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Taylor Swift: the feminist significance of that ACM awards performance

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Lauren Geall
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Taylor Swift at the ACM awards

With her return to the American Country Music awards stage after seven years, Taylor Swift has rejected the idea that reinvention is the only way for female artists to be successful.

Taylor Swift’s career has undergone a lot of changes since she released her first album at the age of 16.

From the acoustic, country style of her first albums to the various pop and rock-inspired hits of Red and 1989, her style is one that has constantly evolved throughout her 15+ years in the spotlight.

But with her new album, folklore, Swift has – in some ways – returned to her country roots. Although the album is officially listed as “alternative,” there are moments on the album when, as someone who has been a fan of Taylor Swift since her country days, it feels as if I could be listening to something off of Speak Now or Fearless.

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One song in particular which sounds like ‘classic’ Taylor Swift is ’betty’, which chronicles the teenage love story of a 17-year-old boy who is falling in love with a girl at his school. 

But the song – which Swift took to the stage to perform at the American Country Music awards last night – isn’t just a great sing-a-long moment on the album. 

Because besides the fact that Swift’s ability to perform without back-up dancers, music or fancy sets is a sign of her incredible talent, her return to country music – and her decision to perform alone on a stool with an acoustic guitar – is also a rejection of the music industry’s need for female artists to constantly reinvent themselves. And it’s a seriously powerful move.

Speaking about the music industry’s sexist attitudes towards female artists during her Netflix documentary Miss Americana, Swift explained how she has felt the need to reinvent herself and change her approach throughout her career.

“Everyone’s a shiny new toy for two years,” she says, over a montage of her ever-changing onstage aesthetic.

“The female artists that I know of have reinvented themselves 20 times more than the male artists. They have to, or else you’re out of a job.”

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With this in mind, Swift’s return to the ACM stage – her last performance at the awards show was in 2013 – and her decision to go back to her country roots (both in terms of her songwriting style and onstage presence), is symbolic of her rejection of the pressure the music industry puts on female artists.

By achieving success with an aesthetic she seemingly laid to bed so many years ago, Swift is rejecting the idea that female artists need to reinvent themselves to be successful. And if the reaction to her performance on social media is anything to go by, I’d say she’s done a pretty good job at proving that point. 

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Lauren Geall

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