Take Note Conference, Aimed At Students & Young Professionals, Launches
By: Steve Rickinson - Deep House Amsterdam
Electronic music is potentially very lucrative but notoriously hard to break into as an industry, with countless new and talented young people seeking their spot in a saturated market.
Take Note is a new music conference dedicated entirely to music students and young professionals, with less…
Mark it down: 2014 was the year my friends texted, one after the other, to say goddamn, you were right about Taylor Swift.
What they meant was: can you EVEN BELIEVE Blank Space?
Blank Space is genius. Blank Space is a catchy pop song whose message is nothing more complicated than fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you. It’s a gleeful paean to making messes; if it reminds me of anything, it’s Azalea Banks grinning and wearing a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt and two long little-girl braids, mouthing I’mma ruin you, cunt, over and over again, right into the camera.
When she was a lot younger, Taylor Swift wrote to a different ex: go ahead and tell your friends I’m obsessive and crazy / that’s fine / I’ll tell mine you’re gay. Now she says: got a long list of ex-lovers / they’ll tell you I’m insane / but I’ve got a blank space baby / and I’ll write your name. She’s ditched the (doubly) offensive posture in favor of a much more powerful stance. What she’s saying is that she might actually be crazy, but it doesn’t matter, because you will love her anyway.
To be fair, history pretty much seems to be bearing her out on this one.
This is Taylor’s story about 1989: that she was tired of the way her relationships with men dominated the media coverage of her and her music. When Red came out in 2012, Vulture immediately did a detailed analysis of who each of the hidden messages in her liner notes referred to. Amy Poehler and Tiny Fey joked about her boy-craziness on stage at the Golden Globes in 2013. (Taylor fired back with a remark about women who don’t support other women burning in hell. I love her, but she is the very definition of the #problematicfave.)
Anyway, for 1989 she was done with all of that. She hadn’t dated anyone since a breakup with another insanely famous pop star, which ended a few months after Red’s release. So that was old news, and with the advent of 1989 she could—and did—direct the conversation back to herself and her work.
“I feel like watching my dating life has become a bit of a national pastime,“ she told Rolling Stone. "And I’m just not comfortable providing that kind of entertainment anymore.” It’s a particularly savvy and telling thing to say: she understands that, at this point, her personal life is watched like a soap opera, more often than not with scornful glee, and there’s nothing she can do about that except living with it—or taking the show off the air entirely.
So instead of men, she’s focused attention on her newly-claimed feminism and her close friendships with other women. And it’s worked! It has totally worked.
Well, it’s worked to the extent that now instead of slideshows analyzing her taste in boyfriends, we get longreads about her Instagram and her “girlfriend collection.” She’s shifted the story, sure, but the scrutiny is just as intense as it ever was.
That’s the real story of 1989, though, as far as I’m concerned: this is the album where Taylor Swift figured out how to be famous on her own terms. The fame machine is a ruthless apparatus and it eats girls and women, particularly, alive.
“I just struggle to find a woman in music who hasn’t been completely picked apart by the media, or scrutinized and criticized for aging, or criticized for fighting aging—it just seems to be much more difficult to be a woman in music and to grow older,” she told Time. Obviously this instantly became: Taylor Swift Says She Doesn’t Have Any Female Role Models in Music. (Not stated, but always implied: Because Taylor Swift is a Bitch.)
That’s not what she’s saying, though. She’s saying no one has walked the impossible line of being a female performer and celebrity in the way she wants to walk it. (This should surprise no one, because Taylor Swift is a truly obsessive perfectionist.) And she’s figured that out for herself, at least for now, in a really fascinating way.
By all accounts she runs her very own Tumblr, where she Taylurks and reblogs her fans. She sent Christmas gifts to some of them, this past December. In the run up to 1989’s release she invited several hundred of them to her houses in various cities for The Secret Sessions, where they listened to a preview of the album and ate cookies with her.
Taylor Swift has made herself a very accessible celebrity.
