When did Taylor Swift become controversial?

At a glance, could there be anyone more suited to appeal to pretty much everyone, ever? Aspiring singer-songwriter with big dreams moves to Nashville to make a country album and, through her melodic candor about love won and lost and her warm embrace of her steadily growing fan base, transcends genres and continues to put out wildly infectious hit songs. She's got style, she's got grace... wait, those are the lyrics to "Vogue." Regardless, what's not to like?

Perhaps nothing. But that didn't prevent something strange from happening while Swift was becoming one of the defining pop superstars of a generation.

Maybe it's just the natural order of the universe, that when one type of energy is generated in one place, another type of counter-energy must form to balance it out.

Since Swift is so popular and so very successful in a quantifiable way, be it in number of albums sold, money earned or Grammys won, maybe it was only inevitable that an anti-Swift faction would naturally develop too, to counter the pro-Taylor rapture and, in their own minds at least, knock her down a peg.

More and more instances of that seem to be revealing themselves these days, largely thanks to social media, which was made for knee-jerk opinions. It's also now detrimentally easy to start or wade into an argument at any time of day or night. There are some celebrities who have always been "controversial," in that haters love to hate and the devoted fans are in it for the long haul (as are the haters, they just won't admit it). But now there's plenty of backlash to go around, for everyone, even the so-called beloved stars who had seemingly achieved untouchable status, like Meryl Streep or Justin Timberlake. (Or, in some cases, all the stars at once, if you're of the opinion that being an actor or musician means you've signed away your right to talk politics.)

Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian West, Grammy Awards

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

As far as individual cases go, never was a widely adored star's vulnerability to an insta-takedown more evident, perhaps,  than when the Taylor Swift "party" suddenly ended in a pot of tea last summer when Kim Kardashian posted what sounded like audio proof that Taylor had agreed to at least half of the shout-out Kanye Westgave her in "Famous."

Twitter erupted in hashtags and memes, and, somewhere, Whitney Houston was smiling at the resurgence of the word "receipts" as she once used it. But it didn't seem to be just Kardashian fans enjoying this meta moment, this multimedia progression of Kim defending Kanye in GQ, then referring to the "Famous" beef on Keeping Up With the Kardashians and, finally, directing people to Snapchat to share the big reveal.

People who might not otherwise have called themselves anti-Swifties on any given day were giddily reveling in Swift's comeuppance.

Not that Taylor blinked: She fired back a pointed statement defending herself and explaining exactly what the issue was.

It's not that we were under the impression that every single person on earth is a fan of her music. But whether people were irked because they believed she had been disingenuous (the edited tape ultimately didn't prove she knew about the "made that bitch famous" line, which is the line she took offense to) or self-righteous, or if they were more profoundly bothered because they love Katy Perry just that much, all of a sudden Taylor Swift—she of cats and cookies and Christmas presents, of platinum-selling albums, 10 Grammys and squad power—was a polarizing figure.

The suddenly contentious songwriting drama that had just unfolded and her still inexplicable round-the-world fling with Tom Hiddlestonthat was also happening at the time only served to heighten the feeling that the foundation was quaking 'neath the House of Swift.

Defending herself wasn't right, staying quiet wasn't right, her dating life wasn't right...it was a weird time. She gave one concert, in October, the roughly 80,000 people in attendance and thousands more gobbling up snippets of info about the show on Twitter putting to rest any concern that she wasn't as popular as ever. No one who loved her deserted her.

It's not that fans are so fickle. It's more that, as much as people are capable of blind support, more so are they capable of blind, blanket dislike. And neither needs very much of a reason to take root. Rarely has a personal slight occurred when people decide they "don't like" an actor or artist for whatever reason, but a grudge develops nonetheless—not ill will but just a general sense of "oh, I never liked them." The celebrity either unwittingly makes up for it somehow, resulting in the ol' "huh, I think I'm starting to like so-and-so" conversation, or they're just lumped into the "ew, I can't stand her" category forever.

Neither option of which affects the actual celebrity in any way, usually, but the world is full of amateur judges, judging away at any given time.

So after the summer, this negative energy had joined the positive in the Taylor Swift conversation and, a year later, we've been reminded that it didn't go away.

Taylor Swift, Courtroom Sketch


Last week, dueling lawsuits—the first filed by a man who alleged that Swift got him fired from his job as a radio DJ when she falsely accused him of groping her during a concert meet-and-greet, and the second Swift's countersuit, alleging assault and battery on his part for the grab in question and asking for $1 in symbolic damages—brought the singer to a Denver courtroom, her first public appearance in months and a relatively rare 2017 sighting over all.

The incident itself occurred in 2013. David Mueller (who denies grabbing her) sued Swift in 2015, prompting her to counter-sue a month later. Taylor spent most of 2015 on a 1989 World Tour tear, en route to winning the Album of the Year Grammy in February 2016, so this case was overshadowed by many other things happening at the time.

Now, in 2017, the trial begins and everything you might pessimistically expect from a he-said, she-said case of sexual assault occurred (questions about every decision she made in the moment, why she didn't report him to police if it really happened, skepticism and ignorance amid the support on social media etc.). Only there was an added twist because it was Taylor Swift, who, as some of her critics chose to point out, was just one of many victims of sexual assault, yet she was getting all this attention.

Different from carping about Taylor's polished image or the steely courage of her convictions, or whatever it is that puts her in the "ugh, don't like her" category for some, a newer backlash that had been simmering for months reared its head in response to the trial—which at its heart was about a woman determined to not let a man get away with violating her. Particularly after the judge dismissed Mueller's complaint mid-trial, then it was legally all about Taylor's allegation.

