Friday, August 29, 2014

"Shake It Off": Leave Taylor Swift Alone

I am a huge Taylor Swift fan. Beyond my 20+ years love affair with country music, I admire her honesty, panache, and self-awareness. She turned down a recording contract early in her career because she didn't feel right about it and instead created a brand tailored to her personality. As I have often remarked to Horace, had Taylor Swift existed in my youth, I would have had an entirely different--and emotionally healthier--high school experience.

(I swear she wrote "Teardrops On My Guitar" with my laughable teenage love life in mind.)

So I'm making up for lost time, vibing to "Shake It Off," the high-octane first single from her next album.

But not everyone is.

Last week, headlines flew around the internet about how racist the "Shake It Off" video is. Aside from not believing Taylor Swift would make such a video, I scoffed at one such opinion as it begins "haven't watched the taylor swift video and I don't need to watch it to tell you that it's inherently offensive and ultimately harmful."

Not for nothing, but I'm pretty sure you should watch a video before deriding it as inherently offensive and ultimately harmful.

For objectors who did watch it, the freeze frame below highlights the chief aspect of the video with which they have a problem.

But don't judge the video by one image. Watch the whole thing for yourself.

I don't know about you, but I saw an artist making fun of herself against the backdrop of several different dance styles, none of which seemed to fit her. I saw a lighthearted visual concept which amused and entertained me from the moment the first beat dropped.

I also saw non-black twerkers--is that a word?--and black cheerleaders, ribbon twirlers, and saxophonists, the latter groups seeming out of place in a racist video.

But maybe that's just me.

And maybe that's because I did not isolate the brown booty scenes from those featuring ballerinas or futuristic pop-lockers. Maybe that's because I didn't allow an out of context freeze frame to determine my opinion of the whole video. Or maybe that's because my country music-loving, Friends over Martin-preferring self ain't black enough to understand the implications of what this video is really about. Maybe I'm so suckered by the saccharine that I'm numb to the bitterness such images could create.

(Untrue but I can see that argument coming.)

Whatever the reason, I'm gonna need people to leave Taylor Swift alone. Of all the artists who need to be checked for a host of reasons, I can't see how she cracks the top twenty. My girl is brave enough to live and love in the public eye, subjecting herself to scrutiny few could withstand with their sanity intact. She pours her heart into her music, whether a soul-searching ballad or an infectious pop tart with a quirky video.

This particular TS video may not be your twist, but describing it as racist seems a stretch, especially with Mike Brown's death resonating in our souls. Yes, emotions are raw: among other life-crushing things, black folks are tired of feeling invisible and irrelevant until white folks decide they want to bastardize aspects of our culture for financial gain and cache.

And I share that rage, disgust, despair, and other soul-crushing feelings, Lawd knows I do. I just don't think they should be superimposed on a Taylor Swift video.

But if you do, then you already know how to deal with my opinion.

Little Miss Swift just told you.

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