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Taylor Swifts Girl Gang: Toxic or Empowering?

by Gina Brennan

Taylor Swift’s girl gang era seems to be making a revival, but was the concept a display of toxic girlbossification or genuine female empowerment? 

With the dust settling from Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn’s shocking break-up, Taylor make a statement. 

Although it seems as simple as a paparazzi snap of the A-lister hanging out in New York, Taylor Swift knows how to hide. 

We’ve not heard a noise from the almost-billionaire since 2017 that she didn’t want us to. These paparazzi photos of her with her friends were highly intentional, letting people know she’s doing just fine without Joe. 

The most surprising photo was one of her with a gang of her girlfriends (Gigi Hadid, Blake Lively and the Haim sisters), a sight that hasn’t been seen since the heights of the 1989 era. Taylor’s return to “girls’ nights out” lets her blow off steam after a break-up, but does it have deeper implications?

Pre-Kanye West phone call, you couldn’t enter a shopping centre without hearing Shake It Off - and pictures of her and her super-model girl gang were in the press constantly. 

These images undoubtedly contributed to her immense fall from grace – people were beginning to become disillusioned with her, feeling she was no longer the quirky girl-next-door that her fanbase had fallen in love with. It’s hard to appear relatable when you’re hanging out with the world’s biggest super-models. It was also an image that portrayed her as out of touch; with growing political tensions around the 2016 US Presidential election and real fear for the future from many citizens of the US, the sight of a skinny white girl with her millionaire friends hardly stoked sympathies. 

Taylor’s refusal to comment on politics was also causing resentment amongst her fans and others, with many believing she was a closet Trump supporter. It was this atmosphere that would contribute to her immense fall from grace. As Taylor herself knew in the full recording of her infamous phone call with Kanye, “it adds this level of criticism, ‘cause having that many followers and having that many eyeballs on me right now, people are just looking for me to do something dumb or stupid or lame”.

The potential return of her “squad” is a surprising move, considering the criticism her group faced at the time and has faced since. It’s often cited as one of the biggest contributors to her downfall – so why risk bringing it back? It’s probably so she can prove to the world she’s having fun and getting on just fine without Joe Alwyn by her side. She was notably absent from public view while with Joe, and she’s come back to the tabloids with a bang since their split. She’s young, successful, has a great group of friends, parties in New York private clubs, and does not sit at home crying over a boy.

However, the return of the girl gang is a little worrying for fans who know Taylor’s history. As stated, the previous “squad” came about during a time of huge political turmoil. Taylor refused to comment on the election, and in doing so refused to use the influence she holds over people for a good cause. We now know she didn’t vote for Trump, but at the time this was highly suspicious as many other celebrities were doing everything in their power to keep him out of office. When her album “Lover” was released, Taylor finally became politically vocal. She spoke out against right-wing Senator Marsha Blackburn, and made raising her political voice the focus of her Netflix documentary “Miss Americana”. In the documentary she promised to continue to use her voice for good, and to speak out about what’s right. With songs on “Lover” also specifically dedicated to defending the LGBT community, it seemed like a turning point for her. Taylor would not remain apolitical in the face of great injustice.

Fast forward four years however, and it’s like “Miss Americana” was never aired. Despite her using LGBT imagery and allyship to gain sales for her songs, Taylor has failed to comment on any of the increasing issues the community is facing. Trans people are being used as a political shuttlecock and are coming up against the most vile prejudices from the general population and law-makers, and Taylor has said nothing. She performed in Florida days after it passed the most extreme gender-affirming ban yet, giving the state the ability to remove children from parents who supported them being trans and to legally punish doctors who provide gender-affirming care. 

This is a ban on trans people, members of the community Taylor has reassured in her songs and placed herself as a defender of, and yet she performed there without saying a word. This is a huge disappointment to her LGBT fans, and sets a worrying precedent. Have we returned to the Taylor who doesn’t speak out about injustice for fear of damaging her album sales? The girl gang resurfacing days after this performance, once again a squad made up of beautiful, rich, white girls, is reinforcing this view. Coupled with the news that her Eras Tour is set to make Taylor a billionaire, it’s hard to defend her. Can she be so impossibly out of touch that she believes people are impressed with her partying with her wealthy friends while struggling to afford basic necessities, like food and heating? Is she really going to become a billionaire without once speaking up for those less fortunate, especially those from marginalised groups that are currently being targeted?

It seems that the girl gang solidifies the answer to these questions as yes. Taylor Swift won’t speak up for her queer, non-white, poor fans as she promised to. Instead she’ll party with super-models and perform in the places that discriminate against these groups the most. We can only hope that in the coming weeks she uses her influence for a greater cause, but right now the most politics we can expect to hear from her is from the songs she wrote when she told us she’d do better.

Edited by Emily Duff

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