But while many voices came together to applaud her strength and courage, and the fact that in speaking up she was implicitly speaking up for other victims too, so too were many of those voices compelled to remind others that Swift didn't deserve any less respect as a victim or a plaintiff because she isn't one of the celebrities who counts as a consistently outspoken voice on behalf of women's issues.

She did not talk politics last year unlike so many other stars, most of whom—including Katy Perry and Beyoncévehemently supported Hillary Clintonin November. Though she had never talked politics before, her silence baffled some in this instance since she had spoken so forcefully in the past—such as at the Grammys when she won Album of the Year—about female empowerment and not taking any crap from those seeking to diminish you. 

And people didn't forget or forgive her silence. In January, when Swift tweeted (rare in itself lately) on the day of the Women's March, "So much love, pride, and respect for those who marched. I'm proud to be a woman today, and every day. #WomensMarch," she was immediately hit back with vitriol that amounted to "too little, too late."

Taylor Swift

Gareth Cattermole/TAS/Getty Images for TAS

So among the 5,500 comments her tweet prompted, some threw her support back in her face, not appreciating what they saw as fairweather solidarity from someone who then didn't march (also unlike so many other celebs, such as Madonna, Scarlett Johansson and Charlize Theron).

And that was their prerogative to criticize, but Swift's lack of visibility on the protest or political circuits doesn't make her any less of a woman—one who last week was vividly recalling the memory of something that happens to all too many women—or less entitled to the built-in backbone of support that some seemed so reluctant to provide for Swift but readily would for perhaps someone who...isn't Taylor Swift.

In February 2016 Swift donated $250,000 to Keshaamid the singer's still-ongoing legal battle with Dr. Luke, whom Kesha sued in 2014 for alleged sexual assault, harassment and gender violence. Her longtime producer counter-sued for defamation and numerous days in court (for their lawyers, at least) have followed. Last year a judge refused Kesha's plea to be let out of her six-album contract with Sony, which houses Dr. Luke's former imprint Kemosabe Records. Her new album, Rainbows, is her first studio LP in almost five years and it's dripping with references to her struggle in songs such as "Praying" and "Learn to Let Go."

"A persons wealth is not measured by what they have but by WHO they help with it. And Taylor Swift is a truly RICH PERSON. Thank you," Kesha's mom wrote on social media after they received Swift's donation—which was confirmed publicly via a brief statement from her rep, while Lady Gaga, Demi LovatoAriana Grande and other female artists were more audibly lending their support. "Most important for Kesha, is that these beautiful, powerful women are standing behind her, letting the world see how powerful the truth is!"

After a jury decided in Swift's favor on Monday, granting her $1 request and handing her a moral victory, Kesha tweeted, "@taylorswift13 i support you always, and especially right now and admire your strength and fearlessness. Truth is always the answer."

In her own statement, Swift thanked the court, judge, jury, her attorneys "for fighting for me and anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault, and especially anyone who offered their support throughout this four-year ordeal and two-year long trial process."

She concluded, "I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this. My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard. Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves."

Last night the Joyful Heart Foundation, which aids victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, confirmed to E! News that Swift had made a "generous" donation.

Taylor Swift

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for iHeartRadio / Turner

Despite all the people on Twitter calling for each other to shut up, staying relatively quiet about one's own point of view and the plights of others isn't always a popular choice in a media landscape supersaturated with competing voices, where some voices carry more weight than others. It's not unreasonable for people to want to hear more from one of the most famous, conceivably influential women in the world (so long as she agrees with them, because if she didn't...shut up, right?). But it's not any more reasonable to accuse Taylor Swift of fairweather feminism—especially considering the weather is almost never particularly fair, and support manifests itself in varying ways.

"Honestly, I didn't have an accurate definition of feminism when I was younger," Swift told Maxim in 2015, when the modern-day use of "squad" was coined practically in her honor and then subsequently was overused into oblivion. "I didn't quite see all the ways that feminism is vital to growing up in the world we live in. I think that when I used to say, 'Oh, feminism's not really on my radar,' it was because when I was just seen as a kid, I wasn't as threatening. I didn't see myself being held back until I was a woman.

"Or the double standards in headlines, the double standards in the way stories are told, the double standards in the way things are perceived," she continued. "A man writing about his feelings from a vulnerable place is brave; a woman writing about her feelings from a vulnerable place is oversharing or whining. Misogyny is ingrained in people from the time they are born. So to me, feminism is probably the most important movement that you could embrace, because it's just basically another word for equality."

She would soon find out that even saying all the right things doesn't matter. Her songs have been decried as not feminist enough, her Instagram-envy-inducing lifestyle isn't authentic enough, she doesn't get into the trenches with her fellow women enough.


People can criticize her for not making her donations more private or her verbal support more public. They can decide that her image is just way too orchestrated. But neither changes the fact that she has poured money into causes, or that she has thrilled her young fans by visiting them in the hospital or popping up unannounced at their houses to deliver Christmas presents, or posing for endless photos backstage. And what's wrong with her wanting to make a point with that symbolic dollar, which simultaneously won her case and didn't lead to more legal fees and lost time while the other side appealed some sort of massive judgment that he probably couldn't pay in the first place? What better point was there to make than to say that ideally people should feel safe in speaking up when they've been violated—and the perpetrators shouldn't get away with it.

Other than to shore up her defenses by becoming even more protective of her privacy than she was when she was a 16-year-old starting out in Nashville, or a 23-year-old getting groped at a meet-and-greet, or a 26-year-old finding out a certain phone call had been recorded when it was posted on Snapchat, Taylor Swift's approach to her fellow women hasn't changed in recent years—for better or worse, depending on who you ask.

The way in which the world ruthlessly doles out judgment has changed, though, and that's all the more reason for someone to want to keep her opinions to herself.

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