In Defense of Taylor Swift…

If you’ve read my blog before or know me personally, you know that one of my biggest passions is Africa. In fact, my interest in the continent shaped the trajectory of my adult life. I studied Africa and African languages at university, and following graduation, I went onto have a fulfilling career analyzing African politics. Earlier this year, I moved on to a different line of work, and I would be lying if I said a day had gone by when I didn’t miss my previous job. I often find myself daydreaming of my past travels to East Africa, wondering when—not if—I’ll make it there again.

If you are a reader of my blog, you probably also know that I am a HUGE Taylor Swift fan. I’ve seen her in concert on her last three tours. I blogged about taking my stepdaughters to see her Red Tour. My stepkids even wrote her letters asking her to sing at our wedding. (They were bummed when she didn’t respond, but we forgive you, Tay Tay.) Imagine my surprise when I learned that Taylor Swift’s latest music video for her song Wildest Dreams was set in Africa! Two of my favorite things in one place—fantastic!

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my initial reaction. I first learned of the video when a friend of mine posted this NPR article on Facebook. Admittedly, I sighed and thought, Oh no, Taylor. I hope this isn’t as atrocious as it sounds. I like you so much. How could you have offended something I hold so near and dear to my heart?

I watched the video, and I didn’t have a problem with it. I actually (dare I say?) enjoyed it. The video, shot in a very “Old Hollywood,” style, portrays two 1950s actors having a relationship while filming a movie in Africa. The video has been criticized for romanticizing colonial Africa and not representing a full picture of the continent. While I certainly want to be sensitive to the authors’ backgrounds and perspectives, I think they are taking away from the good intentions Swift had and making the video into something it’s not. Swift happens to be white, and she is portraying an actress in a love story with a white man on the set of a period film. Sure, it would have been nice to see some scenes with Africans, but considering the era in which it is set, they probably wouldn’t have been portrayed in the best light, if they wanted to be historically accurate.

In their NPR article, Rutabingwa and Arinaitwe criticize Swift for focusing on the waterfalls, mountains, and majestic animals rather than the technological and leadership renaissance currently taking place in Africa. Somehow I think a song whose lyrics are about a love story doesn’t really lend itself to a music video depicting the technology boom in Africa, but what do I know? Swift’s use of Africa’s beautiful landscape and wildlife for her background does not take away from all of the other wonderful, positive developments occurring in Africa today.

When topics like this start trending, I start to think that we as a society are so busy looking for ways to be offended that we fail to appreciate, or even recognize, the good when it happens. Swift’s video brings attention to the continent and may even attract more tourism—or it could have at least, before it was twisted into something ugly and racist. According to the World Bank, the number of tourists arriving in Sub-Saharan Africa has grown over 300 percent since 1990, and tourism remains one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the world economy. That tourism often includes safaris as well as various cultural events.

During a time when issues like Cecil the Lion are trending (whether you deem this an issue worth trending or not), a video that shows some of Africa’s beauty with proceeds going to African parks should be welcomed. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t other causes that you may feel are more important. This was Swift’s call, and she chose a cause in which she believes. She didn’t need to choose one at all.

I also realize that animals represent only SOME of the beauty on the continent. However, it’s the amazing, diverse, and loving people with whom I’ve connected that kept me going back to Africa. I hope that Swift was able to meet some of those amazing people while she was there filming.

Toward the end of their article, Rutabingwa and Arinaitwe say Swift “packages our continent as the backdrop for her romantic songs devoid of any African person or storyline, and she sets the video in a time when the people depicted by Swift and her co-stars killed, dehumanized and traumatized millions of Africans. That is beyond problematic.”

Yes, because every white person who went to Africa in the 1950s—especially movie stars that were shooting a film—killed, dehumanized, and traumatized millions of Africans. Way to generalize.

The purpose of Swift’s video was not to give a present day look at the most important issues on the continent nor was it to glamorize the brutal treatment of Africans during colonial rule. It is a period piece about a love story with a beautiful backdrop. Plain and simple.

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Dear Taylor Swift…

So here’s the thing:  I love Taylor Swift and her music.  If you have been reading my blog for a while, then you probably already knew that from this previous post.  The kids also just so happen to LOVE Taylor Swift.  They decided to write her letters asking her to come to our wedding.  The best thing about kids is that they come up with these larger than life ideas, and they believe ANYTHING is possible.  I promised the kids I would do my best to get the letters to T. Swift, and with that in mind, I figured what the heck?  Let’s post this.  Here are the kiddies’ sweet letters and pictures 🙂

#1’s letter (our 11-year-old daughter)

#1's letter to T.Swift
#1’s letter to T.Swift

Text:

Dear Taylor Swift,

My name is —–, age 11.  My whole entire family loves your music.  My dad and his future wife “Christina” are getting married, we are wondering if you could come and sing some songs!  My sister and I went to your concert not to long ago and you are my favorite singer of all time!  I have a sister and a brother.  We also have an adorable puppy named Frodo!  We have lots of cousins, one of them is —-, as you can see she loves your music more than anyone, and again if you could come we would love it!

