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The Metapolitics of Taylor Swift


Checking the lights in Sydney

1,719 words

It’s a big weekend for Taylor Swift. She winds up her record-breaking 1989 World Tour on Saturday, December 12, in Melbourne and reaches the ripe old age of 26 on Sunday, December 13. So now is a good time to sit back and think about what it all means.

What exactly is the significance of Taylor in pop music, modern aesthetics, and Western culture in general? Why do ten thousand Twitter accounts use her image as their avatar? Why do her fans insist there is such a quantum difference between Taylor and all the pop chantoosies who went before?

And finally, the big elephant in the room. How the hell did Tay Tay become such an icon—sometimes ironic, sometimes not—of the far right?

There are a million aspects to the Naked Swiftie, children. Follow me as I lead you through a few.

The Tao of Tay

If you’re not a teenage girl or an Alt Right sh*tlord, it’s entirely possible that the Taylor Swift phenomenon has passed you by entirely. You think of her, if you think of her at all, as just another fungible name and figure in the pop-cult landscape that rushes by your train window.

I know what that’s like, because I myself was only recently sucked into the Swiftie vortex. I was aware of her only as this dorky teenager I’d once seen on TV, all cowgirl boots and fluffy dress and big hair, singin’ about how teardrops on my guitar are keepin’ me from wishin’ on a wishin’ star. She was so obscure, or I so out of it, I thought she and her accompanists were the Dixie Chicks.

That was the old Nashville Swift, back when she was 17, 18. That model is long gone, along with the big hair and western boots. Early last year (2014) Taylor bought a $20 million penthouse loft in downtown NYC’s Tribeca—she bought it from Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, who was moving back to New Zealand with his family.

Ever since then, the paparazzi and tourists have gathered ’round whenever Taylor is in town, snapping news photos and iPhone candids as she exits down the steps of the old 1882 Sugarloaf Warehouse building on Franklin Street, dressed in some cunning new crop-top skirt outfit, or perhaps a romper; and six-inch-stiletto pumps or high-heeled booties; carrying a leather tote-purse ahead of her on her forearm, the way ladies did back in the 1950s and ’60s (and as the Queen of England still does).

Tay, fans, Franklin Street. May 27, 2015

Tay, fans, Franklin Street. May 27, 2015

Thus, the standard Taylor posture, which you can see displayed countless times on any of the endless websites devoted to photos of her. One of the most useful is What Would Taylor Swift Wear? which matches street-shots of Taylor with advice on where to buy the same clothes.

(Going back to Lord of the Rings: Legolas himself, Orlando Bloom, also used to live in this building . . . in a modest $5 million pad, right next door to Peter Jackson and his family. But when the Jacksons left and Taylor moved in, the crowds and rhubarb just got too intense. Legolas said bye-bye.)

The new 2014-model Taylor was not only cutting-edge chic, she was now much more accessible to the broad pop-rock audience. Her first four albums had been country-western, or country-tinged pop. But the new late-2014 album, 1989 (named after her birth year) was a complete departure: a pitch-perfect pastiche of 1980s pop-rock styles.

In that MTV epoch, as in no era before or since, hit pop tunes were closely associated with their videos. Think: A-ha’s “Take On Me,” The Kinks’ “Come Dancing,” Joe Jackson’s “Stepping Out”—as well as anything by Madonna, Michael Jackson, or Billy Idol. (Would anyone even remember A-ha or Rick Astley today if not for their videos? Could an audio-only Madonna or Michael Jackson ever have achieved supernova status on their voices alone?) One has to suppose that this visual dominance happened simply because of the novelty and dominance of MTV itself. But the 1980s ended, MTV’s devotion to fresh pop-rock fell apart, and what was left behind was the notion that rock videos are basically an Eighties art form, just as film noir lives forever in 1945-55.

Taylor herself couldn’t remember the 1980s, but she clearly understood that it was the golden age of the rock video. She ensured that the first key singles, from the 1989 album were released simultaneously with top-notch, 1980s-style videos. And these have all been gems. The first single,  “Shake It Off,” released two months before the complete album, was a hopelessly catchy and upbeat song (“players gonna play play play play play, and the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate”) that hit the Billboard No. 1 slot the first week it was released in August 2014.

Shake It Off: Triple-distilled silliness

Shake It Off: Triple-distilled silliness

The “Shake It Off” video came out shortly afterwards, and was extraordinary. A delightful parody of a half-dozen 1980s rock-video genres, encompassing hip-hop, electro-rock, and just about anything Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, or Pat Benatar did in those years. Except—and this is the key point with almost anything that comes out of Taylor Swift—Taylor somehow did the 1980s better.

In its triple-distilled silliness, “Shake It Off” was so much better the 1980s originals, so much funnier and more knowing, that it quickly became a platform for other parodies. TV’s “Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver tried to do a “Bake It Off” version of it with Taylor a year ago, but all it proved was that Taylor Swift is beyond parody and that she herself is an excellent deadpan comedienne.

Taylor followed “Shake It Off” with three more videos tied to the 1989 album: “Blank Space,” “Bad Blood,” and “Wildest Dreams.” All were directed  by Joseph Kahn in a lushly ominous style that, appropriately enough, echoes Ridley Scott’s advertising and film direction of the 1980s.

