‘I Hate It Here’: Taylor Swift Lyric on Racism Prompts Disagreement Among Listeners

Taylor Swift’s controversial song “I Hate It Here” has fans divided about the pop star’s racial lens and lyricism.

“My friends used to play a game where we would pick a decade, we wished we could live in instead of this / I’d say the 1830s but without all the racists and getting married off for the highest bid,” Swift sings.

The track from “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology,” a deluxe version of her album which features 31 songs, is about her discontent and the way our recollections are distorted by nostalgia. It also marks the first time that Swift has sung about race in her music.

Taylor Swift draws backlash for ‘all the racists’ lyrics on new ‘Tortured Poets’ album

While Swift has opened up about political topics such as voting rights and LGBTQ+ issues during her nearly 20-year career, she has rarely spoken or sang about the subject of race. The only exception was in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis.

At the time, she posted on her Instagram and Twitter two weeks after Floyd’s death with resources, called out former President Donald Trump for “stoking the fires of white supremacy” his “entire presidency” and chided her home state of Tennessee for monuments “that celebrate racist historical figures who did evil things.”

Now, experts, critics and fans are analyzing the reactions – and swift backlash – to Swift’s “I Hate It Here.”

Taylor Swift expert says pop star’s music may face disconnect with certain demographics

Professor Naomi Ekas teaches a course about the connection between psychology and Swift’s place in pop culture at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. She believes there are universal themes listeners have experienced in Swift’s lyrics but notes that the pop star’s particular worldview may not translate to everyone.

At the beginning of the spring semester, Ekas asked her students what labels they attached to Swift. Many of the responses reflected that were “these are white girl experiences, and this is white girl music and there isn’t kind of that representation or that connection kind of outside of that particular racial group,” she tells USA TODAY.

Taylor Swift's "The Tortured Poets Department" showcases her continued growth as a songwriter.

Taylor Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department” showcases her continued growth as a songwriter.

“Everyone’s dated the bad boy and they’ve had the friendship breakups and they’ve, you know, crashed and burned in relationships, revenge – these are pretty common themes across humankind, but then her particular life and how she’s living them out might not connect to everybody,” Ekas says.

She adds that as someone who is white and who likes to listen to Swift’s music, that perspective didn’t cross her mind at first. But as she listened to the music more and spoke with people from differing backgrounds, she understands the viewpoint.

Taylor Swift and her fans’ parasocial relationships play out on TikTok: ‘I’m concerned for the Swifties’

Swifties, fans of the Pennsylvania-born pop star, are famously defensive of Swift’s music and her motives.

Claire Oduwo, a Black psychiatry resident and self-proclaimed Taylor Swift fan, posted a video on TikTok with a caption that read, “I’m a Swiftie but this album is a flop.”

Oduwo says people are reacting to the lyric “based on our own personal experiences that we’re putting on a lyric,” telling USA TODAY that Swifties are identifying the lyrics “in a good way,” while people who are Black may be identifying the lyrics “in a bad way.”

Dozens of fellow Swifties criticized the take in the comments of Oduwu’s original TikTok. She followed up with a response video about parasocial relationships, or what Cleveland Clinic refers to as one-sided relationships with celebrities or fictional characters.

Oduwo, who attended The Eras Tour last year and Swift’s previous The Red Tour, also said she is reconsidering if she is a “Swiftie” after the TikTok backlash she received.

As a Black fan, Oduwo knows Swift is “obviously this is a white woman who caters to a certain demographic of people compared to some other artists, going to the concert clearly. You can see how diverse that was compared to maybe a Beyoncé crowd, so you’re already kind of feeling odd in that situation.

“I just think maybe some (fans of color) feel a bit isolated that this lyric kind of plays into the rose-colored glasses people sometimes have towards the past of this whimsical ‘Bridgerton’-like existence where Black people aren’t in that picture,” she added. “Not even just that people are racist or not, but like Black people are just not included in the picture of that society.”

Some Swift fans say ‘I Hate It Here’ is self-critique and commentary

Some believe that Swift’s lyricism in “I Hate It Here” is a simple line with complicated undertones and commentary.

Stephanie Burt, a literary critic and professor at Harvard University who teaches a buzzy course on Swift and offers deeper analysis on Swift’s lyricism, argues that Swift is critiquing herself and looking back on a series of “illusions and delusions that have captured her psychology.”

“She goes on in the same verse to say, ‘Wow, that was silly.’ She ends up criticizing (herself), which she is honestly doing a lot on this album. She ends up framing her own folly and inviting us to see her making bad judgments and oversimplifying her own history and world history,” Burt says.

“She is calling herself out for the same kind of extraordinarily common fake nostalgia and as she says, ‘quill pen writing,’ that people taking her out on Twitter are calling her out for. And as usual, she says harsher things about herself than her critics do – and she’s right, and she knows exactly what she’s doing,” Burt says.

Burt says she believes Swift doesn’t address race or “white supremacy” in her music “because she doesn’t have a lot to say as an artist about it, but I think she’s aware of it. I think she’s leaving that to Jason Isbell, a white dude who does write songs (critical of) white supremacy.

“For all we know, she has 10 songs about fighting white privilege somewhere in her catalog and she didn’t release them because she didn’t think they were very good,” Burt says.

CT Liotta, an author and Substack columnist who has written about Swift and his own nostalgia, compared “I Hate It Here” to Swift’s LGBTQ+ anthem “You Need to Calm Down,” which was released in 2019.

“The curious thing about ‘I Hate it Here’ is that I don’t feel it addresses race much at all, or in any substantive way. It isn’t like ‘You Need to Calm Down,’ which is a clear rebuke to LGBT hate. In fact, it may even be thoughtful of her to acknowledge that the 1830s were filled with racism, rather than leaving it at ‘I’d like to visit,'” Liotta writes in an email interview.

Swift has previously changed one of her controversial lyrics from the 2010 track “Better Than Revenge” with the rerelease of her “Speak Now” album last year. On the original, she sings, “She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress.” In “Better Than Revenge (Taylor’s Version),” the line rewritten for 2023 says, “He was a moth to the flame, she was holding the matches.”

Is ‘I Hate It Here’ backlash typical for Taylor Swift?

The United States – and the world – has long been divided over the pop superstardom of Swift.

“I Hate It Here” is the latest chapter in the tortured poet’s personal controversies. People have taken sides during Swift’s long running feud with rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and his ex-wife Kim Kardashian. Swift has spoken at length about misogyny, gender politics and the effect of shame on her health.

“When people fall out of love with you, there’s nothing you can do to make them change their mind,” Swift says herself in “Miss Americana,” the 2020 documentary from Netflix which details her complex relationship with fame.

Liotta believes she’s right: None of that matters to Swifties, because they haven’t fallen out of love with her.

“One of the most curious things to note is how this tempest in a teapot will do nothing to harm Taylor Swift’s brand. I can’t think of a single person who has, so far, said ‘I was a fan of Taylor Swift until she released “I Hate It Here.”‘ Her core audience simply doesn’t care about this. Who does? People who haven’t liked her for years,” Liotta says.

Ekas also questions the criticism and backlash surrounding “I Hate It Here.”

“If we think back to like this attacking on the lyrics and everything, would we be doing the same thing to a man? I don’t know. Would we be tearing apart Kanye’s lyrics like this. I feel like the only lyrics we’ve ever torn apart of Kanye’s were the ones he wrote about Taylor Swift. Right?”

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