“Speak now/if the white supremacists are using you as a symbol for hate” would be a good way to sum up the thread tweeted out yesterday morning by Feminist Taylor Swift, a parody Twitter account launched in 2013 which rewrites Taylor Swift lyrics to correlate them with feminist topics such as rape culture and the wage gap.
After not tweeting for the better half of two years, Clara Beyer, the DC-based web developer and Swift fan behind the account, was fed up both by a recent Tomi Lahren tweet showing her listening to “Look What You Made Me Do,” and by some dude named Brian being an ass about the Feminist Taylor Swift account being on hiatus for so long. So naturally, Beyer, 25, made a thread.
LOOK AT WHAT YOU MADE HER DO, BRIAN:
In the thread, Beyer says that she almost began using “Feminist Taylor Swift” again after Swift’s recent sexual assault lawsuit, but that plan changed after white supremacists’ violent descent on Charlottesville earlier this month. Seeing white supremacists use Taylor Swift’s brand and longstanding political silence to justify their claim of her as their “Aryan Goddess,” struck a chord for her.
I spoke with Beyer yesterday about how her love for Taylor Swift inspires her anger over Taylor’s silence, the intersection between politics and pop stardom, how Pepe the Frog fits into all of this, and what Taylor actually thinks about the account. Our interview has been edited for clarity and length.
JEZEBEL: Why did you initially make the account? Was it a thing to do for fun?
CLARA BEYER: Yeah so I’m a huge fan, I love Taylor Swift, I really do and have since the beginning—even before she started taking more of an outspoken feminist turn in the last four years or so. I was in college and I was listening to Taylor Swift’s music and thinking, oh wouldn’t this be fun if this spoke more explicitly to my beliefs, because all of these things about riding in on a white horse is problematic. It was very much a for-fun thing. It happened really fast, which was awesome and exciting, but also, like, holy shit!
I came across a Daily Beast article from 2015 about your account, where you mentioned that you’ve actually met Taylor Swift and talked to her, or at least that she knows about “Feminist Taylor Swift.”
God, that was awesome. That was when 1989 came out and she used to do livestreams for fans. She had a contest where she would invite fans to be in the audience at the livestream, and we had to write three sentences about why we should be invited. I wrote, “I’m Feminist Taylor Swift. I love her music and I have some critiques, but it comes from a place of love. Please pick me!” And they did! They invited us to Taylor’s house and we ate pizza and met her cat. Well, we met Olivia, but Meredith was afraid of us.
Was she cool with the account?
Some of my friends who knew that I really liked Taylor Swift were like, “Oh Clara, I bet that Taylor Swift HATES you. I heard that she heard about this and she’s really mad.” I tried to tell myself that this hadn’t happened, but when I was invited to this thing, it felt like proof that she didn’t hate me. I told her that I made this account and she was like, “Oh yeah! You have so many followers! I heard about that. It’s so cool, I love it, it’s great!” She was really enthusiastic about it, which I loved. I was so glad that she didn’t hate me that she didn’t think I was being mean to her. She said, “If someone hates me, they’ll make it clear. I’ll know.” The haters make it very clear. And then she called me cool and I freaked out a little bit.
As you said, you weren’t doing this to be mean. You were just injecting what you wanted to see out of these lyrics, but you know, didn’t get with all of the white-horse narratives.
Not every Feminist Taylor Swift tweet is an inversion of something she says. It’s not all opposites: I don’t mean to say that by having this account be “Feminist Taylor Swift” implies that the real Taylor Swift isn’t a feminist. It’s not that cutting, it’s a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek kind of thing. I think she has pretty thick skin.
You stopped tweeting as much recently, except for a couple of tweets right before the election and then from the Women’s March this winter. With the timing of the election and all of that it seems like that might have influenced your decision.
The timing is weird, but I also ran out of lyrics to “plagiarize” and ran out of stuff to say. The news is always new material, but I felt like even when 1989 came out, there were new lyrics but nothing new for me to say about feminism? So I spun off some 1989 lyrics, but not a huge amount.
But the election was such a bummer, eventually it didn’t make sense to do this anymore. The Women’s March posts felt really good, though. I loved posting those pictures where people had Feminist Taylor Swift lyrics on their signs and brought them to the march. That whole day was unbelievably cool, as far as having a great time at a protest that’s against the horrific state of the world is cool. It felt good to be sharing this contribution that I felt like my account had made, and help other people put into words what they wanted to put on a sign. But like it’s hard to make jokes about things like this now without the them being really fatalist and dark. The hard thing is not wanting to make a joke that’s in poor taste when people are actually dying.
Had you been thinking about what you wrote in your Twitter thread yesterday, or was it really just inspired by what Brian tweeted at you?
You know when someone criticizes you and it’s exactly what you’ve been thinking about yourself and you’re like really angry about it? I’ve been quietly beating myself up about not using the account more because I used to be at the top of the world! Just look at me now, with my regular job, all washed up—Brian over here is right! And it does feel in poor taste to make the same jokes that I was making in 2013... I have trouble not trivializing something that’s so much more real and more scary than it was when I started this pleasant joke. Actual misogynists actually have direct consequences on my life, which was very abstract when I was in college and under Obama, even when the Virginia State Legislature was trying to make abortion illegal. It felt okay to make jokes about it in a way that now it doesn’t.