Countersignaling the Critics

wildest-dreamsThe latest of these, “Wildest Dreams,” seems to depict an early 1950s movie-set in Africa (references to Mogambo and The English Patient, among others). A dark-haired Taylor plays a siren after the manner of Ava Gardner or Elizabeth Taylor. There are clapperboards, giraffes, and a biplane in this Africa . . . but there are no Negroes (apart from two uniformed soldiers in the distance).

Instant controversy—accusations of racism!—when the video premiered in September 2015. “Even the most casual observer would have noticed that—for a clip that’s set in Africa—it’s about as white as a Sunday morning farmer’s market,” wrote a critic quoted in the Daily Mail. “The video wants to have its old-school Hollywood romance but ends up eating some old-school Hollywood racism, too.”

Solemnly and hilariously, NPR used this as a teaching moment to lecture Taylor:

Here are some facts for Swift and her team: Colonialism was neither romantic nor beautiful. It was exploitative and brutal. The legacy of colonialism still lives quite loudly to this day. Scholars have argued that poor economic performance, weak property rights and tribal tensions across the continent can be traced to colonial strategies . . .

Check your white privilege, Taylor Swift.

shakeitoff-twerking-aghastThe “Wildest Dreams” brouhaha gave critics opportunity to rehash earlier instances of the same accusation. 2014’s “Shake It Off” opens with a corps of white ballerinas in white tutus, and later shows us a Busby Berkeley dance-line of twerking Women of Color, all dressed in huge gold-hoop earrings and skimpy denim cutoffs. (They shake their booties in the background while Taylor gasps in mock horror.)

Rummaging through some earlier productions, a USA Today commenter discovered that Taylor Swift had actually made videos with no visible People of Color at all!

Even more obscure were the complaints of black feminist critics who chided Tay Tay for calling herself a “feminist” without giving due regard to “intersectionality” and the needs of black women. If you forget what intersectionality is—I have to look it up again every day— here’s a thumbnail explanation: “You don’t get to pick and choose which things you want equality in. If you are going to label yourself a feminist, you must advocate for equality for all, regardless of race.”

Taylor Swift has been taking this sort of abuse from black critics and performers for years. There have been little public smack-downs and Twitter feuds with Nikki Minaj and Kanye West. Famously, Kanye interrupted Taylor’s award reception during the Video Music Awards ceremony in 2009, by jumping in and declaring, in effect, that the black singer Beyoncé had made a better video than Taylor.

The problem they have with Taylor is not hard to scope out. She’s white, she’s very blonde and white and pretty, she doesn’t write black-themed songs or play negro-accented music. Worst of all, she started out as a country singer—a music genre enjoyed almost exclusively by rednecks, Southerners, and white supreemists.

hitler-tay-nightmareTaylor finesses these accusations mainly by not answering them, not engaging her opponents. Neither does she help them out by giving them free ammunition. She is certainly aware that some of the flakier or more satirical white nationalists have hailed her as their “Aryan Goddess” and “Nazi Avatar.” But she doesn’t comment on it.

And it cannot have escaped her notice that there is a long-running series of “Taylor Hitler memes,” in which a quotation from Der Führer, or maybe Dr. Göbbels, is attributed to Taylor Swift. Some of these are real screamers. More recently the memers have turned the game around and placed Taylor quotations on pictures of AH.

The Alt Right notion that Taylor is One of Us has a rich, deep history going back at least to 2009. That’s when news photographers snapped a shot of her at a Katy Perry party in West Hollywood, posing or dancing with a young man wearing a white shirt with a brightly daubed red swastika.

2009: The famous Katy Perry party.

2009: The famous Katy Perry party.

The shirt was some kind of edgy fashion by a designer friend of Taylor’s, and the young man was modeling it, but of course the “Swastika Swift” shot immediately went ’round the world. Called upon to comment, a Taylor spokesman responded blandly that Taylor had taken pictures with “a hundred people that night.”

Journalists and bloggers—including some Jewish ones—tried hard to give this story legs but just couldn’t find any traction. And ever since, by steadfastly refusing to feed the trolls, the “Aryan Goddess” has remained the Teflon Princess.

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  1. Sam J.
    Posted December 14, 2015 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    I ran across a link on Forbes that showed some of the top earning YouTube producers. One was someone I’d never heard of Lindsey Stirling. When I saw her videos I immediately thought of this article. She exactly fits the mode. Talented White girl with violin dances to sorta popish riverdance Whitish music. H ave a look you’ll see what I mean.

    Now here’s the really good part. The Hollywood Jews turned her down so she made her own career on YouTube and now she doesn’t need them at all. Maybe this will eventually produce stars that can be more candid as they don’t owe their careers to the Jews.

    Disclaimer. I don’t work for her, know her, etc. I just saw the article and thought she was talented. My music taste usually lie more towards something like Unita or Motorhead.

  2. william Allingham
    Posted December 12, 2015 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    I dont know much about the history of South Africa but what I know is that Colonialism benefited more the Indians of Mexico than Spaniards back in the Continent (although this is not to deny that Spain profited but, their gains were not long-lasting and not as widespread).

