Taylor Swift is evidence that women crave femininity whether she likes it or not.
I grew up listening to Swift’s music on the radio on the drive home from middle school. I can remember sending YouTube links to her songs to friends over Facebook Messenger. While I do not qualify as a “Swiftie,” I went to the second night of the Eras Tour in Denver on July 15. There is no denying that she is an incredible live performer. But even with the choreographed wristband light show, the endless outfit changes, and the intense energy from the massive crowd, there was a moment of the show that even weeks later feels like I have a glass shard in my eye.
One of the first songs of her three-hour show is “The Man.” Dressed in a sparkling blazer-styled mini dress and knee-high boots, Swift climbed a metal staircase while singing the song’s chorus.
“I’m so sick of running as fast as I can / Wonderin’ if I’d get there quicker if I was a man / And I’m so sick of them comin’ at me again / ‘Cause if I was a man, then I’d be the man.”
A friend told me that her favorite part of the entire show was during the performance of “The Man” when Swift sits down and props her feet up on a railing, revealing the red bottoms of her stiletto boots. She described the moment as “boss moves” when we debriefed after the show.
Look, we can settle Swift’s wondering right now: No. If she was a man, she is unlikely to have reached the levels of success she has since she released her first album in 2006. Being a woman gave her an edge, not an impairment, in an already competitive field.
To be honest, I’ve felt this way since “The Man” was released as the fourth track of Swift’s album “Lover” in August of 2019. The song was heralded by music critics as a modern feminist anthem. The Guardian said it was a “bouncy” production wherein “Swift decries the double standards by which high-profile females are judged.” Variety said the pop star uses the “up-tempo tune” to address “how women suffer from sexism’s double standards when their power moves render them ‘a bitch, not a baller.’”
Standing among a crowd of 73,000 other people at Mile High Stadium as the sun went down, I was reminded that “The Man” falls short for me because it does not acknowledge reality. How it feels inauthentic to her rise to the top. (Also that more people should wear sequined blazers.)
The reality is the backbone of Taylor Swift’s domination of pop music is her gender. Being female is integral to her success and that should be celebrated.
And her breakneck success is obvious.
Swift was 15 when she was signed by Big Machine Records and 16 when her self-titled first album was released. She was 20 when she won her first Grammy – the youngest winner in the award show’s history. Over the course of her career, Swift’s been nominated 46 times and won 12 Grammys in total.
Swift was the first woman and third person ever to win Album of the Year three times – in 2010, 2016, and 2021.
Frank Sinatra was the first person to ever reach this milestone with wins in 1960, 1966, and 1967. The first time he won Album of the Year, he was 45 years old – more than twice as old as Swift at the time of her inaugural win.
Stevie Wonder won the award in 1974, 1975, and 1977. His first win was at the age of 24.
How much “quicker” could Swift have reasonably hoped to have won these accolades?
In fact, very few people have won Album of the Year multiple times at the Grammys and young women solidly hold their own in the category. British pop star Adele has won the award twice – once in 2012 at 23 and then in 2017 at 28. For comparison, Bono was in his late 20s and mid-40s when he won Album of the Year with U2 in 1988 and 2006. After Swift, the next youngest winner of all time was then-21-year-old Alanis Morissette in 1996.
Swift was the highest-paid female entertainer in the world in 2022, when she earned $92 million and released her tenth studio album Midnights. She was the ninth overall top-earning entertainer, ranking among men her senior like Tyler Perry, Brad Pitt, and The Rolling Stones. Forbes, which generated the ranking, noted Swift had made the list six times before and ranked number one in 2019.
It does not seem like this person is being held back from financial success by the phantom-like Patriarchy. Yet she still asks, “What’s it like to brag about raking in dollars?”
Swift marched to the top by using feminine skills unique to women.
Even with “The Man” as part of her set list, the overwhelming majority of Swift’s Eras tour songs are about love, and feelings, and relationships. The 33-year-old sings about nuanced emotion and the evolution of connections – both platonic and romantic.
Her lyrics are born from gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, and intuition – all of which are traditionally feminine traits. In fact, her success as a songwriter parallels scientifically documented differences between men’s and women’s brains. Stanford Medicine Magazine noted:
Women’s reading comprehension and writing ability consistently exceed that of men, on average. They outperform men in tests of fine-motor coordination and perceptual speed. They’re more adept at retrieving information from long-term memory.
Women, it’s known, retain stronger, more vivid memories of emotional events than men do. They recall emotional memories more quickly, and the ones they recall are richer and more intense.
Naturally female qualities built her empire which is, in turn, was upheld and defended by obsessively devoted fans who recognize their own experiences in the music she creates. They see themselves in Taylor.
So they comb her lyrics and liner notes for clues about her future plans, they make “stan accounts” on Instagram celebrating her work, and they spend hours dissecting potential lyrical clues on Reddit and Tumblr. They crash Ticketmaster, which severely underestimated how many people would sign up to buy tickets to her current tour – which was predicted to earn her up to $1 billion. They show up at her concerts in recreations of outfits Swift has worn based on the albums and phases that they feel represent some aspects of their own character.
I just can’t think of a singular male artist whose fans act like this.
Sometimes I imagine Swift recorded “The Man” to ensure the feminist moms of the modern day would feel OK sending their teens to her shows. They can’t say she is just a boy-crazy girl who only dreams about getting married and starting a family – she called out men! But maybe that is me being too hopeful.
Swift told Billboard in 2019 – when she appeared on the cover of the magazine’s Women in Music issue – that “The Man” was inspired in part by her “personal experience” as well as what she has heard “from women in all parts of [the entertainment] industry.”
“I wanted to make it catchy for a reason — so that it would get stuck in people’s heads, [so] they would end up with a song about gender inequality stuck in their heads,” she told the magazine.
So many things that men do, you know, can be phoned-in that cannot be phoned-in for us. We have to really — God, we have to curate and cater everything, but we have to make it look like an accident. Because if we make a mistake, that’s our fault, but if we strategize so that we won’t make a mistake, we’re calculating.
When I go online and hear the stories of my fans talking about their experience in the working world, or even at school — the more we talk about it, the better off we’ll be.
Swift should stop appealing to modern feminists and the insecurities that this ideology’s obsession with men breeds in women. She should allow herself to celebrate her inherent femininity which has enhanced her career. If she did, she would teach her multigenerational fan base that women are powerful and capable as they are because of the skills unique to their gender.