Respect Yourself: A Day in the Life of the Search Keyword “Taylor Swift”

January 24, 2011

Every other Monday, Duncan Cooper produces a video tribute to pop culture, his last ditch attempt to understand and bring dignity to the thousand hours he spends online. This week he celebrates a day in the life of the search keyword “Taylor Swift.”

Last Friday, the actual, physical Taylor Swift was on a boat, and as much as I wish this column was about that, you had to win tickets to board the Allure of Taylor Swift Royal Caribbean Cruise, and I didn’t. But I was on the internet.

On January 21st, there were 1,560 videos uploaded to YouTube tagged in her name, 35 of which are featured in the video above. Her video for “Back to December” was the most watched clip on YouTube this week, amassing 5.5 million views. The song is another elegy in her career-spanning breakup canon, allegedly referring to her four-month relationship with Twilight wolfboy Taylor Lautner, which ended in December 2009. In the video, Taylor Swift wanders her house in loose-fitting nude-colored knits, an oversized sweater that precludes pants. It's dark, but warmly lit and snowing inside. She's in there, crying in the bathtub and flopping on the bed, while outside a big-haired guy in fingerless gloves blows winter-steam on the bleachers and sits alone in his truck. Everybody looks distraught/hot. AOL’s The Boot blog “dissected” the video by reblogging this week-old gem from AOL’s Popeater blog: “When Swift goes downstairs in the video, there's a bicycle leaning against her wall. In the Twilight series, Jacob Black's preferred mode of transportation is a motorbike.” It’s a ten-point list that links “December”'s leather jackets, home team paint jobs, and a textbook prop (Mastering Spanish references Swift’s line in the movie Valentine’s Day, where she says Lautner's character “used to shoot spit wads at me in Spanish class”) to Lautner.

Meanwhile, in Google News, there were 2,680 new “Taylor Swift” headlines. The most reported items were speculative Swillenhaal relationship stories: a dinner in Nashville prompted hundreds of "Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal back together?" posts. They sort-of dated for two months last year, cuddle-sneaking right under my nose to Union Market and Gorilla Coffee in Park Slope, and Friday seems like the first time they’ve seen each other in a month. People Magazine broke the news ("They were cordial to one another, but not affectionate"), which bounced around CNN, USA Today, Times of India, The Daily Mail, and Stuff New Zealand. But the crucial link was posted on CMT, whose "OFFSTAGE: Taylor Swift Will Have to Write a Long Song About Jake Gyllenhaal" post, like AOL’s Boot-Popeater, bridges her personal life to her professional.

It’s a blurring essential to her identity, bolstered by her favorite admission that, like god-knows-how-many songwriters, her music reflects her real experiences. In the person of Taylor Swift, fans can find a functional female pop star, unfettered by image contradictions like head-shaving and possible hermaphroditism. The Anthropologie clothes she wears and the monogamous, high-cheekboned relationships she enjoys perfectly signify the conventions of upper-middle class aspiration. It’s quaint, almost: we know who she’s dating because she actually goes on dates. But as much as her lifestyle projects “charmingly attainable,” what resonates strongest is the reoccurring intersection between Taylor Swift and other idols of mass media. By appropriating her relationships with similarly well-defined teen-poster personas like Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner and Jake Gyllenhaal in song, she has commercialized her life to an impossibly accessible degree. The most intimate connection a fan can make to Taylor Swift is to supplement her music by consuming the professional and extra-professional output of her love interests, their excitement magnified by the vast pre-Taylor popularity of her suitors. When prop iconography in "Back to December" points to Lautner through his Twilight idol, it doubles the blurring of her personal life and her professional life with the blurring of his personal life and his professional life. They’re perfect icons. The Twilight bookcover apple appears on Swift's dining room table in “Back to December,” visually uniting music, film and text, a single image fusing art, commerce, and personal relationships. "Taylor Swift" lives in that intersection. It’s where those videos come from, those 2,680 stories, those 1,560 Friday contributions to her YouTube name: an endless feedback loop of facts about Taylor Swift.

From The Collection:

Respect Yourself
Respect Yourself: A Day in the Life of the Search Keyword “Taylor Swift”