Taylor Swift’s music video conjures images of colonialism
Taylor Swift is the sweetheart of pop music — either you love her or you hate her. Famous for her make-ups and break-ups, where would young adolescent girls be without Taylor Swift? What music would we be listening to as we cry into a bucket of ice cream while curled up in bed, upset over a recent break up? How would we convey our emotions about our first dates, first day of high school or first day being 22? Truth is we probably would have found some good music, but certainly none that fits the bill like Swift’s tunes do. We’ve watched her grow from the innocent, curly-haired blonde girl singing, “Tear Drops on My Guitar” to the sophisticated young woman organizing her own sold-out world tour.
But growing up in the spotlight leads to controversy. We see Swift's love life, hear her music and see her music videos, but we don’t see the ideas or the inspiration behind her songs and videos. Swift’s latest music video, for the song “Wildest Dreams,” was set on the plains of an undisclosed African nation. I thought this was a bizarre setting for a music video about a song with such a romantic theme to it. Why an unnamed country in Africa of all places? Why not a beach, or at a park? It was the last place I imagined this music video to be, but nonetheless, the video has been viewed more than 10 million times since it debuted.
In the video, Swift is dressed as a woman during the colonial era. The actor playing her boyfriend, director and staff all appear to be white. The controversy about this video is that it presents colonial-era Africa as a glamorous travel site, which is far from the truth. The pressures Europe put on Africa as a continent during colonialism provoked political, diplomatic and military responses. European invasions led to losses of kingdoms and different parts of Africa being changed or lost forever. They established borders that best fit their needs. By doing this, they split up tribes and forced rival tribes to be a part of the same country.
I see two sides to this controversy. I can understand why people are upset and see the video as a flashback to a terrible time, but then again it is just a time period, it’s just a setting. Are people getting too wrapped up in the controversy to enjoy the artistic value of the video? Sometimes people jump on and support an issue or position just to argue. Then they over-think something that should just be enjoyed. “Wildest Dreams” director Joseph Kahn defended the video saying, “This is not a video about colonialism but a love story on the set of a period film crew in Africa in 1950. The video is based on classic Hollywood romances such as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as well as classic movies like African Queen, and Out of Africa.”
The video also sets a double standard. If the producers had included African-Americans or people from an African nation, then there would have been outrage about recreating history. Therefore, it’s a lose-lose situation because controversy comes with being an artist.
This is not the first time Swift brought controversy into her videos. When the music video for “Shake it Off” came out, people jumped on the race bandwagon because Swift appears with a crew of African-American back-up dancers who twerk and break-dance around her. In one scene, she crawls under an archway of black women’s asses as they twerk for the camera. If Eminem had a music video with black women twerking, he would be seen as “the man” because he’s getting all the women. However, since Swift is a skinny, tall blonde girl, she gets all the attention and accusations.
Maybe Swift's video for “Shake It Off” is just a young girl playing into the fact that she's a terrible dancer, maybe “Wildest Dreams” is a girl longing for a classic romance while envisioning the beauty ideals of women in the 1950s. I know when I saw the film "Rear Window" recently with Grace Kelly, I thought to myself, “Wow she's really a classic beauty.” Does that mean I agree with the ideals of women in general in that era? Cooking and cleaning and not being able to participate in life like the men? Not at all, I’m just observing the beauty. Could this be what Swift is envisioning in "Wildest Dreams?" The stance you choose is up to you. I may be biased as a fan, but I would like to think she made this music video paying homage to the period hair and make up at that time, back in the old, classic movies where classic romances existed.
Diana Essex is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies. Her column, “Essentially Essex,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.