I’m a Black Woman and a Swiftie—And That’s OK

written by LACEY BROWN
Source: Lacey Brown
Source: Lacey Brown

In 2023, you heard the name Taylor Swift wherever you went—on the radio, in stores, at the gas station, in a coffee shop—she was inescapable. Her sold-out tour started in March 2023 and her already massive star power has been rising ever since. However, with her ascent also came misguided comparisons to Beyoncé, jet-tracking lawsuits, and a general resurgence of the kind of hatred Swift received back in 2016 when she ultimately decided to disappear from the public eye as much as possible. We can’t go anywhere without someone bringing up the pop star, whether in a positive or negative light. You’ll never hear me say that any billionaire (or anyone close to it) is above criticism but what has slowly crept into the conversation are the moral comparisons people make against those who like Swift’s music.

I’ve been a Swiftie since middle school. I remember very clearly where I was when I heard her debut album, Taylor Swift. I can pinpoint the swirling emotions I had. I didn’t know how to express them, but it felt like someone had peered into my heart and turned my feelings into a series of top 40 hits. The songs on her debut album are hopeful and sad and the epitome of what I thought girlhood was when I was young. They were everything to me as someone who wanted to love love.

I took guitar lessons and demanded that I only be taught Taylor Swift songs. “Speak Now,” to this day, is the only song I can play by memory. I felt heard by the lyrics, especially when I was caught up in teenage delusion. I was listening to Swift tell me, ‘Don’t forget to look before you fall’ in “Fearless” while I floated around my crush at school. I would scream-sing the last lines of “The Other Side of the Door” about being a broken-down mess alone in the car when I finally got my license. Swift created a world I got lost in several times over. I daydreamed about a hundred different versions of myself while listening to Swift’s songs.

In the real world, however, I heard comments like: “That’s so white of you” or “I don’t know how YOU could like her.” On the heels of that VMAs moment, when Kanye West stole the microphone from Taylor Swift and loudly proclaimed Beyoncé deserved the win, I was genuinely mad that he did that to her (a fact my sister won’t let me live down to this day). After that, being a Black Swiftie was a non-starter. The idea that liking Taylor Swift somehow made me less Black became so deeply ingrained that I felt like I had to reevaluate my relationship with her music, and ultimately change something about myself. I didn’t want to give up Swift’s music, but I also didn’t want to be seen as less Black because of it. So what was I to do?

The songs on her debut album are hopeful and sad and the epitome of what I thought girlhood was when I was young. They were everything to me as someone who wanted to love love.

After high school, I started keeping my love for Taylor Swift to myself. I didn’t want to ostracize myself from my community more than I already had in my primarily white town with my primarily white friends. I felt isolated in so many ways. I couldn’t allow what seemed harmless at the time to become worse. But then 1989 came out when I was a freshman in college and was slowly becoming more comfortable with my identity. I could now run around listening to Taylor Swift sing about her long list of ex-lovers in “Blank Space” alone in my car or in my dorm with new friends who shared my interests. The new environment and a completely new pop sound from my favorite artist felt fitting to that time of transitioning from kid to adult because it seemed like we were growing up together.

But then came a time when I fully leaned into seeing Swift as someone who could do no right. And in some ways, I wasn’t wrong. I couldn’t stand Reputation when it came out in 2017; I wouldn’t even listen to it until years later. At the time, I felt as though Taylor wasn’t the victim she claimed to be. Especially when really serious issues within the fan base were corrupting my opinion of her. In the Miss Americana documentary, Swift herself said she regretted not speaking out during the 2016 election when people of color and the LGBTQ+ community were terrified of how the outcome would deeply affect their lives. I still stand by that she could have done or said so many things differently to protect her fans and solidify herself as someone who always stands for the right thing. During this time, I appreciated her music a little less. And it came with the added bonus that people no longer called me out for being a Black woman who liked Taylor Swift.

Adult me, however, is a different story. What I refuse to do now is allow anyone to tell me who or what I am based on my love of her music. folklore and evermore got me through the pandemic—listening to her surprise drops gave me something to look forward to. Artists walking into the woods to find themselves doesn’t always result in my favorite music, but this duo made me appreciate Swift’s evolution into new genres. I felt particularly seen in “mirrorball,” a song where Swift explores what it’s like being just a shiny reflection for others to look at themselves in. The song helped me work through who my actual friends were versus those who I just entertained. Even two years after the fact, listening to “Mad Woman” with lyrics like, ‘there’s nothin’ like a mad woman, what a shame she went mad. You made her like that’ as Roe v Wade was overturned feels emotionally specific and almost too relatable to be real.

In my opinion, folklore deserved Album of the Year in 2020. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Grammys and the music industry are built to prop white artists like Swift up and dampen the contributions of Black artists like Beyoncé. Both of these things can be true: I can love and appreciate Swift’s music and believe she deserves many of the accolades she receives while also believing the systems need to change to make sure other artists get their flowers, too. This doesn’t make me any less of a Swiftie or any less of a Black woman. Younger me might have felt less confident in these two identities, but adult me is proud and open about both.

I understand that some people don’t like Taylor Swift and never will. But that will never change how I see myself.

However, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Swift, like any other artist, is not above critique. But I’m allowed to keep and support the part of me that identifies with her art closely. I’ve connected with her music at various stages of my life, and after a lot of therapy, I will protect that part of my identity fiercely.

I don’t expect artists selling out stadiums to be my champions any longer because they’ll always get it wrong somewhere down the line. Instead, I look to artists for escape and to tell their truth through their medium (hopefully in an entertaining way). I think setting the expectation that artists be perfect and loudly vocal can cause more division than progress.

I understand that some people don’t like Taylor Swift and never will. But that will never change how I see myself. We don’t have to like or support every top 40 artist making music. My choice is to still protect my adult self as much as my younger self. And if anyone has a problem with the fact that I’m a Black Swiftie, that’s OK because, as Swift herself put it, my ‘nemeses will defeat themselves before I get a chance to swing.’