Arts & Entertainment, Music, Pop Rhetoric

Shake it off, assumptions and all

How much does Taylor Swift owe her fans? An opinion piece published in The New York Times on Jan. 4 theorized about Taylor Swift’s sexuality, evoking backlash from Swifties and non-Swifties alike. To put it frankly: Swift owes her fans nothing, and people shouldn’t speculate about others’ sexuality—celebrity or not.

The article, entitled Look What We Made Taylor Swift Do,” by Anna Marks, suggests that Swift has been secretly sending signs that she is queer in the form of “Easter eggs,” a strategy she has used to hint at upcoming rereleasing old albums in her music. Marks believes that Swift’s hints to her fans are not being taken seriously due to a “lack of progressivity” in the mainstream media. She also writes that someone’s coming out to straight people doesn’t necessarily grant them acceptance, and therefore, Swift’s hints of queerness do not have to be obvious statements meant for everyone. Marks argues that Swift has already come out as queer to those who are accepting of her.

Fans often find commonalities with their favourite celebrity, especially when the artist is brutally honest about their emotions. In doing so, these fans may wrongly project their own qualities onto the artist. This may be Marks’s error, covered up as an opinion piece. Marks’s article provides “evidence” about Swift’s “hidden queerness” from a bracelet Swift wore in an Instagram post with the word “proud” to Swift’s use of the pronoun “you” instead of the better fitting rhyme “her” in the lyrics to her song “The Very First Night,” suggesting this choice is intentional and meant to leave the listener “unfulfilled.” It is highly problematic that The New York Times would have no issue allowing someone to spread their beliefs about the sexuality of a person they have never met. In 2022, Marks wrote a similar piece speculating about the singer Harry Styles’s sexuality. 

In the opening paragraph of Marks’s article, she brings up how gay country singer Chely Wright nearly ended her life in 2006 as an example of the way acceptance has changed in the last decade. Wright, Marks explains, would have lost her career had the world known her identity. But now queer themes are much more prevalent and accepted in pop culture. In response to her name being included, Wright wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the article was triggering for her and that it was troubling that Swift’s sexuality was being discussed. Although Swift is a public figure, that does not give Marks the right to spread theories surrounding the singer’s private life so carelessly. 

Swift has been unfairly sexualized by the media since the start of her career. In a prologue to her album 1989’s release, she wrote that she would deliberately hang out with women friends to avoid being sexualized. Unfortunately, people continued to do so, and many began to accuse her of queerbaiting. These allegations are harmful in and of themselves because real people cannot queerbait; the term only refers to media characters of whom showrunners present as queer but never confirm their sexuality.

Swift has not pretended to be queer, and she’s made that clear on multiple occasions. In a 2019 interview with Vogue, she was asked why she has gotten louder in her support for LGBTQ+ rights, such as when she released the song You Need to Calm Down,” an anti-hate message to homophobes and transphobes. Swift replied that she didn’t realize she could advocate for a community that she didn’t belong to. 

Marks’s article poses the interesting question, ‘Do celebrities owe personal information to their fans, especially to those who see them as somewhat of a hero?’ Ultimately, the answer is no. Whether Swift is queer or not is her own business. She can still be a hero to many queer and straight people by offering support through her music, words of acceptance, and the safe space that she’s created for Swifties. Despite her fame, Swift deserves respect and freedom from intrusive speculation by the media.

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