The Fear Girls

Category: Music

Taylor Swift’s Feminist Tendancies

 By Caitlin Clarkson

While going to art school in San Francisco, I was surrounded by pretentious music snobs. My music taste was sometimes in step with theirs, and I quickly learned to pretend I was a more discerning music connoisseur than I really was. I drooled over the newest music video from that duo in Sweden; I traded my carefully curated collection of mash-ups for gigs and gigs of electronic folk albums. I waited until I was back at home to indulge in my favorite albums from middle school.

But now I am no longer in art school, and instead spend my days working retail. The differences in music taste between my former classmates and current coworkers is jarring. My coworkers, fully grown women, sing and dance along to Justin Beiber. Others swoon whenever Madonna comes on. One laments the lack of Britney Spears. I feel as though I fell through the rabbit hole; my admission to listening to music from Glee is now met with enthusiasm instead of disgust. At some point, I stopped yearning for the more adult music in the men’s and women’s departments and started to enjoy repeated listenings of “Isn’t She Lovely?” and “Wake Up Little Susie.”

One song that caught my attention was Taylor Swift’s “Fifteen.” My knowledge of Swift was limited to “blonde pop princess who still sings about being in high school; got on Kanye West’s bad side; this chart.”

But after listening to “Fifteen” again and again and again, and even enjoying it, I started to wonder—was she really the unicorn-and-cupcake-sprinkled feminist nightmare I had heard whispers of? Was she really a perpetual adolescent stuck romanticizing high school experiences she never had (for the record, Swift was home schooled)? I pondered the little snatches of lyrics I caught while folding shirts.

In reality, the song “Fifteen” is a level-headed message from a woman to teenage girls,  urging caution towards the throes of young love. In the lyrics, Swift describes the feeling of being noticed by boys for the first time, and the exhilarating feelings that come with dates and first kisses. She also warns in the chorus:

   “‘Cause when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you

   You’re gonna believe them

   […]

   Count to ten

   Take it in

   This is life before you know who you’re gonna be”

Swift goes on to explain how she too was in love at 15 (“back then I swore I was gonna marry him some day”), but as she grew older she “realized some bigger dreams of mine.” She acknowledges how at fifteen, you feel like there’s nothing left for you to learn, and you feel as though you know exactly what you want. Swift encourages her listeners to not get so caught up in boy drama and to instead focus on growing and bettering themselves.

Anti-Swift articles mention the song’s few passages about a character named Abigail; described as Swift’s best friend, Abigail also falls in love at fifteen. The difference is that “Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind.” The general interpretation of this line is that Abigail’s “everything” is her virginity, therefore implying that a girl’s most prized procession is her unbroken hymen. I don’t agree with this. I interpret “everything” as trust; Abigail trusted and opened up to a boy for the first time, only to be let down. Maybe that includes sex, maybe it doesn’t. Her virginal status doesn’t matter; Abigail bought into the myth of young, true love, only to find out the worst way possible that life usually doesn’t play out that way.

Swift makes Abigail’s heartbreak serve as a warning against deeply investing in a relationship “when all you wanted was to be wanted.” She avoids describing the end of her own freshman year love, only demurely noting that time can heal almost all wounds, and that the experience helped her mature and refine her identity as an adult.

What Swift does repeat throughout the song is that she wasn’t fully grown at fifteen. Only after getting a little older has she realized that she has dreams beyond snagging a boy on the football team. I have no problem with that sentiment, or with young girls hearing it. It’s actually a very feminist message: relationships are not the path to fulfillment.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am grossly unfamiliar with Swift’s body of work. Maybe this song is an anomaly, and all of her other songs are about teenaged shotgun weddings attended by puppies and kittens. But “Fifteen,” at least, gets my seal of approval. So while I’ll continue to rave about my favorite obscure Cambodian band, I will also have no problem with admitting that there is a Taylor Swift song on my iPod as well.

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The Mysterious Case of Lana Del Rey

By Caitlin Clarkson

One of my favorite songs at the moment is “Video Games” by Lana Del Ray. It’s simultaneously tender and strong, reveling in the day-to-day joys of a relationship while boldly proclaiming, “I tell you all the time, heaven is a place on earth with you.” Del Ray has yet to even officially release her first single, but she’s already garnering quite a bit of attention.

All this attention, however, could possibly undo her before she even ‘makes it big.’

You see, Del Ray has been positioned to become the next empress of the hipsters. And by all means, they should love her, soulful brunette that she is. The cloyingly lo-fi video for “Video Games” features snippets of young, cool people just hanging out, Del Ray singing against a white background (highly reminiscent of American Apparel ads and Terry Richardson’s photography), and, inexplicably, footage of other hipster darling Paz de la Huerta stumbling drunk after a red carpet event. Everything hipsters love.

Unfortunately for Del Ray, it’s come to the attention of the hipsters that she is not uneffortlessly cool like they all are. Del Ray has a dark secret that has recently been brought to light- a dark secret named Lizzy Grant.

When she first began promoting herself, Grant looked like an all-American girl; she had bleached hair and fresh-looking skin, and frequently wore t-shirts and jeans. Unfortunately for her, listeners weren’t biting. While we don’t know yet if it was her idea or that of a music exec, Lizzy Grant built a cocoon, injected some collagen into her lips, dyed her hair brown and put it up in a retro bouffant, and emerged as the butterfly Lana Del Ray.

When they realized they had been ‘deceived’ by Lizzy Grant, the hipsters were furious. “In a world where Best Coast is celebrated for being ‘pro-women’ and ’empowering,’ Lana Del Ray is a massive step back for the anti-cyberbullying feminist movement within indie rock,” says Carles of Hipster Runoff. “Her career works against the indie ideals that if you are ‘talented enough’, u can make it.”

While I wasn’t aware that there was a “anti-cyberbullying feminist movement within indie rock,” (can someone give me an example of this actually happening?) I do know what the members of Best Coast look like. They look like they’d be friends with Lana Del Ray. And not Lizzy Grant. A quick Google search reveals that Lizzy was making lo-fi videos back in 2008, long before she became Lana. And her music hasn’t dramatically changed. So why do the hipsters insist that they’ve been tricked, and that it’s a reason to be outraged? Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson was not born as the fully formed Lykke Li; I highly doubt Natasha Kahn’s parents intended to name her Bat For Lashes and that she came out of the womb with her bangs in her face. Why, in the age of Stefani Joanne Angelina “Lady Gaga” Germanotta, are any of us surprised by something as insignificant as dyed hair and a new name? Does her career really go against “the indie ideals that if you are ‘talented enough’, u can make it,” if she had to look like everyone else to actually, you know, make it?

The hipsters need to lay off and remember that they were not the first to pick up a pair of Ray Bans at a flea market- someone told them the glasses were cool first. The same as how now, they’re being told Lana Del Ray is cool. They don’t have to like her music, but calling her ‘manufactured’ is a serious case of the skinny tie calling the skinny jeans “narrow.”

Hipster Runoff article: http://hipsterrunoff.com/altreport/2011/09/lana-del-rey-exposed-b4-she-was-alt-she-was-failed-mnstrm-artist-without-fake-lips.html