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O Magazine

Taylor Swift vs.
The Feminist
Industrial Complex


by Ben Tuthill

Ever since she somehow turned the number one spot on Maxim’s hot list into a platform for decent gender politics, Taylor Swift seems to have replaced Beyoncé as Twitter America’s leading feminist voice. This, of course, has opened up everything she does for discussion about What It Means To Be A Feminist In 2015 and it’s no surprise that the video for her number one single Bad Blood was declared a feminist triumph and the solution to Hollywood misogyny within 48 hours of its release.

Not to say that Joseph Kahn’s featuring-literally-everyone action-adventure spectacle isn’t good, but the praise seems a little bit misguided. Ignoring for a second its reliance on questionably chauvinistic Hollywood tropes, the simple critical reality is that Bad Blood is kind of dumb. The choreography isn’t particularly stunning, the action isn’t particularly exciting; it’s just kind of pointless and silly and all-too-typical. It’s a Joseph Kahn music video.

But all of this is beside the point, because the pleasure I get from watching ‘Bad Blood’ comes from my ability to recognize the laundry list of models and actresses and Kendrick Lamars who Taylor has convinced to indulge her in this silly venture. Not so much an experiment in bad-ass feminism as an expression of exuberant BFF-core, Bad Blood plays more than anything else like a bunch of teenage girls at a slumber party trying their hand at Quentin Tarantino. The takeaway, after all, isn’t the stunts (they’re not very impressive) or the movie allusions (they’re not very clever). Bad Blood functions almost entirely on the basis of its credits. It’s a product of the Kanye West school of collaboration: not so much about the artistic abilities of your collaborators as the fact that they have names.

The result, bizarrely, is one of Taylor’s most personal videos yet. This seems like an odd description for a highly stylized video by a singer who up until very recently has been almost pathologically determined to prove how Normal she is. But the fact remains that all I really experience when I watch Bad Blood is its overwhelming BFF presence. This isn’t an action movie: it’s a bunch of famous people who are supposedly friends, pretending to make an action movie because making action movies is fun and their queen bee friend told them to do it.

Deadspin’s Puja Patel, in an article criticizing Bad Blood’s initial feminist praise, wrote: “Why has Taylor decided to parade this carefully selected group of 18 women through a four-minute video with basically no plot-line other than to play-fight each other? Because she wants us to know that she can”. She’s right, and it’s easy to read this as assertive personal branding. But I don’t think it’s power move in the way that hiring Wilson Phillips to sing back-up vocals is a power move. It’s a display of the supposed intimacy of Taylor’s friendships. Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, and Karlie Kloss all show up because they supposedly want to be here, the same way that every rapper in New York shows up for a Puff Daddy video. Taylor’s PR game for the past year has taken that hip hop mentality to the manicured Tumblr extreme: her long list of BFFs are there to prove that she’s not, in fact, insane.

In that sense, Bad Blood is sort of heartwarming to watch, even if I find it increasingly difficult to suspend my disbelief in regard to the reality of Selena Gomez and Taylor ever having had a real conversation. It’s great to see Taylor forming positive relationships with other women, passing irl Bechdel tests on the daily and collaborating on inanely quotidian levels that any real person could hypothetically relate to.

It’s probably all just PR, but at least it’s good PR. It’s the constant puffs of collaborative autonomy that make Bad Blood work. I don’t care who’s sexy or who’s doing something cool: I’m only scrambling to figure out who they are and what relationship with Taylor is like. My thoughts are less on what’s on the screen and more focused on how much fun this video must have been to make. It’s hard to watch Bad Blood with any degree of celebrity knowledge and not think about everyone in it being an actual human.

This, I think, is an unquestionably good thing. It’s good to be reminded that people are actually people. It’s good to be reminded that celebrities sometimes engage in real relationships. And its good to be reminded that women can hang out together and do stupid, fun things. That, I guess, is its own sort of feminism in action. Or at least its good feminist fiction and, in the world of celebrity branding, good fiction is the best thing you’re going to get.