Racism, Sexism in Taylor Swift Video “Shake it off”
Taylor Swift’s newest single is “Shake if Off,” about shaking off any vapid criticisms. The new video highlights this through all sorts of dancing. From ballet, to street, to color guard, all sorts of talented individuals ‘shake it off’ with the klutzy Swift. She plays herself up as the butt of the joke through her lack of dance skill, not fitting in any crowd until she stops acting and dances freestyle with her fans in the end. One segment is notably different however, where black backup dancers dressed in stereotypical hip hop outfits shake their asses, while Swift acts scandalized. A New York Times opinion likens Swift’s reaction to a dismissal of the entire trope, noting other black dancers featured through the video. This does not counteract the fact that the faces of these particularly racialized women (included ‘white trash’ coded women) are rarely seen. They do not break the hip hop stereotyped images they represent as objectified bodies.
Swift is getting criticism for this video, which isn’t surprising, especially when the video cover art is this:
Lily Allen received similar criticism with her video for “Hard Out Here.” While that song’s lyrics explicitly prods at the patriarchy and sexism, the video still exhibits black bodies in incredibly objectifying poses. Notably, Allen remains in a less revealing outfit, while the rest of the black women dancers are in much more explicit clothing. The dancers all pour champagne on themselves while slapping each others asses, while Lily Allen inconspicuously refrains. The video blurs the lines between portrayal and parody, and ultimately undermines its ‘progressive’ message.
Swift’s song is analogous: while its stakes are much lower in terms of lyrical and video content, it’s caught between portrayal and parody. Swift and the music video production staff probably had good intentions, but unfortunately, this video is another strike against black female bodies.