Taylor Swift - Midnights

In my opinion, anti-hero works especially well as a single but on an album with vigilante shit and 8 years after blank space, I’m a little more skeptical…. Which I suppose circles back to why it does work so well even if it means her fans can claim she’s aware of her flaws as teens target those same flaws.
 
It's been stated in this thread before but it bears repeating that an anti-hero is not the same thing as a victim. People throw that phrase around so much as it relates to Taylor that it starts to feel like it's lost all meaning - like sure there are plenty of valid examples but I'm not sure a song with the main hook "I'm the problem, it's me" qualifies as one.

I think the point my students were trying to make is that "anti-hero" is just kind of veiled way of playing the victim. It's almost like when somebody tries to hold somebody accountable for specific things and they brush it aside by saying, "Well, I guess I'm just a horrible person!" to deflect real criticism. My kids thought, "I'm the problem, it's me" was functioning in that way. They were like, "But you obviously don't think you're the problem." I can see why they feel that way based on her personality/persona but I'm not sure that it's supported by the language of the song, which I did challenge them on.

My kids are mostly kids of color, many of who have difficult home lives and not a lot of money, so I can see why she rubs them the wrong way. They thought her problems are so small and petty and they also called her self-centered, which may not be totally fair, but it makes sense considering where they're coming from.
 
I think the point my students were trying to make is that "anti-hero" is just kind of veiled way of playing the victim. It's almost like when somebody tries to hold somebody accountable for specific things and they brush it aside by saying, "Well, I guess I'm just a horrible person!" to deflect real criticism. My kids thought, "I'm the problem, it's me" was functioning in that way. They were like, "But you obviously don't think you're the problem." I can see why they feel that way based on her personality/persona but I'm not sure that it's supported by the language of the song, which I did challenge them on.

My kids are mostly kids of color, many of who have difficult home lives and not a lot of money, so I can see why she rubs them the wrong way. They thought her problems are so small and petty and they also called her self-centered, which may not be totally fair, but it makes sense considering where they're coming from.

I mean, the very concept of this album is about sleepless nights and things that haunt you. I don’t imagine anyone thinks Taylor walks around 100% of the time thinking she’s the problem, but I don’t doubt she’s had some sleepless nights where her self esteem has plummeted and she’s thought to herself “maybe I actually am the problem? Maybe I cause this shit myself?”.
I’m sure we’ve all had nights where we’ve spiralled into that dark place of thinking maybe we’re not good people and deserve the shit we get, I know I have.

I get them thinking her problems are small and petty in comparison to the challenges they’ve had to face but you could say the same for anyone with obscene amounts of wealth and privilege. There’s always someone who has it worse than us but that doesn’t mean our feelings aren’t valid and it doesn’t make our own painful experiences any less real.
 
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I mean, the very concept of this album is about sleepless nights and things that haunt you. I don’t imagine anyone thinks Taylor walks around 100% of the time thinking she’s the problem, but I don’t doubt she’s had some sleepless nights where her self esteem has plummeted and she’s thought to herself “maybe I actually am the problem? Maybe I cause this shit myself?”.
I’m sure we’ve all had nights where we’ve spiralled into that dark place of thinking maybe we’re not good people and deserve the shit we get, I know I have.

I get them thinking her problems are small and petty in comparison to the challenges they’ve had to face but you could say the same for anyone with obscene amounts of wealth and privilege. There’s always someone who has it worse than us but that doesn’t mean our feelings aren’t valid and it doesn’t make our own painful experiences any less real.

I agree with you 100% but it's hard for my mostly 14, 15, and 16 year old students to see that. I actually challenged them with a much less articulate version of what you said but they didn't really change their opinions. My high school students are delightful---clever, funny, sweet, smart, and more woke than previous generations---but I do notice that they struggle with empathy a lot of the time, especially if that person is privileged.
 
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I teach concurrent enrollment English at my high school. So basically my high school students are taking a college level composition class. To teach them rhetoric, I use Taylor Swift's videos because they work very well for teaching and it's very fun to talk about her music/visuals and connect it to her public persona. I teach Blank Space at the beginning of the semester and then circle back to Anti-Hero.

