Breakup Songs: Why is Adam Levine a Hero Where Taylor Swift is a Punchline?

Categories: Taylor Swift

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The cultural appraisal of Taylor Swift is simple. She is a country-laced pop-star who dates a lot of famous people, and sings a lot of songs about her exes. This isn't untrue -- she admitted it herself when I saw her play a few weeks ago. It's become the narrative. Taylor has taken thinly-veiled shots at John Mayer and Jake Gyllenhaal, there are dozens of coded subjects throughout her discography, there are even reports that "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" exists because she knew the ubiquity of a world-conquering single would serve as the ultimate public shaming. That she's judged by her relationships is partially her own doing. She's consorted publicly, serially, and hasn't been shy about documenting her personal life in a public forum.

See also: Taylor Swift, Grimes, and Lana Del Rey: The Year in Blond Ambition

From late-night monologues, to the kids on 4chan, her breakups have become her defining characteristic and easiest detraction. Plenty of songwriters have adapted angry heartbreak into their music, but the public seems to save a very special blast of vitriol for Swift. There are some obvious reasons; she's young, she can be contentiously dramatic, she puts herself in the center of her stories, and obviously she's dated a lot of famous people in a relatively short amount of time. But none of that is exceptionally rare -- pop-stars have lead vogue, ecumenical lifestyles for a long time. It makes you wonder if there's something more sinister involved. Taylor has certainly embraced traditional femininity in both lyrical content and public persona, and she's made a habit of staying away from anything overtly transgressive throughout her career. Obviously avoiding controversy shouldn't be grounds for marginalization, but unfortunately it's lead to a lot of people deeming her clueless and woefully un-self-aware. Why? Because it's really easy to dismiss a blonde girl trying to play by the rules.

See also: Taylor Swift - Prudential Center - 3/28/13

Consider a guy like Adam Levine. Both Adam and Taylor essentially target the same general public, and they've both happily embraced their celebrity. The entirety of the Maroon 5 catalog has centered on the same sense of frustrated, occasionally catty relationship dysfunction. Levine's first hit, "This Love" is thematically the exact same song as his latest "One More Night." He's complained about being misunderstood and dating the wrong people for the entirety of his career, but has never been saddled with cluelessness, even though he's dated more celebs than Swift. Nobody has ever asked Levine if perhaps he's the sole consistent factor in his personal issues. Culturally, Maroon 5's breakup songs may have made Levine an asshole, or petty, or an indignant womanizer, but they've never made him stupid or irrational, all broad, dismissive strokes used to paint Swift's public persona. His masculinity has kept him from those pitfalls.

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16 comments
FSM1990
FSM1990

I'm not entirely sure where you're going with this piece; it seems like it's all over the place. Frankly, I've never seen anyone look up to Adam Levine as a hero. Most people I know think he's a decent/meh musician or really sexy, or both. And nobody really cares about who he's dating (usually a supermodel, but most male musicians tend to date models, and people pretty much stopped caring about models after the 90s).

There are little girls out there who want to grow up to be Taylor Swift, and it scares me. Taylor still has a lot of growing up to do and she's 24 years old. (I'm also 24 years old, engaged, and I've got a great job and a good life.) People still refer to her as a "young girl" or "innocuous"...damn it, she's not a preteen; she's six years shy of THIRTY.

deadarts
deadarts

"Culturally, Maroon 5's breakup songs may have made Levine an asshole, or petty, or an indignant womanizer..."

Those are all pretty specific and dismissive terms to describe someone that "we" don't know "culturally."

"...but they've never made him stupid or irrational, all broad, dismissive strokes used to paint Swift's public persona."

So the specific dismissive terms attributed to Levine are somehow less culturally damning than the broad, dismissive terms attributed to Swift?  Can you unpack that a bit?

uws2793
uws2793

They're both punchlines.

nahte91
nahte91

I was talking with a friend about the issue of her public persona and the punching bag it (and as such, she) has become, and he said, "I don't have any sympathy for her. It's a conscious choice to have your love life that attached to your image. In fact, it is her image, it's the brand she's selling and people are buying...for now. So, it's going to be scrutinized. Is it "right" that the media treats her as if she's a CW character, no. But...it's entertainment, this is what they do, and she forfeited normalcy when she threw her hat in the ring." My response was, "I think it's a gray area between your life and your product when you're a songwriter. Most singer-songwriters write about their love life, and most people in their twenties date a lot of people whether they're famous or not, she just happens to be more famous than I guarantee you she expected to be at 14 or 15 when she was writing about her first boyfriend." That's pretty much what it comes down to in my mind, and the countless Jezebel-dot-com-types online that cast her as a "feminist's nightmare" for simply living her life and writing about it make me want to quote one of their cupcake-pooping idols, Tina Fey: "You all have GOT to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores."

FTB1777
FTB1777

Swift is loved by her fans and she knows it and caterers to them, As long as she writes personal, honest songs about her feelings (whatever they are) she will not loose any of her fans. The press that work to marginalize Swift are just using her name to get attention to their story and the general public that " think of her as a punchline 1. don't know any thing about her except sound bits for gossip columns 2. dismiss anyone who is pretty and successful because they wrongfully think that is how the got there.

flynn912
flynn912

Pretty cerebral. Review much classical music?

