‘Style’ and ‘Blank Space’

These are two of the most popular songs off of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album.  They are both about romantically dysfunctional relationships based on how beautiful they look on the outside.  Swift uses binaries to show that she lives in the extremes of her relationships in both of these song.  She also likens herself to Marylin Monroe using her personal clothing choices and how she situates herself in these relationships.

 

Swift’s Extremes

In both of these songs she appears to situate herself as the naive, sweet girlfriend.  She appears to not know how these relationships are going to end, even though she says that these relationships are cyclical.  She uses her binaries to show that she will act like she does not know where the relationship will end, but then her next lines are proof that she is not as naive as she seems.

Blank Space “So its gonna be forever/ or its gonna go down in flames”

“It’ll leave you breathless/ or with a nasty scar”

Style “Could end in burning flames or paradise”

She lives in the extremes of her relationships.  Binaries are by definition two mutually exclusive opposite ideas.  She does not allow herself to see a relationship that has a real chance of working out because those relationships do not look sexy to the public eye.

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Swift as Monroe

Swift’s idea of the picture perfect relationship is built on the personas of two people that never dated: Marylin Monroe and James Dean.  Monroe had 3 famous husbands, multiple famous boyfriends, and lead a life at the heart of the tabloids.  It has been said that ‘Blank Space’ is Swift’s satirical response to the media’s discussion of her relationships, and there is evidence to support the idea that Swift feels like she is the target of media speculation based on her relationships, like Monroe.  She also appears to exhibit erratic behavior in both songs.  In the video for ‘Blank Space’, she is stabbing a cake with a large knife, she is standing on the back of a horse, and she attacks her male counterpart’s car with a golf club.  The lyrics also lend themselves to the assumption that Swift acts erratically, by saying ‘screaming crying/perfect storm”.  In these songs, her obsession with a relationship that looks cool, but is bad for her appears to have the same markers as an addict has with their addiction of choice.  Monroe was famously an addict and died of an overdose.  I think Swift is aligning herself with Marylin Monroe because it allows Swift to continue this public image of living in the extremes of her relationships, just like Monroe was rumored to have lived.

Romantic Disfunction: ‘Blank Space’

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Taylor Swift’s song ‘Blank Space’ follows the pattern of dysfunctional relationships and how she allows her over-romanticized dreams of relationships to lead her into a cycle of toxicity and breakups.  She again shows that she prefers intense, passionate, short relationships to endearing, safe, long-term ones.

‘Its gonna go down in flames’

She starts the song by saying the new man that is pulling up to her mansion ‘looks like my next mistake’. She even explicitly stated that she sees love as a game and asks him to play.  The idea of that the ‘high is worth the pain’ seems to be something that an addict would use as justification for the dangerous actions that they enjoy. Her long list of ex-lovers is open for a new addition and she almost alludes to her plan to put this new boy’s name at the top.  She admits that her ex-lovers will tell her new one that she is insane and that she loves players.  Players are the bad boys of today.  They have bad attitudes, they are deceptively bad to women, and they are often without direction or goals.  These are men who are young and reckless, as Swift states, she even says that they will take it ‘way too far’.  The last part of the song is the best example of a toxic relationship because to her ‘boys only want love if its torture’.  Tortuous love affairs are not good, but they have been portrayed in movies, songs, and books as the most passionate and the most beautiful.  Swift prefers the intense, passionate relationships that look good on paper and in the tabloids to the substance and stability of a mature relationship.

‘Its gonna be forever’

Taylor Swift uses the image of old Hollywood glamor in several of her songs.  She is more interested in having an infamous relationship than being in a stable relationship. This song is another example of Swift preferring image over reality.  She chooses to dress in classic styles, with cat eye sunglasses or red lips, because they have a history of being flattering and popular.  She uses her classic style to hide that she is a ‘nightmare dressed like a day dream’.  The use of binary in this song comes up twice: once with the lyrics “So its gonna be forever or its gonna go down in flames” and again with the lyrics “it will leave you breathless or with a nasty scar”.  She again proves that she lives in the extremes of relationships.  The important part of Swift’s idea of forever is shown in the video.  At the end of the video, the tall, dark and handsome boyfriend basically runs away from her estate.  Seemingly out of nowhere, another tall, dark, and handsome man, in the same type of nice car, with a similar tuxedo on. This shows that her idea of forever is the image of a perfect man and not the man that would be perfect for her.

Her idea of a relationship seems to be the boys that look the best.  She chooses looks over substance and idyllic over reality.

