—or any of the past feuds between Swift and other celebrities—seem petty and trivial, they highlight very important and relevant issues.  Swift’s feud with West is evocative of her feud with Nicki Minaj. This feud was sparked by the MTV Video Music Awards nominations where Swift capitalized on the take down of a woman—in this case, Minaj. Few realize that Swift painted Minaj as an angry black woman in the midst of their Twitter feud by assuming Minaj’s vague cultural criticism as a scathing personal attack. Miley Cyrus later followed suit: she similarly used her platform as a powerful cultural figure to reinforce the same damaging stereotype. Minaj also prompted Swift to speak on the issue of the lack of diversity in music nominations, and Swift did not engage.

This was not the first time that Swift capitalized on the exploitation of women. This is ironic because Swift appears to be good for women at first glance. She is a self-professed feminist. She has surpassed many of her female peers by managing to stay out of trouble and maintaining a positive image in the media. In vindicating herself and protecting her own image, however, she has largely excluded and marginalized an entire demographic of women.

She exemplifies white feminism: her brand of feminism assumes that women like her–white, thin, wealthy women—are the default.

Her “Shake it Off” video very clearly objectifies women of color: she separates herself from these women and remains largely desexualized by contrasting herself to them. The women surrounding Swift in her “Bad Blood” video are almost uniformly white, beautiful, thin, rich and famous. Further evidence of Swift’s exclusion of colored women in her narrow brand of feminism is present in her “Blank Space,” “Style” and “Wildest Dreams” videos.

Swift certainly is not the only public figure guilty of championing white feminism, but people should be vigilant of offenses like these. The 2016 Grammy Awards and the political statements made during the event drew attention to serious issues, and rightfully so.