Is Taylor Swift and Her Squad Problematic?

taylor swift

Rhosian Woolridge considers Taylor Swift’s “exercise in cognitive dissonance that borders on pseudo-feminism.” Crikey…

“You already know” said Ice Cube before awarding Taylor Swift with a shiny little Moon Man yesterday. Of course, it was no surprise that Taylor took out the award for Best Music Video at MTV’s VMA ceremony. In fact, no amount of success comes as a surprise anymore, and each year we see the young pop-icon come closer to taking over the world. In all honesty Taylor, I’m really happy for you and i’mma let you finish, but there’s something just a little unsettling here. Is T-Swift and her squad problematic?

As someone who once refused to define herself as a feminist (no biggie though, we all make mistakes), Swift has seemingly done a full 360, her brand now a full-blown symbol of female empowerment. To back her up she’s got her squad as a shiny representation of girl power, friendship and support. Taylor touts feminism in a package that millions of girls across the globe can access – and I support that – but it still feels a bit weird to me. Underneath all of the squad goals and outfits that are totally on point, there’s an inescapable air of exclusivity which rears its ugly head. It’s an exercise in cognitive dissonance that borders on pseudo feminism. It’s saying something and doing something else. I’m paraphrasing Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent here, but it’s a brand of empowerment that remains faithfully within a system of presuppositions that constitutes an elite consensus and (for Taylor’s sake) is probably internalised without her awareness.

This isn’t to say Taylor isn’t trying, but in between preaching the sisterhood and girl-crushing on Lena Dunham, she seems to have made the mistake of thinking that because she has a group of close (n.b. totally hot and successful) girlfriends that she is a feminist. If you’re not with them, you’re against them. It’s a way of thinking that is reminiscent of Regina George, but with a hint of white solipsism. As another privileged white girl, it’s not my place to take Taylor’s self-identifying-feminist badge away from her, nor is it anyone’s. In the vein of Roxane Gay, there is no such thing as a perfect feminist and it’s especially hard to be a good one in such a complex process of cultural consumption. In saying this, I couldn’t help but cringe as I watched Taylor and co. get up on stage to collect her VMA. For a video clip that’s basically a poster child for girl-on-girl cyber bullying? Anyone?

If you’re not one of the 490,465,217 people that have watched the award winning video, it’s basically a 4-minute name drop (but that’s not the problem here, I love you Olivia Benson). It’s also a diss track, which is totally fine too, but it’s a bit cheap and undermines the brand Taylor purports. Swift is reaping reward on an epic scale for singling out another female artist (ICYMI, I’m talking about Katy Perry) and getting her cool mates to come along for the ride too. It seems counterproductive to me, and hardly empowering to anyone but herself.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Taylor and her annoying-but-catchy pop lyrics. She’s an extremely successful woman in a male dominated industry, and that’s a huge achievement alone. I just think it’s important to take a step back and think about things like this. Take a step back and inspect your own opinions, take them to town and appreciate the complexity of every given situation. Taylor won’t mind anyway, she’ll just shake shake shake it off.

Rhosian Woolridge


Words by Rhosian Woolridge.