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Friday, July 12, 2024

The Alluring Pitfall of Constant Transformation: Examining Taylor Swift’s Evolution

Award-winning designer Oscar de la Renta. Versace. Ms. Alberta Ferretti. Cavalli, Roberto. Mr. Elie Saab. Famous shoe designer Christian Louboutin. The name is Zuhair Murad. Ashish. The list of designers that have created outfits for Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, which kicked out a little over a month ago in Arizona and will wrap up in California in August before moving abroad, reads like a condensed version of fashion month.

The ensuing costume party has been met with, not unexpectedly, thunderous excitement. There are a lot of garments. All that glimmer! So fun! Online, you can read articles like “Every Outfit Taylor Swift Has Worn on Her Eras World Tour” (as Elle Australia phrased it) that list every single piece of clothing Swift has worn on the tour. And there’s always the emergence of new forms making way for expanded scope. As if having a lot of clothes were a feat in itself.

There is, however, another interpretation that may be drawn from all these Swiftian garments and wardrobe changes. It’s likely that they’re not merely a throwback, but also a meta-commentary on the pressure put on female pop singers to constantly reinvent themselves for the public eye, dressing in ever-more-outlandish ensembles. And a signal that Ms. Swift may be calling it quits.

Core to the American ideal is the notion that everyone may start again, that their only real constraints are their own creativity and skill set. It’s inextricably related to the allure of fashion, which offers the same chance to try on a variety of identities before settling on the one that feels right.

However, Ms. Swift, who often uses symbolism in her clothing choices, explains in her upcoming documentary “Miss Americana” that fame is also a kind of imprisonment.

This was three albums and at least two Taylors ago, when she was discussing her newfound political voice and her next album “Lover” (the earth nymph Taylor of “Folklore” and “Evermore” and the dreamer Taylor of “Midnights”). But her Eras Tour very much lays it all out there for you.

All of the show’s roughly ten musical eras, each with its own distinct style, were represented. Watching her cycle through them is illustrative of the hamster wheel of perpetual reinvention that has served as the paradigm for modern female music singers ever since Madonna established the standard in the 1980s.

It’s especially striking when compared to another travelling musician getting the same kind of attention and praise right now: Bruce Springsteen. Mr. Springsteen is 73 years old, yet his sound hasn’t altered much in the last half century. He is still wearing the same worn-out pair of trousers, denim shirt, bangles, and boots he wore the day before.

True, there are male rock musicians who have made reinvention a point of pride, most notably David Bowie but also, to some degree, Harry Styles (though he usually only wears one signature garment each night). There are other women who have gone against the grain, such as Lucinda Williams and Patti Smith.

Kathy Iandoli, adjunct professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School and author of “God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop,” argues that women face disproportionately high levels of pressure to constantly reinvent themselves via their appearance. Ms. Iandoli assured us that she was serious one thousand times over. To sell originality, record firms sometimes have their female pop stars wear elaborate costumes. And if you have a reputation as an evolving creative, you will constantly be asked, “What’s the next version of you?”

Ms. Swift is as shrewd as anybody else at using pressure for personal gain. Her makeovers are in sync with the changes in her music, unlike the one studio executives force upon the protagonist in Lady Gaga’s “A Star Is Born,” who, after the death of her husband, rejects the ginned-up version of herself depicted by her new hair colour, wardrobe, and dance moves.

Ms. Swift, on the other hand, has been the master of her own wardrobe (with the help of stylist Joseph Cassell Falconer), and her devoted followers, many of whom attend concerts dressed as their favourite Taylor member, can sympathise.

Even Gaga, who has made a career out of fusing fashion and music, seemed to rebel against the imperative at this year’s Oscars, when, rather than changing into yet another showstopping gown for her performance, she subverted all expectations by wearing ripped jeans and a black T-shirt and scrubbing her face bare, as if to say to the watching world: enough.

Oscar de la Renta’s design director Fernando Garcia described working with Taylor Swift on Eras as “very much like a full circle moment.” For the current tour, Oscar de la Renta created a lavender faux-fur coat with a matching crystal-embroidered T-shirt dress and a midnight-blue, crystal-embroidered jumpsuit. If that’s the case, maybe it’s also an indication that another period is ending.

At one point in the Eras show, when Ms. Swift is performing “Look What You Made Me Do,” all the old Taylors are brought to life by different backup dancers in different outfits in different minimal glass boxes — all those miniature versions of herself from the past, locked away in their own confined spaces, in their old wardrobes, only to break free at the end.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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