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‘The J.K. Rowling of Pop’

I was contacted recently by Xavi Sancho of the Spanish national newspaper El Pais, who commissioned the recent profile of me, for some quotes for a major feature he was writing analysing the Taylor Swift phenomenon. Published last Sunday, here’s the Google Translate version of the standfirst:

On May 29 and 30, the American will perform in Madrid as part of her The Eras Tour, the most lucrative tour in history. We traveled to Paris and spoke with fans and experts in pop, literature and even a minister to understand the success of an artist who has become an event that transcends music.

I wasn’t the minister, or a fan. I’m not much of an expert, either. But I guess I used to know something about pop music, a very long time ago.

You can read Xavi’s article here (paywalled – which is a shame, as it’s rather good).

I’m copying and pasting below his emailed questions and my unedited replies.

XS: What’s your general perception of Taylor Swift?

MS: She can’t really sing, her voice is thin and tinny, and her songs are formulaic, if well-crafted and perfectly pleasant. But that seems to be the point. She’s entirely accessible to her target market, which is mostly women who identify with her success and feistiness, her will-to-power, in what they see as a ‘man’s world’.

The fact that she isn’t burdened by enormous talent, or is a tortured genius, is a plus.

Swift is a (family) business. Her real talent is the talent for success itself. Likewise, because of the ‘reality show’ nature of pop stardom – you vote for her through your purchases – while she’s a huge billionaire she’s entirely theirs.

Some of her songs about exes – of which there are, apparently, dozens – strike me as a kind of emotional revenge porn that’s impossible for the (usually famous) men to respond to. But then, I’m a man – if a gay one. Generalising wildly, many straight women seem to bond over complaining about their male exes – the men who let them down.

Being a man, I don’t have very high expectations of other men in the first place. 

How do you think she is seen in the gay community? She isn not Madonna or any other gay icon, but… 

Well, Madge can’t sing either…. Swift isn’t camp, or scary, so perhaps not a lot there for gay men with the, um, ‘traditional’ sensibility. Besides, Gaga and Beyonce are still around…

 Yes, Swift is a self-professed strong ‘ally’ and sponsor for LGBTQ, but then so are most celebrities these days – and corporations.

I think she has more appeal for lesbian and bi women – which is probably where a lot of the recent speculation about her sexuality and ‘closetedness’ came from – the ‘Gaylors’ want validation. But perhaps her biggest ‘lesbian’ appeal is, paradoxically, to straight women – who identify with her and her disappointments with men intensely. The Swiftian sensibility is a kind of feisty masochism.

Then again, she recently swapped her long-term lesboyan boyfriend for a gay porn fantasy. 

Is there in her success something of a ‘white middle-class revolution’ against things getting too complicated in the 21st century?

Pop music has been rationalised and consolidated, in the way that books were at the end of the last century. Swift is the JK Rowling of pop. There’s only room in our crowded lives and minds for just one author, and just one pop star. 

Precisely because books and pop music are no longer so important, and because a mediatised, online world has become so fragmented and so complicated, it’s much simpler to have one pop star. 

To the point where every white middle-class woman under 60 seems to now be a Swiftie.

Swift Enterprises Inc. are a fiendishly successful multi-national monopoly. 

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