My students despise Taylor Swift. They can't stand her brand and I can't really disagree with them despite liking the music (she is pretty obnoxious). They literally eye-rolled at the lyrics of Anti-Hero. One girl said, "I can't believe this rich white girl is trying to play the victim." They think the song is fake introspection and that she's actually learned nothing and that Anti-Hero is just another Look What You Made Me Do-style defense. Even though I read Anti-Hero as more genuine than they did, they made a decent argument.

I think some of them actually do like the music but can't get past her public persona.

Yes we regular folk can't relate to her problems, but I think the unwarranted hate she has received a lot of the time and her life's work being sold off are two examples of her deserving of "playing the victim".

Also 'Anti-Hero' is basically her owning up to it and admitting she is her own worst enemy and I think it's only human for us to at times feel sorry for ourselves, no matter the level of privilege.
 
Yes we regular folk can't relate to her problems, but I think the unwarranted hate she has received a lot of the time and her life's work being sold off are two examples of her deserving of "playing the victim".

Also 'Anti-Hero' is basically her owning up to it and admitting she is her own worst enemy and I think it's only human for us to at times feel sorry for ourselves, no matter the level of privilege.

I see where you're coming from, but to me, I don't think she gets more hate than a lot of other popstars. I mean, she gets more hate than the completely non-controversial popstars, but it doesn't seem like to reach the Madonna fever pitch where it starts to get horrifying. And for all the hate she gets, it seems like she also gets a lot more good will than other pop stars in that she has the monumental sales and critics seem weirdly hesitant to critique her albums. All that just doesn't quite add up to victimhood generally IMO. Her work being sold off absolutely does but I'm not sure my students even know about that (I probably should have brought it up as something to think about but it's a bit of a different issue than the one they were addressing).

As I've said many times before, Anti-Hero is an excellent piece of pop craftmanship, both lyrically and sonically. But as an owning up song, I'm not sure it really gets the job done. I do think there is an element of owning up and she's trying, but again, there's too much of a wink and it comes across a little glib. I don't think she meant for it to be glib but her songwriting style kind of has that effect anyway. I think a more naked approach to the songwriting would have worked better in that regard. Her penchant for literary devices in her writing does give the song a calculated feel whereas giving it to the listener straight would have come across as more authentic.

Basically, I think the song is genuine, but I can't fault anybody for thinking otherwise.
 
I don't see what's wrong with doing so. They made valid points even if they failed to consider Taylor three-dimensionally.

There's nothing wrong with it, I just find the weird pathologizing over her intentions in bad faith. I've brought this up before but I don't really take issue with the amount of criticism she receives here compared to other pop stars, more so that her intentions are regularly pulled apart to the point of things getting weird: "she doesn't ACTUALLY feel like that" is a slippery slope regarding a woman we don't know personally. And to then turn it into a 'y'all can't take any criticism' when it was civil discussion from an observer's perspective (the entire point of a music forum), it feels a touch like gaslighting.

I've appreciated you sharing your discussions with your students, I think it provides an interesting glimpse at how the younger generations approach music/pop stars. The above is more a reflection on how conversations around her tend to trend on here at times.
 
There's nothing wrong with it, I just find the weird pathologizing over her intentions in bad faith. I've brought this up before but I don't really take issue with the amount of criticism she receives here compared to other pop stars, more so that her intentions are regularly pulled apart to the point of things getting weird: "she doesn't ACTUALLY feel like that" is a slippery slope regarding a woman we don't know personally. And to then turn it into a 'y'all can't take any criticism' when it was civil discussion from an observer's perspective (the entire point of a music forum), it feels a touch like gaslighting.

I've appreciated you sharing your discussions with your students, I think it provides an interesting glimpse at how the younger generations approach music/pop stars.

Thank you!

To address the bolded, yes, it is presumptuous but I think that Taylor's brand is partially what makes people make those kind of assumptions. She does come across a bit insincere, but I do agree that we don't know. As I said in the last post, it has a lot to do with her songwriting style. "I'm in the problem, it's me" is so cutesy that it does kind of come across glib. And then, combined with her image, I get why people make the assumptions they do even if they absolutely are assumptions.

As much as I am impressed with Anti-Hero's inventive songwriting and its satisfyingly smooth cadences, I do think that a very straightforward not cutesy style would have made people believe her more instead of thinking, "Oh, here's Taylor deflecting again." Basically, I'm just saying that these assumptions were not made in a vacuum.

I also think her songwriting style, while still fun to observe (and read along with; unlike many popstars, Taylor is definitely a "sit down with the lyrics while listening to the album" artist), holds Midnights back. It's feels like same tropes, the same devices, the same content. A stripped down lyrical approach would be growth and it wouldn't feel so much like coasting. Her style is sometimes a little too distinctive.
 
I understood more of those criticisms back in the 1989 days, but I think some people have kept that bias against her and aren't letting themselves see that she's grown a lot as a person over the years. They'll twist things to fit their narrative of her.
 
I think Anti Hero is both genuine and tongue in cheek. I think the “one day I’ll watch as your leaving cuz you got tired of my scheming” and the monster on the hill line etc are probably very real, genuine fears of hers. But I also think the “everybody agreessssssss” is an obvious wink at us. She doesn’t lie awake at night worried Kim was right and she’s a snake. I think the song probably started out as being about her honest fears about herself but morphed into being a bit of a play on her public persona as well.
 
I noticed that around 1989, specifically when she leaned too hard into the “just like all the other girls, a real girl’s girl!!!” parading of her “squad” that people really started to find her unrelatable and thus, undeserving of the common folk’s empathy and consideration. It was obviously happening before that, but that’s when I personally noticed a bigger shift. I myself was in high school during most of that era and while she was at peak popularity, there were so many kids that hated her because they had so much other shit going that hearing her talk about the (very valid and true) struggle for women to be taken seriously and not be chastised for their dating lives just didn’t hit home for them, which was understandable, even if their frustration was misguided. I remember hearing some girls talk about some of those issues as if it was all Taylor’s fault, and they themselves would never be judged for dating whoever they wanted, etc. Growing older will make any woman realize that’s not true but at 16/17, it simply wasn’t a discussion. The people that didn’t connect with her at some point and already don’t like her won’t be swayed in any direction towards her favor, at this point.

As others have mentioned, I do think Anti Hero is genuine in many ways, but she’s the biggest pop star in the world and she’s very much swinging for the fences with another Big Pop single this time around so she’s going to write accordingly. The more of an “anthem” it is, the bigger it’ll be. Blank Space was so massive in part for the “she’s making fun of herself!!” and “she’s actually writing from the perspective of a character” that every swifty had to correct everyone with narrative that both showed how aware she is of said public persona and how she feels about it. Where Anti Hero feels different to me is that it reads as much more grounded in the fear she has surrounding behaviors she’s noticed are a pattern for her. A lot of people can relate to that, and just because she has more money and acclaim than any of us will ever see, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t genuinely feel that way. I also think people that already don’t care for her take something like the reputation era at face value and think she’s always rolling her eyes at the people that criticize her. They’re not going to listen to Nothing New, The Archer (as controversial at it is around these parts), Afterglow, Labyrinth (you know how much I hate that everybody just expects me to bounce back, just like that), etc. and they don’t allow her to pull the curtain back. There are absolutely better ways for her to go about it at times, but I don’t question it’s how she actually feels. Especially for someone as deeply attached to validation and praise as she is. I think it’s easy to look at a beautiful, rich, successful white woman and assume she could never have any real fears or doubts (and I’m not invalidating those feelings at all) but that’s just…not how human beings operate. There will always be a standard that we’re not meeting in accordance with our own expectations of ourselves, and no one’s exempt from that. Have things been significantly easier for her because of all of the privileges I mentioned above? Absolutely! But I don’t question that she’s had sleepless nights where she’s up wondering if she’s a piece of shit, just like the rest of us.

Anyway. It’s a conversation we’ve had many times before and because she is so massive and omnipresent, I’m sure we’ll continue to have it. I think even the people here that don’t find her particularly genuine still enjoy her work, and I think that’s great! There’s much to be said about it all and I do love to point out when I think she’s being an ass, (see: the way she went about the marketing for reputation) and dragging certain issues out years longer than need be, but I do still see the human being under it all. And props to @Raichu for your work with your students! I think it’s great to have these conversations with kids and really allow them to express how they feel about it, and using pop culture as a reference point helps to put it into better perspective for them, I think. I wish more of my teachers had done stuff like that and I remember really loving it when they did.
 
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