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Swift and Shake

Swift and Shake

 

Following the music video’s release, Swift has been getting both positive and negative responses from her fans and critics. This article argues that the music video is not culturally inappropriate but it is about individualism and feminism instead. University of Sunderland undergraduate Samantha Gan Phui Yee (BMCC2014111) reports.

Love her or loathe her, the release of Shake It Off (2014) music video by popular musician in the country-pop genre, Taylor Swifth has created major buzz. While usually the pop princess gets away with a lot of positive rep, lately, the water has been a slight tad muddy. Media sites such as DailyMail Online and The New York Times have posted articles claiming that the music video is culturally inappropriate in terms of racial stereotyping and portraying the art of different dance genres in a satirical manner. Racial steterotyping and Taylor Swift? Sounds surprising you may think.

Hiblen (2014) from DailyMail Online wrote about rapper Earl Sweatshirt criticising the music video for ‘perpetuating black stereotypes’ and how Jezebel.com labelled the video as ‘cringe-worthy mess’. Seibert (2014) from The New York Times commented from a dance critic view that the video “treats dance less as an art in itself than as a cultural signifier.” Hence, this article will argue that Shake It Off (2014) is not culturally inappropriate in representation of various races but it contains elements of individualism and feminism that may empower their target audience throughout the music video.

Winning over several GRAMMY awards and the only female artist in music history to have three albums to hit one million first week sales figure, Taylor Swift is of no doubt one of the most prominent musicians to date. (Pastorek, 2014). The Guardian ranked Swift as the #10 most powerful person in MediaGuardian 100, which also makes her the most powerful women in United Kingdom media of 2014. In her fifth album release, ‘1989’, Swift unveiled the lead single, Shake It Off as part of her “very first, documented, official pop album.” (Michaels, 2014). The music video to the single was published in August 2014 of which gaining over 639 million views and over 2 million likes on YouTube as of March 2015.

Directed by Mark Romanek, the music video features a compilation of a few dance styles such as ballet, breakdance, modern dancers, ribbon dancing, popping animators, twerking and cheerleading. It follows a narrative of Taylor Swift being the untalented dancer in the centre of every dance group style while the rest of the dancers acted professionally. The video ends with Swift joining a group of ordinary people dancing freely to the music of which they are casted to be happy and carefree. One of the scenes in the music video portraying a group of female twerking while Swift was crawling under the dancers’ legs have created controversial discussions on the Internet. For instance, Earl Sweatshirt from hip-hop group Odd Future, criticized the music video as ‘inherently offensive and ultimately harmful’ by ‘perpetuating black stereotypes’ via his Twitter account.

Disagreeing with Sweatshirt, the music video does not connote racial or culturally offensive messages. The entire video is well balanced out with various dance genres and each of these genres are not necessarily meant for a particular race in society. Referring to the twerking scene, females from other races are depicted in the video as well. This includes Swift herself dressing in the same clothing as the other dancers while trying to follow their twerking moves. Hence, the claims of having ‘black stereotypes’ in the video is not justified and relevant. Furthermore, this applies to other scenes such as breakdancing and the popping animations in the video as well. Such comment from Sweatshirt proves that there will always be presence of failure in the consumption period, “when messages are decoded by audiences” as stated by Curtin & Gaither (2007).

On the other hand, the music video picture elements of individualism. It is clearly seen through the lead role in the video, Swift herself being realistically untalented in all the dances except when she is singing with the band as that is what she is talented in. She is shown to be her true self in the video, which empower individuals to be themselves in reality. Triandis & Gelfand (2012) states that individualism is the most appropriate cultural pattern for high accomplishers and to become recognized by others. Here, Swift tries to fit-in to all the dance groups but she finds herself most comfortable with the band and the ordinary untalented dancers. This can connote that Swift has an identity of her own which led to her success today without incorporating other elements in order to gain attention and popularity; comparing to other popular musicians such as Miley Cyrus. Consequently, Swift is implying the importance of cultural

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her target audience through this music video. She did not grew up practicing hip-hop dances or twerking, therefore she will never be as experienced to those who did.

