Taylor Swift Is The 21st Century's Most Disorienting Pop Star Many people have surmised the mega-star learned her knack for extensive personalization from her country roots. But there's another genre that is perhaps equally responsible for her sound: hip-hop.
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Taylor Swift Is The 21st Century's Most Disorienting Pop Star

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Taylor Swift Is The 21st Century's Most Disorienting Pop Star

Taylor Swift Is The 21st Century's Most Disorienting Pop Star

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Taylor Swift's songs are full of enemies - ex boyfriends, critics, an unnamed nemesis widely believed to be Katy Perry. And then there's her biggest rival of all, the man who infamously stole her moment at the MTV Music Video Awards in 2009...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KANYE WEST: Yo, Taylor.

KELLY: ...Kanye West.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KANYE WEST: I'm really happy for you. I'm going to let you finish. But Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.

KELLY: NPR's Leah Donnella took a closer look at how these rivalries fuel Taylor Swift's persona for NPR's Turning The Tables project which explores how women and nonbinary artists are shaping the music of our moment. Donnella argues that to understand Taylor Swift, you have to understand the feud.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) I've got a list of names, and yours is in red, underlined. I check it once. Then I check it twice, oh.

LEAH DONNELLA, BYLINE: So you hear this idea of the feud coming up in Taylor Swift's music all the time. She's always sort of positioning herself as someone who has been the victim of someone else's scheming.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) I don't trust nobody, and nobody trusts me. I'll be the actress starring in your bad dreams.

DONNELLA: She also has these really specific digs at people that she's been tied to. So she says, I don't like your tilted stage, which is a reference to a stage that Kanye West performed on when he was on tour.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) I don't like your little games, don't like your tilted stage, the role you made me play of the fool. No, I don't like you.

DONNELLA: And this kind of feud is actually a lot like a hip-hop feud. There are famous rivalries between 2Pac and Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas. And you can actually play her songs right up next to some famous hip-hop songs and see how closely the lyrics match each other. So you can listen to "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift, and she says, did you think we'd be fine?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD BLOOD")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) Still got scars on my back from your knife. So don't think it's in the past. These kind of wounds - they last, and they last. Now...

DONNELLA: You put that next to 2Pac. In his song "Hit 'Em Up," he says...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIT 'EM UP")

2PAC: (Rapping) Now it's all about Versace. You copied my style. Five shots...

DONNELLA: You copied my style. I took it and smiled. Now I'm back to set the record straight.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIT 'EM UP")

2PAC: (Rapping) I'm still the thug that you love to hate.

DONNELLA: In Taylor's song "This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) It was so nice being friends again. There I was giving you a second chance. But you stabbed me in the back while shaking my hand.

DONNELLA: And then you listen to the song "Ether" by Nas. He says...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ETHER")

NAS: (Rapping) Talk about me. Laugh behind my back. But in my face, y'all some well-wishing, friendly acting, envy-hiding snakes.

DONNELLA: So Taylor Swift is using this trope of the feud which is used all the time in hip-hop. But it's really interesting when she uses it because hip-hop is a black art form. It's coming from black people, who are perpetual underdogs in the U.S., whereas Swift is white and wealthy. And her music is coming from a very different place.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEAN")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) You, with your words like knives and swords and weapons that you use against me...

DONNELLA: There may have been a time when Taylor Swift could have been described as an underdog maybe. But that quickly changed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEAN")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) Someday I'll be big enough so you can't hit me, and all you're ever going to be is mean. Why you got to be so mean?

DONNELLA: Now there is no universe in which Taylor Swift could be considered an underdog. She is one of the most highly paid musicians in the entire music industry. She's also one of the most famous. Her tours sell out immediately. And so every time she continues to position herself as someone who doesn't have power, it's really just an act.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) I stay out too late, got nothing in my brain. That's what people say. That's what people say.

DONNELLA: Of course there are moments when she is going up against a sort of rival or enemy who can kind of match her. And I think that's when she's taking on sort of ideas or movements or the status quo. So, for example, she recently dealt with a sexual assault case and has talked about fighting for women's rights, fighting for survivors of sexual assault to be believed. And this is her using her power against something that is hugely powerful and has the power of history on its side.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) 'Cause the players going to play, play, play, play, play. And the haters going to hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

DONNELLA: Taylor Swift is going to be a really interesting person to continue to watch - who she chooses as a rival at any given time, what that will mean about her, about her music and how we feel about her as an audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) I shake it off. I shake it off.

KELLY: That was Leah Donnella of NPR's Code Switch team. She was talking about Taylor Swift for our Turning The Tables series.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) I shake it off. I shake it off. I shake it off. I shake it off. Hey, hey, hey.

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