Romantic Disfunction: ‘Style’

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In her song ‘Style’, Swift tries to make sense of a toxic on-again-off-again relationship.  This is evident from the lyrics and the main binary she presents in the first verse.  The binary is used to set up the internal conflict of the song, “End in burning flames or paradise”.  She is appears to be unsure of the outcome, but then at the end of the verse she admits that she knows what is going to happen.  Swift has allowed herself to create this over-romanticized version of a toxic relationship based on a twisted view of what looks good to the public.

Evidence of the Toxic Relationship

Her lyrics are filled with different indicators of the toxic nature of this boyfriend.  One of the most interesting is that she considers herself to be almost a bystander or maybe even a victim.  She says, “I know exactly where it leads/but I/ watch us go round and round each time”, and she never appears to take action to change the outcome of the relationship, even though she knows it is doomed from the start.  Another example is from the chorus when she tells the audience, “when we go crashing down/ we come back every time/ ’cause we never go out of style”.  Style is something that the public sees and it allows Swift to define herself through her clothing, her music, and even her choice of boyfriend.  She is alluding to the fact that she thinks having this boyfriend will keep her stylish, even if they are bad for each other.  The last major example of the toxicity of the relationship is when the boy in the song admits to being with other girls and then she also admits to seeing other boys.  This would prevent most couples from getting together, but it seems to only increase her desire to stay with him.  After that chorus, she repeatedly asks to be taken home, proving that their mutual unfaithfulness does not prevent her from wanting to be with him.

Over-Romanticized Glamorous Relationship

As discussed in class, the entire video aligns Swift with the ideal Americanized relationship.  This relationship is all about living fast, dying young, often times, the people most known from relationships similar to the one in the song are dead.  In the song she mentions specifically James Dean.  He died young, in a car crash, and was only in one movie before he died.  He is not the classic bad boy but for Swift’s love story his ‘couldn’t give a crap’ attitude fits what she wants because it feeds her insecurities concerning their relationship and she appears to feed off of the drama.  She needs someone in her life that is as self-destructive, if not more so, as she is because she does not want to be simply a pretty, lonely famous girl.  She aligns herself with the Jackie Os and Marilyn Monroes of history in her choice of man, her clothes, and her signature red lip.  Dean and Monroe were both beautiful, died young, and lead very salacious lives.  Swift has used these tragic lives as a metaphor for how she thinks her own toxic relationship will go.

Swift has focused on the dysfunction present in her numerous relationships as a form of art.  She uses past lovers and crushes to make music and in turn music allows her a creative outlet to process the pain of the betrayals, breakups, and unrequited loves.  This only one of several songs on the 1989 album that shows her finally acknowledging that she is drawn to the high passion, low functionality relationships.

Bad Blood: Passive or Aggressive?

 

The Taylor Swift Bad Blood video has caused quiet the stir in the pop culture world.  Most things in the public eye receive backlash for how the rhetorical presentation of the text is perceived, no matter the intensions.  This video was created as militant, girl power video, but is this what is portrayed? I would argue that the video cannot be considered an aggressive response to Taylor Swift being wronged by another female artist because there is no confrontation in the video and the context of the video itself creates an entirely passive environment.

Background on the ‘feud’

The rumors about this song have been spun most media outlets in an attempt to create drama between Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.  One of the most common rumors about the video is that Katy Perry stole backup dancers from Swift’s RED tour right before she was about to embark on tour.  This seems to be the most accurate of the rumors because there are veiled references to Perry. Perry herself has tweeted a few times regarding the subject but never openly admitted that the song is about her.

PASSIVE CHOREOGRAPHY

The choreography of the video is set up as a training montage, but there is little training that goes on.  Each star is introduced as a part of Taylor Swift’s team of femme fatales, and each of them has a different nickname to go with an interesting skill that they are ‘teaching’ Swift.  The entire video is just Swift and her friends posing near different intense settings.  Swift spends the entire training montage posing and twirling her hair in a childish way.  The video ends with two teams of girls, one is Swift’s team and one is Selena Gomez’s team, walking toward each other with exaggerated explosions in the background.  This is the part of the video that would appear to have an actual conflict but rather than show the aggressive nature of Swift, the video paints her as passive because she and Selena are about to start a fight and then the video cuts out.

PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE ENVIRONMENT

Passiveness as a permanent state of being

It is important to note the background and the buzz surrounding the video because there is nothing direct about it.  The song never names the singer or even mentions the incident in depth.  Instead of Swift talking to whoever wronged her directly she is simply just singing about how much they hurt her, without ever giving them the chance to work it out. Swift is the queen of passive aggressive revenge songs.  She writes them about record labels, bad boyfriends, and now even frenemies.  This video allows Taylor to confront whoever wronged her, most likely Katy Perry, without actually confronting her.  Swift has been known to admit that confrontation makes her physically ill and this is her retaliation every time she feels mistreated.

 

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