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Is Public Opinion Turning Against Taylor Swift?

The "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 5, 2014 in New York City.

Late on Sunday night, Grizzly Bear‘s Ed Droste tweeted some thoughts about Taylor Swift, along with a photo of an unnamed publication’s item about “Mean Girl Taylor Swift’s Friendship Rules!” The magazine’s alleged informer said she had a list of ridiculous requirements for her current tour guests, like not dressing better than her and not speaking unless spoken to. It’s not the first time Droste has shared shared opinions about the 1989 singer — last year, in a series of since-deleted tweets, he referred to a “terribly calculating and mean” celebrity that many assumed was Swift — but now, apparently, he has “a whole other story to tell.”

Regardless of whether Droste is actually People‘s “insider” or just being dramatic, he seems to be reflecting a slowly rotating 180-degree in Internet opinion on Swift. “Taylor Swift Is Not Your Friend,” proclaimed Gawker last week, explaining that the “Swiftian performance art” of bringing models like Gigi Hadid and Heidi Klum on stage was starting to smell faintly like the gangly, awkward 16-year-old whose self-titled debut took country music by storm nearly ten years ago now wants everyone to know she’s in the cool kids’ club. Following her ill-advised exchange last week with Nicki Minaj, New York magazine published an article titled “Yes, White People, It Is About You,” Flavorwire requested that she demonstrate a little more awareness of her contribution to pop music’s whiteness (and what the idea of feminism entails), and the Verge pointed out that “Swift’s idea of generosity was to offer another woman second place.”    

In those headlines alone we find the fast-spreading realization about Swift: Her whole persona has always been kind of about her. As Swift herself said when she topped MAXIM‘s Hot 100 list, “This year has been my favorite year of my life so far.” Well! It probably would be for most people, too, if they started dating Calvin Harris, topped Billboard‘s Money Makers 2014 list (and were named their Woman of the Yearagain), took on Apple Music and won, became BFFs with Kendrick Lamar, and hosted Jay Z and Beyoncé at their already star-studded 25th birthday party, all in the same 12-month period. Jealous? Of course, but isn’t that the whole point? 

Swift hasn’t exactly been humble about the perks of success, and for a while, seeing her star rise meteorically due to the merit of her magnetic personality and songwriting chops — U.K. singer Imogen Heap admitted last October she wrongly assumed Swift didn’t write much of her own music — was OK. She brought us along for the ride with her almost superhumanly empathetic engagement with her fans on Tumblr, even if naysayers would just say, “Oh, she just has a great social media team.” When she sang, “They are the hunters, we are the foxes” on the yearning 1989 cut “I Know Places,” you almost believed her, because despite being financially successful and the sort of person whose legs are insured for $40 million, she still went home to her cats after the Grammy Awards.  

So this is being 25….. #WHAT #bestbirthdayEVER A photo posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

And then the nominees for this year’s MTV Video Music Awards were announced, and Swift assumed that Minaj’s tweets, about how slim women’s bodies were celebrated while the booty-backing “Anaconda” was not, were about her. The tacit understanding on Twitter and in the aforementioned articles is that Minaj was, in fact, talking about Swift (technically, though, the figures that The Pinkprint mastermind referred to could have been highlighted in other nominated videos), but the latter stumbled when she went on to imply that the Billboard chart-topper needed Swift’s permission to join her onstage, revealing that she thought of herself more highly than her pop star peers.

If that’s the case, then, what must she think of her fanbase? Sure, she does wonderful things like visit cancer patients and gives fans $1,989 to pay off part of their college loans, but if her most recent tour is any indication, it seems like the only people she invites on stage these days are other celebrities. It’s not a requirement that every performer do as Enrique Iglesias does and kiss fans on stage, but the escalating barrier to entry into Taylor Swift’s world is just as increasingly at odds with her whole girl-next-door attitude, and it’s hard for fans and critics alike to overcome qualms about authenticity. (The silver lining is that her recent behavior inspired what has perhaps been the most cogent hot takes on and explanations of pop feminism to date. We’ve come a long way from Katy Perry saying “I’m not a feminist,” that’s for sure.)

Swift is nowhere near enough to the edge of a cliff for any sort of insurmountable downfall — her album is still No. 2 on the charts nine months after release. But she is at the very, very top, which by the infallible laws of simple common sense is unsustainable. Ironically, she’s sort of being hoisted by her own petard: After making a big deal about her female posse (she does seem to be sustaining them even while in the honeymoon phase with Harris), she undercuts such bonds with pettiness towards those who don’t follow her rules of friendship, such as Katy Perry, whose less-than-frenemy status was confirmed earlier today — as if there were any lingering doubts — when she danced with Left Shark during “Bad Blood.” (To that end, it’s worth revisiting the rumors that Swift did was involved with Tobias Jesso Jr., who dated Alana Haim. Whether or not it’s true, and even if Alana gave Swift her blessing, that’s still murky bestie territory.) From this point on, Swift is going to have to be a little more careful with how she navigates her past and former selves; that is, the perpetually spurned underdog who has cupcake parties with herself, and the multimillionaire with everything she could ever ask for.

At the end of the ever-shrinking news cycle, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of Taylor Swift, because her fans don’t care. As the above Twitter user pointed out in her exchange with Droste,  Swifties will stan for their queen on Tumblr, and they’ll buy $150 tickets for her stadium tours regardless of how overstuffed they are with famous cameos. An acquaintance of mine who attended the New Jersey stop of her 1989 tour recalled overhearing a little girl saying, in response to Swift’s criteria for being her friend (and included, presumably, in the elite circle that does fun things like go to her Cape house for her epic Fourth of July parties), “I want to be your friend!” And once upon a time, back when Swift would wear a t-shirt emblazoned with “no its becky,” that might have seemed like an attainable dream. Lately it has seemed like Swift is more and more involved in her own world — one that those girls can no longer plausibly be a part of — but it’s one that may very well start to crumble, even just a little bit, if she doesn’t at least try to maintain some semblance of the goofy girl who’d throw on an animal costume like it was Dior. That Taylor could be everything to everyone; this one, more and more, speaks just to music’s one percent.