Going Through the Eras With Taylor Swift Led to My Feminist Awakening

Listening to her songs made me realize—it’s me, hi, I’m the problem it’s me.
taylor swift midnights speak now taylor's version the eras tour feminism misogyny kpop bts boy band pop music industry britney spea fem
I stopped referring to Taylor Swift songs as “guilty pleasures.” Photo: Taylor Hill, Getty Images

It’s a Saturday evening. I’m sipping on an espresso martini and listening to my friends talk about Taylor Swift’s collab with Swedish producer Max Martin—the man behind Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” and Britney Spears’ “...Baby One More Time”—which resulted in several hit tracks that marked the pop star era in her career. “Wildest Dreams” is blasting in the background. It’s a Taylor Swift listening party. How did I end up here? 


Swift is arguably one of the biggest pop stars of all time. Last year, she became the first artist to claim the entire Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States when she released her album, Midnights, surpassing The Beatles’ 1964 record when they secured the Top 5 spots of the same chart. She just shattered a new record following her re-release of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), claiming four spots in the Billboard 200, with each song coming from a different album. And people are going absolutely bonkers about the Asian leg of her The Eras Tour, with 22 million pre-registering for tickets and 300,000 tickets sold out in just hours. 

But Swift and I have a complicated relationship. Being nearly the same age, I pretty much grew up with her. Every new boyfriend, album drop, and Kanye drama felt like gossip from my high school grapevine. And like many people I went to high school with (all-girls, Catholic), I didn’t always like her.


It might have just been a matter of taste because I grew up listening to emo, side-swept my bangs, and wore black eyeliner. So when she came out with “You Belong With Me” and all she did was wear black, thick-rimmed glasses to come off as dorky, I wasn’t impressed. 

I also didn’t consider her work as “serious music.” She’s good but she’s no vocal powerhouse. Her lyrics are deceptively simple, her tunes follow tried-and-tested pop formulas, and her biggest hits are always about love or heartbreak over yet another failed relationship with some high-profile artist, which made me dismiss her as vapid and boy-obsessed. I barely knew her, but I credited her success not to her talent, but to her stereotypical white features and privileged family background (which, to be fair, are probably factors, but who am I to say).

I viewed every memorable Swift moment after that with this lens, from the 2009 MTV Music Awards incident to the debut of her 2017 comeback single “Look What You Made Me Do” (which I recently found out in the course of writing this that it sampled the chorus of “I’m Too Sexy”). 

But I changed my tune by the time her single “Lover” came out in 2019. I was 28 then and had already gone through some of my canon moments (scathed). I listened to her performance of the song on the Live Lounge and I thought to myself—this is actually pretty good. 


So, what changed? 

Suffice to say both Swift and I had gone through the motions in the last decade or so. I might have dismissed my younger self’s dislike for her as a product of my insecurities. She wore short skirts while I sat on the bleachers. But now that I’m older, I realize that my dislike for Taylor Swift wasn’t a matter of taste, but ingrained misogyny. 

Growing up, I was reared to have feminine qualities and interests but taught to be ashamed of them. I remember Christmases when I got dolls and miniature houses while my cousins got toy guns. They wouldn’t let me play with them until my parents gave me a toy gun, too, because it’s OK for a girl to shoot imaginary bullets but not for a boy to pretend to clean the house. I could tell by my cousins’ eye rolls that they only included me in their games as a favor.

I remember playing video games like Tekken or Mortal Kombat. I always chose to play a woman, though the choices were scarce as was their clothing. So while they volleyed through Raiden, Sub-Zero, or Johnny Cage, I played Sonya again. It’s a man’s world, and unless I was scantily clad, I was just taking up (blank) space. 

I remember the music. They listened to “serious musicians,” like Led Zeppelin, Gorillaz, or Red Hot Chili Peppers, all fronted by men; some threatened by women. John Bonham, the drummer of Led Zeppelin, once raged that Karen Carpenter “couldn’t last 10 minutes with a Zeppelin number” when she ranked first in a Playboy 1975 “Best Drummer” poll, just above him. Last year, Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn claimed that Swift doesn’t write her own songs in an interview with the Los Angeles Times


It’s not just feminine-presenting musicians who are undermined by the industry, it’s also artists with a primarily female fan base. BTS, for instance, is often referred to as a boy band, made famous by an army of mindless tweens. This makes them the butt of many a music critic’s joke. But judging fandoms, and subsequently, an artist by their fandom, is ageist and misogynistic, as one author puts it. It assumes that women and girls have no taste in music; they’re just suckers for catchy beats and allured by handsome men. 

Let’s not forget that The Beatles, one of the biggest and most influential bands of all time, is often compared to the likes of BTS and Swift. And not just because the latter have also reached meteoric levels of fame and success, but also—as my friends at our Taylor Swift listening party pointed out—built their careers on their own gaggle of tween fans. (Paul McCartney told News18 that he likes to “follow the fame and fandom that BTS goes through” because it reminds him of his own time.) 


I was programmed from a very young age to reject feminine qualities and interests because they were less. Women were weaker, domestic, and not to be taken seriously. I wanted to be taken seriously, so I chose to align with what’s traditionally male. See: she’s not like other girls.

That was, until, I stopped calling Taylor Swift songs a guilty pleasure. 

Before I go on, let’s get this straight—Swift is not the perfect embodiment of feminism. Her brand of it is still primarily white and privileged, and she’s guilty of emanating pick-me-girl energy. And remember when she snorted weed at a party and died instantly? Oops, sorry, that’s Becky

But what stoked my feminist awakening was the understanding that femininity is strength. And Swift’s presence in mainstream media as a woman who isn’t afraid to cry (“Teardrops On My Guitar”), admit she’s wonderstruck (“Enchanted”), or be vulnerable (“Anti-Hero”) in front of the world is more feminist a stand than singles like “The Man” (which was a little too on-the-nose and, let’s be real, should have been sung “if I were a man”). Her songs feel authentic in that they sound like music she likes, rather than what pretentious boomers might deem worth listening to.

She never stopped writing about love and heartbreak even when every breakup turned into a joke about her next album. She wore red lipstick like a statement; feminine defiance. And even when the world seemed to turn its back on her, she just made another album and shook it off. 

So I guess karma really is her boyfriend because now she’s buying out all her old songs and I’m attending Taylor Swift listening parties. 

As a hater-turned-fan, embracing Taylor Swift marks my coming to terms with my femininity. Because while I’ve always considered myself a feminist, I had a skewed perception of what that looked like. Now I know that being delicate, innocent, or bejeweled is not a bad thing, and this is my way of speaking out (Taylor’s Version). 

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