Or, more accurately, Taylor Swift has made a call on what she can and cannot afford to give to the public. She’s also obsessed with privacy and security; elsewhere in that Rolling Stone interview, she talks about her fear of wiretaps, of someone photographing her naked, of being kidnapped. (She cops to outrageous paranoia, but each of these fears is justified in its way. 1989 did leak; her Twitter and Instagram were hacked a few weeks ago; men have showed up at her parents’ house repeatedly, looking for her.)
“I realize the only privacy I’m really entitled to is when I’m in my own apartment or my own home, ‘cause everything else is kind of — I’m looked at as sort of public property. And there’s nothing I can do about that perception except control my mental perspective on it, which is, I need to treat people well. I need to be grateful. I need to take pictures with people when they ask for one. So if I’m not in the mood to do that, I don’t leave my house,” she told NPR in an interview.
Taylor Swift has made herself accessible only when she knows she can afford to be nice. You can call it an anti-feminist priority, but it’s hers, and she’s chosen it explicitly. In a culture that reduces everyone to a headline, Taylor’s chosen Niceness as hers.
It’s interesting that she talks about it. She’s said the same in other interviews, too, making it clear that it’s not that she’s always gracious and camera ready. It’s that when she isn’t, she doesn’t get near camera, which is to say, leave her house. A lot of the invisible labor of pop stardom, especially for women, comes in constructing those off-stage performances. Taylor has drawn a line around them, and said: you can have this. That’s fine. But you’ll get it on my schedule, on my terms, because I know what game we’re playing now, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it.
There is also the fact that niceness is, past a point, boring. Performing it shores up her fanbase and at the same time makes it more interesting to talk about her music—that is to say her work—instead.
So Blank Space. Back to Blank Space.
I Knew You Were Trouble, Red’s first single, garnered a lot of praise from people who felt like Taylor needed to take responsibility for her role in her breakups: she knew this dude was going to hurt her the minute she saw him, and she went ahead and did it anyway. Boy did everyone love it, when a girl finally took responsibility and said shame on me!
Blank Space is the flip side of that narrative: it reminds us that at this point, everyone in the world knows that Bro, She’ll Write a Song About You, and these boys just keep singing on the dotted line anyway. Everyone knows she’s trouble; why do they keep letting her get away with it, if they don’t love it just a little bit?
Taylor has talked about the idea that it’s written from the perspective of the caricature the media made of her, a black widow or Venus fly trap, but what makes the song amazing—what has made it the song that brings women into the Taylor Swift fold—is that she somehow manages to make fun of herself as the hysterical, impossibly needy nightmare on the surface, and at the same time give a scathing indictment of the narrative that she’s in any way actually damaged goods.
Because that’s the story from 2012: Taylor’s love songs were selling millions and getting enormous airplay and winning her all kinds of awards, giving her unprecedented power as an artist and celebrity. But at the same time, they were being used against her, to insist that she was only famous because she was so over-emotional, so desperately needy, and so bizarrely open about it. Which is to say: such a girl.
Taylor uses the (sorry) blank space of creating a character to allow herself to say the thing that Taylor Swift could never say, to remind us that she does have a long list of ex-lovers—and the language is deliberate, lovers, not boyfriends, or just exes, but lovers—and it hasn’t diminished her power in the least. As a matter of fact, it’s part and parcel of its source.
Plus, you know, boys only want love when its torture. Men love it when they get to call a woman crazy: it absolves them of responsibility for anything they might actually have done to hurt her feelings. I love the players / but you love the game: because if she wants to be in the public eye, there’s no choice to play by the rules that have been set out for her— but she doesn’t forget for a second that it’s men who make them, and reinforce them every day.
And Taylor has finally figured out how to tell him (all of them): fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you. She does it in a dress, with a smile. A pop song with a pen click sound effect. A video that distracts you with dresses! And horses! And a baby deer! So that you get the song stuck in your head for so long that eventually you can’t help but hear the lyrics: go ahead and imagine she’s just a blank space, and that you’ve diminished her enough that she isn’t a threat to you or anyone. She’ll go ahead and sell a million plus records, calling you by name.