ex-girlfriend ethics

Stop Asking Taylor Swift to Apologize for Writing Songs About Ex-Boyfriends

Photo: Splash News/? Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

In spite of interviewers’ best efforts, Taylor Swift is still not sorry for dishing about her ex-boyfriends in songs. She told The New York Times Magazine that “of course” she has promised some she wouldn’t write about them. “And then I did.” Swift told Susan Dominus (filling in for the still-absent Andrew Goldman) that writing about her life is not a mandate, but “if we break up, I’m going to write about it.”

It’s a relief to see Swift, the ur-nice-girl, refuse to give the mea culpa that many journalists she’s talked to in promotion of her latest album, Red, have sought. The Daily Beast asked if she felt “guilty” or worried that she would “scare off guys.” The women of The View asked how the subjects of her songs reacted. Ellen DeGeneres showed a slideshow of Swift’s ex-boyfriends and asked her to ring a bell when she saw the one “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was about. Swift sounded like she was about to cry when she said told DeGeneres that keeping the secret was her “one shred of dignity,” but at least DeGeneres didn’t ask for an apology.


Taylor Swift says she’s not a feminist, but I can imagine how the scrutiny over her decision to mine her personal life for music would be enough to turn her into one. The line of inquiry is sexist, inasmuch as it’s not asked of her male peers like, say, Bruno Mars. When Kanye West wrote that he “fell in love with Kim/ around the same time she fell in love with him,” the media thrilled at the romantic declaration — not whose feelings he hurt.

But at least Swift is in good company. Carly Simon was hounded for the identity of the subject of “You’re So Vain” for decades until she eventually auctioned off the information for charity in in 2003, raising $50,000. In 2008, Full House star Dave Coulier bragged that he was the asshole ex-boyfriend Alanis Morrisette “went down on in a theater” in “You Oughta Know” (as had long been speculated), as a kind of career-resuscitation move.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that with Swift, whose thinly veiled liner-note codes and tabloid roster of exes are an undeniable part of her marketing machine. They provide fodder for a continuous stream of speculative news coverage (even in between albums), to which endorsement-seeking companies flock, while giving her fans the impression she’s their collective BFF. Surely Swift expects to be asked about it. But finally, here in the Times interview, she seems kind of sick of it.

She won’t even say which indie bands she’s listening to out of fear someone will link it to the ex-boyfriend in her single who storms off to listen to “some indie record that’s much cooler than [her’s].” 

“You see how it works,” she said, “being in my mind?”

I don’t buy the persecuted- or tortured-artist bit, but I am worried that if journalists keep asking Swift how her ex-boyfriends feel when she writes songs about them (as opposed to, you know, what’s going on with her), she might stop doing it. I would hate for Swift to get shamed into discretion before she graduates to more adult material like guys who get mean to you when they drink, or whose ex you look just like, or who is really bad in bed. Then what would we talk about?

Stop Asking Taylor Swift to Apologize