You may have heard of an up-and-coming young pop star named Taylor Alison Swift. She’s 25, five-ten, and no matter where you hide, the smell of her homemade Pecan Sandies will surely find you. The singer of such hits as “Welcome to New York” and “Some Other Song” debuted her first-ever GQ cover on Thursday, and without getting specific, she looks like the girl in high school who only learned your name at graduation but still wrote LYLAS in your yearbook. In her interview with Chuck Klosterman, Swift acknowledges the hard truth that has long been on the minds of many: “I think people might need a break from me.”
Indeed. The T-Swift brand has managed to ooze, Alex Mack–like, even into corners of pop culture where its presence was neither sought nor desired. Swift’s current high-profile hobby is “being friends with everyone” (see: the “Bad Blood” video, the nonstop parade of guests on the 1989 tour), and if initially this seemed like a canny strategy for defusing tabloid gossip, it’s since become a way to gin up new drama.
So ubiquitous is the Taylor Swift friendship phenomenon that reporters now inflict her brand of hash-tag-squad-goals on pop stars who otherwise would have no reason to comment on the matter. In FKA Twigs’s first cover for Paper magazine, Taylor comes up by way of contrast in discussing the kind of fanbase Twigs has thus far developed. This obliges Twigs to talk about Taylor, and how the former pop-country star’s “hook” is “how much you want to be her friend,” as interviewer Jazz Monroe puts it. But Twigs isn’t sold:
I think Taylor Swift is great, but I wouldn’t necessarily think, “Oh my god, I have to be friends with her.” When I meet fans, they’re quite creative and intelligent, kind, sensitive. Some are old ladies, witch doctors from Louisiana, kids that have just left art school. Gay or lesbian couples, straight middle-aged couples …
Rihanna faced a similar line of inquiry in her NME cover story:
“Er, I doubt it,” is Rihanna’s response when asked if she’d accept an invitation to become the latest in a long succession of artists to join Swift on stage. “I don’t think I would. I just don’t think it makes sense. I don’t think our brands are the same: I don’t think they match, I don’t think our audiences are the same. In my mind she’s a role model, I’m not.” She adds, with a smile.
The effect is to create conflict where none was before — it calls to mind the ‘00s-era “catfighting” between Disney pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Or take Miley Cyrus, rejecting squad-domination in that now-infamous New York Times interview from August:
“I’m not trying to be in the squad.” She continued, “None of my friends are famous and not because of any other reason than I just like real people who are living real lives, because I’m inspired by them.”
Taylor Swift may have an entire nation hooked at the clip of her family-friendly garters, but let this serve as a reminder that — truly! — not all female pop stars are the same and there shouldn’t be such a desire to squish them all onto the now practically full 1989 stage. Asking artists like Twigs and Rihanna if they’d also like to be subsumed into Taylor’s gravitational orbit only diminishes the individual talents of the very many other female artists in the world. Not all pop stars need a Taylor stamp of approval to make it on their own, and many of them are perfectly happy without it.