I found the moment Taylor Swift became a PR evil genius

I realize this is not usually what people read my blog for. No one super cares about Taylor Swift right now, nor did they ask for my thoughts about an episode of Saturday Night Live from nine years ago. But as a devoted, unabashed fan of both, this is something I think about a lot and tonight happens to be the anniversary. So, here we are.

I take Saturday Night Live very seriously. It’s been probably a decade since I missed an episode. The cast and characters have established places in my personal relationships and inside jokes, and occasionally, when I am at my lowest, I revisit skits and moments that will make me laugh. I will defend the show with my life while my critic friends slam it, and I am still selfishly hoping that Bobby Moynihan’s new series gets cancelled so he can come back and be the Secondhand News guy forever.

Re: Taylor Swift. I bought tickets to not one but two of her Reputation tour shows (both of which I had to miss for personal reasons). I still listen to her OG country albums despite how poorly they have aged along with my feminism, and I think she is a PR evil genius. She is very much by Problematic Fave / Milkshake Duck. This I know for sure. 

Okay so anyway, the performance:

The eve of Taylor Swift’s Monologue Song was her first time hosting, but her second time appearing on the show after her January 2009 performance as the musical guest. Usually, SNL hosts come on to promote a recent show, movie, or album release, but as far as I know this wasn’t the case for Taylor because Fearless had been released a year earlier and Speak Now wouldn’t come out until October 2010. The now-infamous MTV video awards where Kanye West stormed the stage to avenge Beyoncé’s loss for Best Female Video, on the other hand, had taken place about 7 weeks prior on Sept 13, 2009. So maybe they asked her to host just because she was very much In The News. 

Anyway, SNL does its whole, “Ladies and Gentleman: Taylor Swift!” intro, and Taylor struts out — and I use the word struts intentionally here — wearing her trademark sequined gown and perfectly-curled blonde hair. This is old school Taylor, y’all. She immediately cracks a joke about her age, says that she’s having all kinds of nervousness and excitement about hosting, and pulls out her trusty guitar. (One thing I didn’t realize until recently is that the frets have her name embroidered in gold lettering). What follows is something she calls “Monologue Song (La La La)” — both an Easter egg for those familiar with Taylor’s 2006 hit “Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)” and a catchy, perfectly-crafted, wink-wink kickoff for what no one realizes is going to be a 10-year  PR game that she has already mastered.

She starts off with several innocuous jokes about her favorite things — glitter, sparkly dresses, stuff that smells like winter — then she pivots toward what the song really is: a campaign to make herself the likeable, honest victim.

She croons about the men in her life who have cheated on her and acknowledges writing their names into songs so they’re afraid to go in public. She dedicates several lines to addressing Joe Jonas who she claims broke up with her over the phone. She blows a kiss to her then-beau Taylor Lautner of Twilight fame. She intentionally overacts as well as sings — weaving and sighing and batting her eyes in an “I’m so mysterious” motion that makes the audience laugh. And then she wraps it up with, “You might be expecting me to say something bad about Kanye, and how he ran up on the stage and ruined my VMA monologue. But there’s nothing more to say, ‘cause everything’s ok. I’ve got security lining the staaaage!” It’s almost catchy enough to believe that she is being the bigger person.

Except, of course, she’s not. This extremely catchy, funny, captivating little song was written deliberately to make Taylor look innocent above all else. She’s just a girl who likes baking in a sea of scary, mean adults. She’s publicly addressing being dumped because it’s only fair after Joe hurt her first. She’s retaliating against the world being oh-so-unfair to her. She is setting the stage for a decade of this behavior, and it totally, one-hundred percent worked.

These days, Taylor Swift swings wildly between supervillain and saint — something Constance Grady captures really well in her 2017 essay. She’s recently dipped her toes into the previously off-limits territory of politics (which Reihan Salam calls an act of “competitive wokeness”), and is experimenting with embracing the snake — a version of her reputation that I am extremely here for.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted you all to know. I love SNL, I love Taylor, and I am still regularly struck by how long she has been playing this game and how I got to watch it happen on SNL.



Published by Julie Bogen

CT --> NYC --> Washington, DC. Audience Engagement at The Atlantic, formerly at Vox.com & R29.

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