1- 21st Century Girl: Why Taylor Swift Matters - Gina Arnold, University of San Francisco

10:30 AM, Saturday 25 May 2019 (2 hours)
Lunch   12:30 PM to 01:30 PM (1 hour)

This paper will address the pivotal place that Taylor Swift holds in popular music. From her canny decisions regarding music streaming to her successful counter-lawsuit over sexual harassment, Swift has been at the forefront of a number of current popular music issues, all of which speak to the transfiguration of rock stardom in the new millennium. On the one hand, she is the female embodiment of white privilege, a conservative icon who has been embraced by the far right. On the other, that very positioning – so different from that embraced by her forebears – speaks to how the role of the 21st century rock star differs from those in an earlier age.

Swift’s success can in part be attributed to her adoption of typically male roles from other genres of music, for example, rap swagger. As Leah Donnella recently wrote, “The lyrical storytelling; the meticulous attention to detail; the centering of her own perspective; the posturing; the commitment to a persona; the fixation on rivals, haters, and detractors; the positioning herself as marginalized and mistreated; the support of a crew: All of these are features of good rap.” In sum, Swift’s transformative role in culture is reminiscent to Dylan’s in the 1960s or Cobain’s in the 1990s. Just as the careers of those two artists were emblematic of their eras in ways that transcended their music, Swift’s career provides a prism through which one can see how popular music is reflecting changes in American culture.

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