The pop star’s recent win reflects positive changes in the assignment of cultural capital.
Even better than winning the heart of a London Boy, Taylor Swift was bestowed with the Brits’ esteemed Global Icon Award this past week. To put the gravity of this win into perspective, there have been just three previous recipients of this distinction: David Bowie, Sir Elton John, and Robbie Williams. Once again, our girl has made history, becoming the first woman ever to win the award. In 2021, it’s obscene that there are still a host of “first woman in history” titles at stake, underscoring the importance of supporting female-identifying and genderqueer artists every day. It should also be acknowledged that a BIPOC artist has yet to be awarded this title.
While I am clearly biased -- I myself am a Verified Swiftie, with a Twitter account borne of the unwavering love I have for this woman— I can recognize that she is not the pinnacle of perfection. She has admitted to trying to be the faultless doll the media wanted her to be, with damaging consequences. Her fluctuating public perception was addressed in the Netflix Special Miss Americana, a discussion centering the role internalized patriarchal beliefs and values played in Swift’s fall from favour. Since her debut album released in 2006, Taylor Swift has gone from America’s Sweetheart to America’s Scapegoat to America’s Hey-Maybe-She’s-Just-A-Human-Being-Who-Makes-Objectively-Excellent-Music.
Today, Taylor claims three of the top five selling albums this year, she is an advocate for artists’ rights to their music, and she is the proud mother of three cats. Her second-coming to mass popularity parallels a marked shift in cultural interest: the new “coolness” of femininity. I remember ten years ago, my interest in Taylor Swift, Twilight, and Disney Channel deemed 15-year-old-me verifiably less sophisticated than a peer who may have preferred Eminem, Stanley Kubrick, and ESPN. Girls and women have historically held less cultural capital than men, and the enjoyment of work created for or by (young) women has been somewhat shrouded in shame. Masculine interests are perceived as higher brow than anything a teenage girl would typically gravitate towards. In essence, it’s the socially imprinted belief that Men are cool. Almost as cool as men, are the women who share their interests.
Amy Dunne, the disappearance/murder-stager extraordinaire of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, put it best when she said, “Cool girl is hot. Cool girl is game. Cool girl is fun… She likes what he likes... If he likes girls gone wild, she's a mall babe who talks football and endures buffalo wings at Hooters. When I met [him] I knew he wanted ‘Cool girl’. And for him… I was willing to try... I drank canned beer watching Adam Sandler movies. I ate cold pizza and remained a size two… I was fucking game.”
That isn’t to imply there aren’t women who sincerely do enjoy sports and beer and Fight Club. I’d watch Brad Pitt yell at me any day of the week...but that’s beside the point. Finally, it seems that typically feminine interests are cultivating greater cultural capital than they once possessed: pink disposable masks are truly it right now. Twilight is finally being recognized as the brilliant work of art it is. The other day, a middle-aged male coworker told me that he loves Folklore. And - get this - his favourite book? Fight Club. You can’t make this stuff up. People are becoming less afraid to like what they like with their full chest, gender expression becoming less absolute. The “I’m not like other girls” attitude is a dying one, which feels like a burden lifted to someone like me who still follows @justgirlythings on Instagram.
Now, one might argue that Miss Swift has gained the respect of man by means of her transition from bubblegum pop to folk music, collaborating with artists such as Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver. Regardless, she continues to sing about love and heartache as she has for 13 years, but Twitter trolls aren’t bullying her as much for it. Bare minimum, that’s progress! Oh, and she continues to top charts.
“There might be times when you put your whole heart and soul into something and it’s met with cynicism or skepticism,” mused Taylor during her Global Icon acceptance speech. “You can’t let that crush you. You have to let that fuel you.”
Through years of criticism regarding Swift’s dating life, friendships, fashion sense, body, and talent, she continued to create music that resonated with so many people, inspired them, helped them feel less alone, or at the very least provided for some excellent material to dance around all alone to. Just as she stayed true to herself, we can all honour whatever it is that we really enjoy. That radiates serious CGE (Cool Girl Energy).