Sincerely,

—-

#2’s letter (our 9-year-old son)

#2's letter to T.Swift
#2’s letter to T.Swift

Text:

Dear Taylor Swift,

My dad and Christina are getting married and if you could come and sing that would be great.  My sisters went to the concert not to long ago but I diddint go I have wanted to hear you sing for a long time so once again can you please come.

Sincerely,

The … Family

#3’s letter (our 7-year-old daughter)

#3's letter to T.Swift
#3’s letter to T.Swift

Text:

Dear, Taylor Swift

My dad and his fiancée are getting married.  And I was at your concert last year.  And can you come and sing at the wedding?

Sincerely,

….

And Taylor Swift they are in deep love.

T. Swiftly Changing My Perspective

Two years ago, I embraced my inner-tween and went to see Taylor Swift with two of my gal friends on the Washington, D.C. stop of T. Swift’s Speak Now Tour.  My friend P was nursing a broken heart at the time, and I was single but longing to meet my Mr. Right.  As I watched the tears stream down P’s face during T. Swift’s heart-wrenching rendition of “Back to December,” I remember thinking,

That’s it.  The next time I see Taylor Swift, I want to be in the arms of my soulmate.

Naturally, when T. Swift tickets went on sale last December for her Seattle stop on her Red Tour, I was more than a little excited.  It had been over a year since I went to the last Taylor Swift concert, and not only was I ready to see her in concert again, but I was lucky enough to have met “the one” during that timeframe.  Perfect!, I thought to myself as thoughts of RM and me smooching during “Love Story” swirled about in my head.

That fairytale came crashing down when RM decided to purchase not two tickets but three.  His reasoning?  “Well, I thought we could just sell the third ticket… or maybe, we could take #1?”  (#1 is what I’ll call RM’s oldest.)  Since we were relatively early on in our relationship, I didn’t quite feel comfortable enough to tell RM that I would actually prefer it just be the two of us.   (It’s been a challenge and delicate balance for me to learn when to speak up for my needs and when to put the kids/family time first.  A continuous learning process as a future stepmom!)

After nine months of many moments of RM’s youngest (#3), belting out many a Taylor Swift song, RM and I had a talk and thought that perhaps it made more sense for me to take both girls to the concert.  After all, #3 seemed even more excited than #1.

Wait a minute, I thought to myself.  This was supposed to be a romantic night of smooching my sweetie during the sweet melodies of T. Swift and screaming tweens.  I mean, I saw the logic—#3 was excited, and was it really a good idea to take #1 with RM and me when she seemed to be the one who was most competitive with me for RM’s attention?  Needless to say, despite the logic, I was having some difficulty reining in my Green Monster.

Then it came.  Saturday, 31 August 2013.  Concert day.  I sucked it up, told my Green Monster that she wasn’t invited—there were only three tickets afterall—and put on a happy face, ready to take the girls to their first concert.  My attitude quickly changed when we arrived at one of our favorite restaurants in Tacoma, called BJ’s, and looked around to see the restaurant filled with moms and their pint-sized daughters in cowboy boots.  There was no denying it—most of the patrons of BJ’s that night were headed to the same place we were.

When T. Swift took the stage, #1 looked at me with a big smile and gave me a thumbs up.  #3 stood on the seat next to me with her arm around me, singing “22” as loud as she could, and then spent most of the remainder of the night sleeping on my shoulder as I held her and swayed to the music.  The mom to the right of me, also holding her sleeping 7-year-old, nodded to me in the way that I can only imagine moms nod to each other.  I felt solidarity with her, as if I had gained admittance into the “mom club.”  Even though I’m not technically the girls’ mom, or even their stepmom yet, that night I sure felt like I was.  And it felt good.

Sometimes we have our heart set on something we think we want, and if we’re not willing to adapt and rein in that ugly Green Monster, we might miss out on something that is so much better.  I’ve gotten to listen to the girls’ gush over how much fun their first concert was over the past two days, and I imagine this is something that we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives.

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The very fancy souvenir bag we picked up off the ground.  We heart free stuff–even when it’s a bag!

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The view from our seats.  Not bad!  Even better when she took the smaller stage at the back of the floor.  We were only 22 rows up!

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The line at the merch table.  Hideous!  Can anyone say “online shopping?”  My thoughts exactly.