I do not like Taylor Swift!
Let me just get that out in the open ahead of time. My many reasons stem from her poor choice in lyrics and the way she so eagerly represents herself as a scorned little American princess of pop. But I digress…
This is a video review of a music video featuring many dance forms that I felt I had to write about, especially since I don’t want to write something about the Free People debacle…
In these past few months, social networks have seen a dance uprising which comes and goes every now and then. It happened with Center Stage and Save the Last Dance in the early 2000s, then disappeared back into silence but emerged again with Black Swan in 2010. And this can be seen back further and further and further, waves of the greater dance ocean that the general public becomes a part of. Every generation has seen a sudden burst of attention on dance through the use of film and the media. It is also a very clever and affective source for dance to get more attention, whether it is negative or positive.
And with this video, I believe Swift and her team meant to ride on the coattails of the Free People video which hit the virtual world earlier this summer. (I’m not even going to recognize it by posting the link or video on here; it is horrendous.) That video was part of a viral campaign to spread Free People’s new dancewear to the worlds of Facebook and Youtube; it worked, in a very offensive and negative way though. And Dancewear seems to be the deeper inspiration for these current viral campaigns- see Misty Copeland’s Under Armour video. Obviously because a large number of dancers flock to trends, arriving to class covered-up in near couture clothing and always seeking the latest line of leotards or yoga pants. Clothing is important for some dancers, sometimes venturing into that bad area of obsession, and I acknowledge the power it has over us dancers just as much as it does over the general public.
But with Swift’s video, it isn’t just about what she is wearing during the various dance sections. Swift does her own dance with spunk. She invoked a lot of Audrey Hepburn “Beatnik Funny Face” feelings for me, which I will insert here because I absolutely adore that film and the dance section Hepburn performed! The clothing, the hair, the attitude, the movements. Those things are in this 21st century video, and I am pleased to say it works in this case. Taylor Swift’s dangling high kicks and flicking hands around 3:10 of the video are so similar to Hepburn’s in Funny Face around 2:25 of the video below. Was she really inspired by Hepburn in Funny Face? I don’t know, but it’s a nice, positive inspiration to draw from.
Swift’s carefree, delightful, and bubbly self is a translation of Hepburn’s equally carefree, delightful, bubbly dancing self . And even though there was so much more to the great and wonderful Audrey Hepburn- she was a soul with very real depth, troubles, and fears, not to mention a highly trained dancer and actress, which Swift lacks- she was still a beauty when she danced because she danced for herself and we, the viewers, can quickly bond with that. I felt that with Swift in this video, despite the agonizingly unoriginal lyrics and vocals.
Another thing which worked for Swift in this video was her use of popular Westernized dance forms. Ballet, hip-hop, modern, contemporary, cheer-leading, rhythmic gymnastics, even twerking. Today’s public is quite familiar with these dance forms. These dance forms have all had their surge of popularity in the public eye. Had Swift been making a fool of herself in front of trained Salsa or Odissi dancers, lesser known dance forms of great tradition and history, the video would have been highly offensive and failed almost as badly as the Free People video.
That’s not to say that she isn’t offending some dancers who were “represented” in this video. I’m sure a number of my personal friends will find the modern section slightly annoying, childish, and ignorant. And yes, there has already been a racial backlash against her video. It is not all together positive for racial equality in dance, but then again, dance has never been racially equal- one Taylor Swift music video isn’t going to bring everyone to peace and respect nor will it tear down all the work that dance has done to bridge racial gaps. But what I am saying is, as far as target market Swift wins again, and as a campaign for the quirky, cute persona of Taylor Swift, “Shake It Off” is a music video that positively expressed her “true dancing self” (or at least the image of one that Swift wants us to believe).
It’s not a perfected result of using dance for the social media of today, but it’s at least better than what we had to deal with earlier this summer. Dance on, Taylor Swift!
ADDITION: I want to stress that I looked at this music video from a dance perspective. Excluding all world dance forms for Western dance forms isn’t such a bad thing in her case. She’s talking to Western teen girls who are familiar with these very specific and popular dance forms. Getting HER viewers excited about dance that they have direct access to isn’t such a bad idea for those dance forms. Nothing in the media will ever be represented perfectly, not even Audrey Hepburn’s Funny Face dance which must have ruffled the feathers of a few Beatnik followers.
Still she’s unoriginal and always has been; I don’t expect her to showcase Bolero or Kabuki. And although she isn’t the entirely perfect image of what us dancers want to see, she does some things right. At least better than the Free People video.
Still no excuse for her being a horrible role-model for young girls and falling “victim” to the dozens of predetermined gender roles the media forces onto women. But that’s the image her PR team and her want to represent…
For a different voice check out this article:
“She uses them to contrast her “endearing” lack of talents. They’re displaying years of hard work to perfect a craft. She’s just being Taylor.”
“Where do you think Taylor’s naïve shrugs and perplexed mugs at the camera, dressed up in cute and convenient costumes as her prop-dancers break, fall on that spectrum?”