You mentioned in the thread that you were going to start up the account again, right around when the lawsuit Taylor was involved in ended. The lawsuit was one of the first times that I actually remember Taylor doing something that was definitively political, rather than “Oh it could be, maybe it’s not.”
I think she’s done a lot of things quietly. She donated a lot of money to Kesha’s legal situation when she was fighting Dr. Luke. She’s donated to lots of causes. But she’s done some under-the-radar stuff. For god’s sake, she’s not a Republican!
It’s just so confusing, because there was an article on Jezebel in April about an interview Vogue did with Katy Perry where she very obviously throws shade at Taylor by talking about how pop stars have this duty to speak out on important issues.
Katy Perry is not actually doing that good of a job being so outspoken. If you watched the VMAs, Katy Perry is really using this political consciousness thing in a what I think is pretty transparently self-serving way. Which I think Taylor Swift also did pre-1989, when she started talking about how feminism is cool now. Because as much as I think Katy Perry genuinely would have preferred for Hillary to have won the election, she’s trying to do this political brand without actually saying anything except for “lol guys it’s super stressful living now, I have a fidget spinner, look at the news!” It’s not genuine and it’s not outrage and it’s not her job and she’s not good at it! But I can see her saying, “Oh I’m very politically conscious and some people aren’t and I’m better than them.”
I would love it if Taylor Swift woke up tomorrow and said, “Donald Trump should be impeached.” But I don’t think that it’s actually important for her to do that. No one cares what most artists think about politics, because most artists are not politicians. They are informed, but not that much more than the average person. They’re role models but they’re also not. They don’t have an obligation to be political directors of the masses. And if your music has that message, like Kendrick Lamar has some political music, so that’s very much within his work to be performing at the White House under Obama. That makes sense with who he is and what he’s doing and what his work is. But when Katy Perry tries to pull it, it looks like a PR move and when Taylor Swift doesn’t try to pull it then everyone is mad because people really like being mad at her.
I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but Breitbart has been using Taylor’s lyrics from “Look What You Made Me Do” to share with links to their articles on Twitter.
The alt-right loves Taylor Swift and thinks that she’s like their Aryan goddess, and they’re trying to own her in a way that I HATE! I absolutely hate it.
You address that in your Twitter thread. I think it’s a great comparison where you compare how they’re using Taylor to how they’ve used Pepe the Frog.
This Pepe the Frog thing is BULLSHIT and she should absolutely say, “Guys stop it! I didn’t ask for this,” because that’s an easy thing to nip in the bud without then saying something like, “And now I’m going to travel to Iowa to help Mark Zuckerberg become president.” You don’t have to do that! But just to tell the hate group to stop using your image is an easy thing to do. If you’re mad at Kanye for calling you a bitch, you can be mad at the alt-right for calling you a white supremacist queen. That’s a much worse thing to be called!
What blows my mind about this whole situation is that there’s nothing speaks to Reputation more than someone using your art to misrepresent you.
And to represent a hate group! That’s one of the first things that the PR people on her team should be saying: “Hey let’s shut these guys down.” Right?
But then you get to this dilemma, because she doesn’t want to be using politics in her brand, but she also won’t speak out to defend her brand from being used in other people’s politics.
I think she’s done enough of a good job with saying that she believes herself to be a feminist, and she’s talked about gay rights in “Welcome to New York”—in a weird, sort of passive way, but she brings it up! I look at her and think that this is definitely not a white supremacist, but apparently the alt-right doesn’t come to that conclusion, and you’ve got to set them straight! If you give them half an inch, they’ll take a mile. Donald Trump said with regards to Charlottesville that there was a lot of violence on both sides, and the alt-right takes it as support and endorsement. Taylor needs to tell them that she hates what they’re doing and that she wants them to stop.
But despite what she may or may not want, she does have this base of white supremacists that really like her, and especially like what she’s been putting out recently.
I think a lot of people who aren’t white supremacists are really into her right now. She just broke records with her song streaming on Spotify and her new music video. But if her fastest-growing demographic of fans is white supremacists, then that would be a huge problem. I don’t think that that’s the case, but it would be extremely worrying if it were.
I’m really excited about this album—full disclosure: I liked the song the first time i heard it. I’m not in the majority there, but people are definitely kind of tired of Taylor Swift’s shit, which I get. And this album is going to be a lot about that. I’m looking forward to that: I assume she has something to say. I have a lot of trust in her as an artist that may or may not be founded, but I think it’s going to be good. I think it’s going to address some interesting stuff.
Upon publication of this article, Jezebel was contacted by a representative of Swift’s, pointing out that she, via her attorneys, has denounced the white supremacist co-opting of her brand. The first instance is in a statement provided to Pinterest, which reads, in part, “The association of Ms. Swift with Adolf Hitler undisputedly is ‘harmful,’ ‘abusive,’ ‘ethnically offensive,’ ‘humiliating to other people,’ ‘libelous,’ and no doubt ‘otherwise objectionable.’… Public figures have rights. And, there are certain historical figures, such as Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson and the like, who are universally identified in the case law and popular culture as lightning rods for emotional and negative reaction.”
The second example pointed to was a letter from Swift’s attorney to the Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website, which demanded the site remove its posts about her. As the Daily Stormer is no longer available online, it was not possible to confirm the existence of this letter.