Taylor Swift: The capitalist mastermind?

Taylor Swift hiding her capitalist career in plain sight. Graphic by Eli Davidson.

ABIGAIL OAKLEY | CULTURE CO-EDITOR | aloakley@butler.edu 

Taylor Swift: It’s hard to know where to begin. Her influence on culture and the music industry are undeniable. For many, her songs evoke deep feelings they may not be able to express or capture the nostalgia of a certain time. As her spotlight has never been brighter, it seems Swift may be a figure worth closer examination. 

While Swift has certainly not progressed without scandals or criticism, she has maintained massive popularity and a dedicated base since her first two albums, “Taylor Swift” and “Fearless”. Her music is well crafted and layered, but it is also incredibly marketable. It is no coincidence that young women and girls often find themselves in the experiences about which Swift writes. 

Music industry studies professor Cutler Armstrong said that these relatable and well-crafted lyrics are the key to Swift’s success, as popular artists have written about relatable situations since the beginning of pop and rock. 

“In the music business it all comes back to a song,” Armstrong said. “She has a knack for songwriting … The very first people that were maybe labeled rock ‘n’ roll like Chuck Berry purposely wrote about things that would relate across demographics.” 

When Swift arrived on the music scene, she had a sweet, girl-next-door persona that matched the youthful themes of her music. While her persona has changed as she and her music have matured, she has maintained an empathetic image that is palatable to most people. At her concerts, Swift frequently expresses adoration for her fans and how surprised and humbled she is by their support. She even referred to herself as “a lonely millennial woman covered in cat hair.” 

At the beginning of her career, this seemed authentic to many, given her age and perceived innocence. But, after 18 years of consistent success and fame, this can come off as forced. Some find it off-putting to see a 34-year-old billionaire expressing the same shock and innocence she did as a teenager new to the industry. However, this relatable persona has proved to be an asset for Swift. It is easier for fans to feel connected to her. 

Swift has also largely stayed away from political and social issues, only making such statements once public suspicion about her beliefs rises. Even her album “Lover” which notably featured the pro-LGBTQ+ song “You Need to Calm Down” and the feminist song “The Man” came shortly after accusations that Swift could be homophobic and that she had not been speaking up enough on social issues. 

These actions silenced the issue for a time, but they also faced backlash. “You Need to Calm Down” came across as leveraging tokenism and using queer people as props. Similarly, “The Man” primarily used “girlboss” rhetoric that seemed like white feminism to many. Although this type of feminism can be empowering for some, it often overlooks the systemic, intersectional issues facing women — particularly women of color. By focusing on what women can do to feel more confident, the implication is that women can conquer misogyny if they girlboss hard enough. 

Swift and her fanbase have also weaponized the misogyny she’s experienced in the past to shield her from current criticism. One of the central ideas of “The Man” is that these critiques would not happen if she were a man. This is true in some instances. Swift has dealt with more than her fair share of misogyny, but the problem comes when that line of thinking is used to shield her from criticism not rooted in misogyny. 

Swift’s silence is understandable. No one is entitled to hear her personal beliefs, and — deserved or not — she has received backlash for speaking out in the past. However, her lack of input makes it more likely for fans to project their own beliefs onto her. When we lack information about a person, we tend to assume that they think like we do. This is called cognitive bias, and it makes it easier for people of status to manipulate our perceptions of them. 

On the other hand, plenty of fans are also frustrated with this silence. They think that someone like Swift should use their platform for good. 

Macy Cansdale, a senior youth and community development major, expressed what she wishes Swift would do. 

“I don’t like that she didn’t say anything about the Palestine conflict,” Cansdale said. “I just think that as someone with so much power, she really should have. It’s just been kind of disappointing that she’s not been getting involved or saying anything.” 

The only way we can speculate about her beliefs and stances without knowing for a fact is by looking at Swift’s actions. 

It is important to give credit where credit is due. Swift has been outspoken about her support for the LGBTQ+ community. She was fiercely in support of the Equality Act and encouraged her fans to support it as well, even starting a petition to pass the act in 2019. Swift also endorsed President Biden in the 2020 presidential election and will likely do the same in 2024. 

While she has been outspoken about her support for the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and other minorities, Swift’s career decisions do not seem to reflect policies that benefit these marginalized communities. 

Her music has changed alongside the trends, with albums in country, bubble-gum pop, R&B, techno-pop, indie-pop and synth-pop. She has pivoted and restarted her style each time the industry shifts. Obviously, artists are allowed to change their style, and Swift is certainly not the only one to do so. An artist’s music grows with them, but these changes for Swift have been conveniently placed when her music is falling out of style. This could be read as a way to capitalize on what is popular and maintain her large, young audience. This way, she can stay relatable. 

Swift’s music style is not the only way she has capitalized on opportunities over the years. At the 2024 GRAMMYs, she seized the moment to announce her latest album. This announcement — and the accompanying relaunching of her website within moments — imply that Swift was confident she would receive the award, but she accepted it with the same surprise and “humility” as usual. 

This may be a relatively harmless way to take advantage of the situation, but Swift has done so in more harmful ways as well. Let’s not forget — Taylor Swift is a billionaire. 

After buying her home in Los Angeles — the Samuel Goldwyn Estate — Swift secured its status as a historical landmark. Under the Mills Act, this entitles Swift to a 20-80% property tax reduction, tax credits for any renovations and charitable contribution write-offs. According to Wall Street Now, this reduces Swift’s annual taxes owed from $275,000 to $55,000. 

Swift is certainly not the only celebrity to take advantage of tax cuts, but when so many wealthy individuals do so, the likelihood of budget deficits and debt grows significantly. This strains government programs and negatively impacts the economy. 

Swift’s use of her private jet should also not be ignored. In October, November and December of 2023 alone, her jet reportedly produced 138 tons of CO2 emissions. The average American produces about 1.5 tons of total emissions in the same time period. There are many reasons celebrities may have private jets; this is not an issue automatically. However, Swift is one of the most frequent private jet users and one of the largest individual producers of CO2 emissions in the world. 

Sophomore psychology-criminology major Skylar Ashcraft said she is frustrated with how Swift has handled this situation. 

“It’s the constant use of the jet and for very quick trips that I think [is a problem],” Ashcraft said. “She hasn’t really acknowledged it to the world … I think just addressing it and coming up with a plan on how to reduce it [would help].” 

There is a disconnect between the best interests of the class of her fans and the methods Swift employs to achieve success. While one does not need to believe in everything a celebrity does in order to be a fan, there is something to be said for considering where money is going before financially supporting a celebrity. You may love her music, but do you want to give a billionaire capitalist pop star more money? Do you want to support someone whose decisions may be indirectly negatively impacting you? 

Taking all of this into account, Taylor Swift is a complicated figure. She is a human with strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of us. Swift has received enough hate over the years, and I do not want to add to that. But, I just believe it is important to consider celebrities in their entirety — the good and the bad. Only Swift can know her intentions and beliefs, but the rest of us need to do our homework. No one — not even Taylor Swift — is above accountability. 


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