Besides that, slight elements of encouraging feminism is highlighted in the music video. As feminism is described by Henslin (2009) as “the view that biology is not destiny and that stratification by gender is wrong and should be resisted,” it is agreeable that Swift practiced every dance in the music video regardless of the dance being meant for only one particular gender. For example, Swift participated in the breakdancing scene even though it is understood that the dance are mainly practiced by males. Thus, the message may express to follow your interests’ accordingly and not be affected by gender ideologies in society. Moreover, Swift highlighted a few dances that seem to derive from female roots such as ballet, twerking and cheerleading.

In short, the music video does not represent any form of culturally inappropriate depiction. The Rolling Stones interviewed Swift about her new single from ‘1989’ which she replied,

“When you live your life under that kind of scrutiny, you can either let it break you, or you can get really good at dodging punches. And when one lands, you know how to deal with it. And I guess the way that I deal with it is to shake it off.”

This can be interpreted that the song itself have no relation to race, stereotypes or culturally offensive matter. Instead, it is weighing more on ways to deal with problems in life while including individualistic and feminism aspects in the music video. Additionally, the music video distinct from conventional video narratives of Taylor Swift yet it generates wide acceptancy from gaining large number of views and award nominations such as ‘Record of the Year’, ‘Song of the Year’ and ‘Best Pop Solo’ from the recent 57th Grammy Awards. Although Swift have transitioned from country music to the pop genre, she is still accepted positively by her audience and this is crucial to media scholars in order to understand prominent figures in the media industry such as Taylor Swift are highly influential to their audience.

Lastly, it is important to interpret contexts of medium such as music videos critically. Depictions in a music video must not be based on assumptions but relevant arguments and justification. It is also important to note that expressions made on social media can create controversies which may lead to sensitive issues regarding race and gender in society. Hence, providing solid justification to support a perspective on certain matters are essential.

 

Sources

57th Annual GRAMMY Awards Winners & Nominees (2015) [Online] Available at: www.grammy.com/nominees#main. [Accessed: 12th August 2015]

Coker, C. H. (2014) Taylor Swift’s New Video Is A Cringe-Worthy Mess. [Online] Jezebel. Available at: http://jezebel.com/taylor-swifts-new-video-is-a-cringe-worthy-mess-1623539249. [Accessed: 12th August 2015]

Curtin, A.P. & Gaither, K.T. (2007) Global Public Relations and the Circuit of Culture. International Public Relations Negotiating Culture, Identity, Power. California: SAGE Publications.

Henslin, J.M. (2009) ‘Gender and Age. Essentials of Sociology A Down To Earth Approach. 8th Ed. New York: Pearson.

Hiblen, C. (2014) The haters gonna hate, hate, hate indeed! Taylor Swift is slammed for ‘perpetuating black stereotypes’ in new video clip Shake It Off. [Online] DailyMail Online. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2729360/Taylor-Swift-slammed-perpetuating-black-stereotypes-new-video-clip-Shake-It-Off.html#ixzz3TpFv1OW3. [Accessed: 12th August 2015]

Kreps, D. (2014) Taylor Swift Dismisses the Haters, Dances With Fans for New Song ‘Shake it Off’. [Online] The Rolling Stones. Available at: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/taylor-swift-dismisses-the-haters-dances-with-fans-for-new-song-shake-it-off-20140818#ixzz3TpBk7REx. [Accessed: 12th August 2015]

Pastorek, W. (2014) Born On December 13, 1989. [Online] Available at: www.taylorswift.com/about. [Accessed: 12th August 2015]

Seibert, B. (2014) Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ Video: A Dance Critic’s Take. [Online] The New York Times. Available at: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/19/taylor-swifts-shake-it-off-video-a-dance-critics-take/?_r=0. [Accessed: 12th August 2015]

Shake It Off (2014) Video. Big Machine Records, New York. Directed by Mark Romanek. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfWlot6h_JM. [Accessed: 12th August 2015]

Triandis, C.H. & Gelfand, J.M. (2012) A Theory of Individualism and Collectivism. Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology. London: SAGE Publications.

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http://www.hitfix.com/news/taylor-swifts-mtv-vmas-performance-of-shake-it-off-went-old-school

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