Is there room in Taylor Swift’s girl squad for her 18-year-old self?
Back then it was less about empowerment and more about cute boys with tractors
When I was introduced to Taylor Swift, she came from a very different position than she does today. Far from the TIME magazine cover star and leader of one of the world’s influential girl squads, she was someone who wrote albums about how she “wasn’t like other girls”. She sang about getting the guy, always blonde, Valencia-filtered guys who probably own tractors. She pined over them in music videos where the other women were sluttier, dumber, less pure than her. If Taylor Swift had been at my school, she’d have been the kind of person who’d be draped over your boyfriend at a house party, talking about how it’s difficult for her to make friends with girls because they’re so bitchy.
In 2016, Taylor Swift has transformed herself. It’s pretty unbelievable, actually. You can picture her, curled up in bed in a VS Pink tracksuit, Sisters of the Travelling Pants on DVD in the background, Googling her carefully curated all-female posse. And to be fair, it is well curated: Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Lorde, Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, Cara Delevingne. The kind of women with presence, with different things to offer (I mean I guess Lena Dunham has something to offer to someone). Carefully chosen to show her growth. The kind of group 18-year-old Taylor wouldn’t last two seconds in.
18-year-old Taylor Swift wouldn’t understand why it was suddenly OK to be deliberately single. She can’t keep up with the conversation happening in the seven seater car in the way to the club (so the squad won’t have to get split up on their journey). She wouldn’t get the “No, it’s Becky” Tumblr joke — she probably doesn’t even have a Tumblr. She’d probably still think feminists were the girls who don’t shave their legs for PE. She dots her Is with hearts. Unironically. After two vodka lime sodas, she has a go at Cara about getting off with Harry Styles. The next day she uploads the bathroom selfies where only she looks good and Lena has one eye closed and doesn’t understand why they’re upset about it.
Sure, people change, and it’s conceivable that Taylor Swift has changed. That she really does love her recruits, that the dorkish dancing and new female-friendly direction are anything but a carefully orchestrated publicity campaign. That there’s a perfectly innocent reason why she checks every “millennial feminist” box perfectly (red lipstick, big group of besties, sassy-but-not-too-sassy attitude), and apparently implements journalist bans. But there’s something a bit unnerving about such a big u-turn, and it’s hard to believe the same girl who sang about how he belonged with her and not girls in short skirts, is still good-natured and obviously, totally female friendly.
In today’s Sunday Times Eve Barlow wrote about how Tay’s squad, meant to look like the embodiment of progressive feminism, looks more and more like a Mean Girls era clique. Like the best parts of real female friendship, stripped back and put together clinically with a shellac finish. Like someone on her team has misunderstood the term “cult following” in the worst possible way. And it’s pretty obvious it’s a clique that basic, Babyliss-waved 2007 Taylor Swift, original incarnation Taylor, wouldn’t fit into at all.