FSM1990
FSM1990

@nahte91 It's funny you bring up Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, because they made a joke about Swift and her writing revenge songs, and Swift heard the joke. She responded with, "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." That's kind of a nightmarish response to a simple joke.

selfenchanted
selfenchanted

@nahte91 Amy Poehler was even nastier to Taylor, if memory serves.  

And it's not only young hipsterish people who hate Taylor with an unnecessary passion ... I've already heard too much bitter ranting & raving from aging Boomers & Silents who consider her a "potty mouth" because she shared her love affairs with the world.

deadarts
deadarts

@nhate91 @deadarts That doesn't speak to the question I raised.  At all.  But I'm happy to engage with a counter-question:  Has she been publicly shamed or has she had public scrutiny of her very public relationships? 

I would argue that, relatively speaking (and objectively, for that matter) who Adam Levine is/isn't dating isn't particularly interesting to very many people. Maroon 5 isn't as big as Taylor Swift, and Adam Levine is just one member of that band, albeit the frontman, so perhaps his romantic life doesn't get discussed as much because when M5 isn't touring or promoting a record, Levine has another public outlet in which he's "providing content" for the public to digest.  Taylor Swift doesn't have The Voice and she doesn't have a band of other people who are up front with her participating in the promotion of her music, so she's either touring or promoting an album or looking surprised that she won an award everyone knew she would win or publicly falling in love with or breaking up with someone.  She's choosing to live in the public eye as Taylor "write it in bold letters" Swift and she's inviting the scrutiny of her lyrics that comes with writing a bunch of relationship songs while very publicly exploring those relationships.  She's asking us to care who her songs are about as part of the marketing of those songs.  I never got the impression that Adam Levine cares too much whether or not anyone is thinking about who M5's songs are about.

nhate91
nhate91

@selfenchanted I've heard a different kind of attack from aging boomers, etc.: the whole "she's just a popstar" critique. Or even if one points out her songwriting skills, that camp goes, "big fucking deal, in OUR day, it wasn't remarkable to do that stuff." Ironically, those on the opposite end of the age spectrum attacks her for her writing instead of shrugging at it, i.e. "SAME OLD SHIT GET OVER IT!" Can't win, I suppose. But I'd suggest people with a peripheral knowledge of her catalog to listen to, first, "Ronan," then, "Cold As You," "Fifteen," "Change," "The Outside," "Innocent," "Long Live," "The Best Day," and "Tied Together with a Smile."

deadarts
deadarts

@nhate91 @deadarts I wouldn't go there, mostly because I think she's actually really talented though I can't claim to be a big fan necessarily.  She's certainly releasing more interesting music than M5.  If anything, my issue with the original article is the idea that Adam Levine is "a Hero" to anyone.  And the fact that it doesn't acknowledge that Taylor Swift gets a lot of crap that has nothing to do with her relationships (the awards show "surprise face," the GIF of her reacting to the Bieber/Gomez backstage "kiss," her vocal issues during awards shows).  Anytime an artist is being boxed in for that stuff, scrutiny/criticisms of their personal life are going to be magnified because there's also a base of people who just flat out don't like them.  Just ask Kanye West.

nhate91
nhate91

@deadarts Touche. And especially if one isn't as big a fan of Taylor as I admittedly am, I could see one being more skeptical about her self-proclaimed maturity. But this was nice, to have a relatively succinct discussion about an aspect of pop culture and not have it deteriorate into a Youtube-style sandbox brawl.

deadarts
deadarts

@nhate91 If you're comfortable taking that at face value, so be it...  I guess I'm a little more skeptical and a little less willing to let artists have it both ways.  Actions speak louder than words and I seem to remember her adopting a British accent while singing a breakup song during the Grammys right after her breakup with the One Direction kid. 

nhate91
nhate91

@deadarts I guess, as I said, the nature of her treatment by the media is ultimately subjective. It's my opinion that a lot of it is unfair and undeserved. She doesn't go out of their way to "publicly falls in love," just because they're photographed anytime they're anywhere with anyone. She's simply falling in love with some of the people she meets around her, like any other 20-something who happens to be under such a microscope. It's the microscope that makes it public. She's never complained about the cameras, having said before "I'm not gonna complain about achieving my dream. I just laugh about the cameras in the car after." If anything she'd have to go out of her way to privately fall in love. It doesn't help that she's presumed to be dating nearly every man who's shown to be within 20 feet of her in a photograph. As for inviting the scrutiny, as I've found myself saying before, she's not doing anything different as a songwriter now than she was when she was 12 or 13. The only difference is the world she inhabits has changed. She doesn't "ask us to care who her songs are about." In fact, she wishes we didn't, having said in interviews "It's funny that people around me are much more interested in the subjects of my songs a little more than when I was twelve, I'm just gonna keep doing the same thing." It's more that she's indifferent, knowing that she can't control the stupid details the media salivates over, and she cares more that the songs resonate emotionally with her fans.

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