    In his book, Mexico, The Colonial Era by Alan Knight the author emphasizes the fact that Indians benefited immensely from Spanish colonialism “they worked less and had more time for commerce”, “they ate better than many Europeans”… they were basically slaves from their own people until Spain imposed a milder form of servitude and in the end it gives the impression that Indians had no interest in becoming independent from Spain, in fact my best guess is that Jews in the form of Freemasons and Conversos (just like Bartolome de las Casas and Miguel Hidalgo, the former a fierce critic of Spain the latter Mexicos independence father…both with Jewish ancestry) wanted to prompt the dispossession of Europeans from their colonies and also wanted to pave the way for making backward races part of a global community…. even Jews themselves boast about their role in Mexican independence and in the dispossession of Spain from her colonies. (see links below)

    BTW Alan Knight is not a “white supremacist” or a “racist”, he wrote an article denouncing racism in Mexico but he seems to be an honest scholar because in that same article he mentions Mexicos persecution and expulsion of Chinese people because of racial “prejudice”…it always comes to my mind when I hear Mexicans in the USA complaining about bigotry and discrimination…. the difference is that “racist” Americans haven’t been as successful as Mexicans in extirpating alien elements from their nation.

    if Mexican indians benefited from Colonialism no matter how brutal, it would be absurd to think that black Africans didnt benefit… in fact, I have suspicions whether Jews had a role in promoting this kind of Colonialism as a preparation for including those peoples in White countries, but havent done enough research on that.

  3. Petronius
    Posted December 11, 2015 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m really proud that until today I had no clue whatsoever who Taylor Swift is… no idea how I managed to do this.

  4. f
    Posted December 11, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    The trifecta that drives the (((establishment))) wild with impotent rage is as follows:

    1) White

    2) Good looking and or highly functional

    3) Not embarrassed or sorry about it

    See: Mitt Romney (and Mormons in general), Taylor Swift, Fraternity and Sorority girls (Basic bitch is essentially an anti white slur), Country Musicians etc.

    We’re supposed to be borderline HORRIFIED and supplicating at every moment at our very existence. It’s very triggering when we don’t.


    • Sandy
      Posted December 12, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      They hate us for so many reasons. A little white girl I befriended on FB and who lives nearby: I called the SPCA and they didn’t do anything the dog would be out from early in the morning to late at night in freezing conditions. No food or water, and the people across the street don’t bring their dog in at all and it eats my garbage sometimes he breaks off his rope. So mean…. I hate rednecks. So if you want to win our own people over…………

      • f
        Posted December 12, 2015 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I get you, they hate all incarnations of white people, except the ones in a constant state of self flagellation (but they’re probably micro aggressing in some way too so might as well hate them).

        What I mean is that unapologetic in your face whites such as Swift and Romney elicit a certain uneasiness that goes beyond hate. I think it is the fact that despite the incessant narrative, they cannot control them. They cannot show these high functioning, good looking whites (who BREED for fuck’s sake!!!) how absolutely horrific their very existence is- I don’t think they even know why they hate them- my guess is jealousy. How dare you flaunt your superiority right in my face!??? DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT MY FEELS?


        I think this is great and why I encourage whites to be fit, presentable, good looking, and to breed like goddamn rabbits. A big beautiful strong white family who don’t need no gibs, refusing to apologize for its existence is just kryptonite to these people.

        Your FB friend is just signaling btw. I hate low status whites therefore I am a high status white.

  5. Carpenter
    Posted December 11, 2015 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure why, it’s not particularly Leni Riefenstahl-esque, but this video always feels sorta Third Reich to me. It might just be its fairly wholesome whiteness. There’s something subliminal going on.

    • Posted December 13, 2015 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I forgot about “Style.” Thanks for the appreciation.

  6. Christopher P
    Posted December 11, 2015 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    Camille Paglia calls Taylor a ‘Nazi Barbie’ in today’s Daily Mail:
    Helpfully, the Mail clarifies matters: “Taylor Swift has no affiliation with the Nazi party”.

    • Kudzu Bob
      Posted December 11, 2015 at 4:55 am | Permalink

      Some shady sweatshop owner in China or some other Asian country far from Mattel’s legal reach ought to start manufacturing Nazi Barbie and SS Ken. He could make a killing.

    • Jasper Been
      Posted December 11, 2015 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      I admire Camille Paglia tremendously but that was the stupidest, most worthless little article she ever wrote. Something about Taylor Swift has always been off-putting to me anyway. She’s just another manufactured vocalist who makes lotsa money for certain people and is by no means an artist.

      • Posted December 11, 2015 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        Camille Paglia was great 25 years ago when she was contrarian and transgressive. Now she’s trying to refurbish the antique brand. I met a traveler from an antique brand.

        • AE
          Posted December 12, 2015 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

          It’s been sad to see her rather rapid decline over the last ten years. Thankfully she’s been incapable of writing her monthly Salon column since around 09.

  7. Posted December 11, 2015 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    I can assure you that this Nazi’s love for Taylor is completely genuine and without a trace of irony.

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