Is there an easier target for mockery right now than Taylor Swift? The relatively recent New York transplant is frequently derided for, well, just about everything from her dating history to her off-the-charts level of basic-ness to the manner in which she accepts awards. But lately there’s a new angle from which to attack Swift: her New York City bona fides.
Swift has been living in New York in the manner of most young musicians who come here to the city: in a $20 million Tribeca apartment, from which she usually exits impeccably dressed and carrying a cat. As one does. Of course, Swift is not just any young musician, rather, she’s one who’s created a preternaturally successful career, defying genre limitations to become one of the most recognizable performers working today. Does that make it sound like I’m a fan of Swift? I’m not. Well, not of her music anyway. Am I a fan of hers? I guess so, insofar as I can’t help but be supportive of most successful women, especially those who identify as feminists, like cats, and do kind of crazy things like buy a $15 million mansion in Rhode Island to be near a guy they’ve dated for a couple weeks. What’s not to like? Or, at least, what’s to hate? There are, it should be obvious, far more important things to expend energy on than paying attention to, let alone hating, Taylor Swift.
And yet. Lately—especially if you live in New York and spend a good deal of your time resisting certain depictions of this city as being nothing more than a theme park or a place filled solely with subways and bodega cats—it’s been really hard to ignore Swift. Why? Well, because she’s been singing about it. In the arguably infectiously catchy single “Welcome to New York” off her album 1989 (I’d argue against its catchiness, but maybe that’s because I can’t even get through one listen because I start laughing too hard), Swift claims an ownership and knowledge of this city that is puzzling at best—and flat-out absurd at worst—to those of us who have, you know, actually lived here for more than a minute. The song, and Swift, have been raked over the Internet coals from pretty much the minute it was released, with most detractors dismissing it as nothing more than an anthem to gentrification, and some wondering why Swift doesn’t do things like address the city’s problem with income inequality in the song, which, well. Any complaint about a pop song’s failure to capture a city’s economic strife is sort of missing the point of most pop songs, and of the not insignificant fact that not every piece of art needs to encompass the totality of human experience. Anyway.
If it were just this one song of Swift’s that was out there, it would probably be pretty easy to just dismiss her musical, uh, gift to New York and move on with our lives. But today brought the news that Swift is the new global ambassador for NYC Go, the official tourism company of New York City. Now, what does it even mean to be global ambassador to NYC? Beyond making a less-than-a-minute long video in which Swift proclaims her devotion to the fashion and art in New York, we don’t really know. But also, unlike many of the people declaring that this is definitely the sign of New York being over, we realized that we don’t really care about Swift’s new role and what it means for New York. Like, we don’t care even a little bit.
Sure, Swift’s reasons for loving New York are as inarguably basic as it gets (which is not to say that Swift herself is basic, because if being “basic” includes being a self-made millionaire by the age of 25, how is that an insult?), but the reasons people have for coming to New York—especially as tourists—have always been basic. The very nature of the desire to come to New York is broad and formless and usually has to do with things like the lights being bright and the air feeling electric. But you know what? There isn’t really anything wrong with that. It’s ok to want to come here for vaguely defined reasons that don’t bear much relevance once you’re actually trying to, you know, live here. In a sense, Taylor Swift and her love for basic New York (i.e. maple lattes from Gorilla instead of pumpkin spice from Starbucks) are the ultimate ambassadors for a brand—that of New York City—which has long trafficked in clichés in order to get people to come and visit and spend money. Now, personally, do I find this whole focus on consumerism and tourism money offensive, not least because there are so many parts of New York that can’t be enjoyed by the people who have long lived here? Fuck, yes. But you can’t say Swift and New York’s tourism board are not an apt partnership, because it kind of couldn’t be more perfect.
After all, at this point, what aspect of living in New York—up to and including leaving New York—isn’t basic? Everyone wants to do it. Who really cares if Swift is grossly misrepresenting what it actually means to live here? This is a campaign for visitors. And if anything, it’s kind of a great thing that she’s forcing us all to admit what the fetishization of this city actually looks like: a bland, boring version of what is actually still a vital, exciting place full of contradictions and difficulties and, fuck, so many rats. Of course Taylor Swift doesn’t represent all of New York, but she does represent some aspects of it, and there’s no point in denying that New York has always, to a staggering degree, revolved around the promotion of consumerism, while denying the actual realities of the majority of its residents. So, in that sense, Taylor Swift is the perfect New York brand ambassador—she evokes that part of New York that has never had anything to do with most of our lives. So leave Swift to the tourists, eagerly anticipate her “Goodbye to All That” essay, and go back to living your old “only in New York” life. You know, the one full of bodegas and dollar pizza. Or, you know, not.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen