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Flavorwire Interview: Talking Taylor Swift With Tavi Gevinson

I didn’t listen to Taylor Swift after Michael Robbins gave her album Red a great review at Spin, and I didn’t bother to listen after Rick Moody bashed her, prompting people to bash Moody, prompting Moody to defend himself. I kept my pop music blinders on, and just went ahead ignoring the existence of Taylor Swift partially because I think that deep down I knew that I would probably like her music.

Then I read Tavi Gevinson’s article in the most recent of The Believer, and told myself that it was time to give Taylor Swift a chance, because if I’m going to trust anybody’s taste on a pop star, it’s going to be the 17-year-old founder of Rookie Mag.

Flavorwire: You write that the “general public,” bigger magazines, etc. make Taylor Swift’s “greatest strength seem like her greatest weakness,” which I think is really interesting, because she has so many individual fans from so many different walks of life. Everyone from Neil Young to Kathleen Hanna to Grimes talks about how much they like her. Why do you think people get so into Swift’s music?

Tavi Gevinson: She has an incredible ability to capture universal feelings — like, so incredible that you’re convinced you relate even if you don’t. Beyond the songwriting, she has a lot of control over her brand (her New Yorker profile offers a look at this) and you can tell she takes what she does really seriously. There’s a lot of junk she could get away with rationing out to other people to do for her, but she does it anyway, and it’s nice to feel like someone is making their music for you. Her level of involvement doesn’t seem like some dirty commercial trick — it seems sincere.

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There are also Swift’s naysayers. There’s this good article that was pegged to your Believer article that talks about how there are people that don’t like Swift because of ” the inherent uncoolness of the teenage girl.” So, to consider the other side, why do you think some people dislike Swift so much?

Some of it is just the standard, inevitable, famous pop star part: she has an enviable life. But I think more of it comes from people who really hate that it could be more complicated than that, that they can’t just dismiss it as stupid teenybopper music because critics take her seriously and she’s proven herself to be so much more than a passing fad. That’s when they try to invalidate the parts of her which are impressive or even somewhat subversive — her songs and feelings are based on lies because she’s a crazy manipulative serial dater! The unique amount of control she has over her brand is exploitative of her loyal fans!

I think it’s good to talk about pop music and its influence and to hold to a standard the message artists choose to send. I will never tell people to just stop reading into something and enjoy it. But I think many of those naysayers are looking for ways to avoid reading into her music at all because they just can’t comprehend that someone who basically created the market of teen girl country music is also someone people talk about beyond dopey YouTube comments.

I didn’t see the article you’re talking about but I’d agree that, in spite of her audience expanding now way beyond teen girls, people don’t take her seriously because of that connotation. And I agree with what Lena Dunham said about how people think it proves what an intellectual they are to not want to talk about her music, but it really just proves that they should be hanging out with the mansplaining dudes I put up with in middle school who thought they’d discovered Kurt Cobain.

I’ve seen articles that use Swift as the focal point for discussions on everything from classism to gender: can you think of another current pop star that stirs up so much debate and discussion?

Kanye? That’s probably just because Yeezus just came out. Also the baby. There’s been a lot of discussion about Beyonce’s feminism since her Ms. cover. But I really can’t say, I basically just stick to what I know I’ll like when I go online so I don’t know what most people are going on about.

As a fan, how would you like to see Swift’s career progress?

I’ve come across some interviews where she’s just like, “I’ll know when to step out of the spotlight, I just wanna be old and happy and living in a garden.” I hope we get to hear more from her for a very long time, but I want all my favorite artists to be healthy and happy, so if this stops being a life she wants, I’ll just add her to my list of Inspirational Hermits. All of her albums show growth rooted in a set of constant principles and I’m sure she’ll continue along those lines.

What else have you been listening to as of late, other than Taylor Swift?

Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me, ESG’s A South Bronx Story. It’s my last summer as a high schooler, so Big Star’s #1 Record and Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Is Rookie Yearbook Two ready to go? Are you getting ready for that to come out? Anything else going on with you these days?

We JUST finished it! I’m so happy with it and can’t wait for our readers to see it. That doesn’t come out till October 1st so I have a few months to cool off, but I am speaking at the Sydney Opera House next month, so right now I’m mapping all that out despite my every urge to just get up there, fart a bunch, and drop the mic.

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