Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


The World Wide Web

taylor-swift

Taylor Swift. (Photo: paolov/Flickr)

Writing About Writing About Taylor Swift’s Writing

• July 10, 2014 • 5:00 AM

Taylor Swift. (Photo: paolov/Flickr)

Everyone’s writing about Taylor Swift writing for the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal celebrated its 125th anniversary with an op-ed by a 24-year-old. Taylor Swift, the faux-country, feeling-feelings ingenue, penned a 1,182-word article under the paper’s “Leadership” banner. In it, she argues, passionately, that the music industry is not, as you may have heard, dying. The piece is full of sentences like this: “In my opinion, the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace.”

Swift, who has sold about a billion albums and is one of the biggest stars on the planet, is not unqualified to take on the subject. While it’s not a great piece of criticism, she does raise some interesting points that only a person with her experience and stature could.

An op-ed by Swift, who has 41.7 million Twitter followers and as many haters, is one of the surest viral bets on the Internet.

Were there reactions? Of course. Swift is loved and lovingly insufferable. (Best evidence here, an Instagram post—with 501,000 likes—of her screaming for joy while sliding down a Slip ‘N Slide that shouldn’t illicit such a reaction.) Soon after the WSJ put Swift’s essay online, Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal hit publish on a piece titled “Taylor Swift Wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal, and It’s Filled With Fascinating Insights.” He basically cut and pasted her lines in between single lines of his own text setting up the “fascinating insights.” Cool. As of Friday morning, his story had more than 300,000 pageviews. Being the first to comment on another publication’s work is never a bad thing in this day and age of Google News. (I should note here that I used to work at Business Insider and continue to think they are incredibly good at what they do.)

The Wire produced a piece called “The Most Taylor Swift Lines in Taylor Swift Wall Street Journal Column.” Vulture offered up a quick story, topped by the straight-laced “Taylor Swift Wrote an Op-Ed About the State of Music in the Wall Street Journal.” Vox jumped into explainer mode, offering evidence that Swift both “doesn’t know how people value music” and “is right about how valuable she is” under the headline “Taylor Swift Doesn’t Understand Supply and Demand.”

Gawker’s Caity Weaver went with “Taylor Swift Complains About Shit-Ass Garden in Wall Street Journal before spending 902 words, of which nearly 400 are Swift’s, breaking down the essay. On Gawker’s not-secret but certainly not well-known staff-discussion blog, Disputations, Adam Weinstein posted that Swift’s document was zero-percent plagiarized. His post has roughly 6,500 views, many more than most Disputations posts.

What do you notice about these pieces, aside from the extreme lack of unity in headline conventions? (Get it together, Internet publications of the world.) They are all so typical of their individual publications. Anyone with a modicum of familiarity with the outlets would be able to place each article correctly in its respective place if given the chance.

None of this is new. Slate’s predictable counter-intuitiveness produced an entire legion of “Slate Pitches,” the joke being that the site’s editors would eat up the ridiculous narratives and takes. But something struck me about the Swift stories, how every publication produced its own predictable take.

It makes sense. A site’s reach grows larger when a person comes to said site and finds a reason to stay. What’s the best way to make them stay? Produce more of the content that they came to see in the first place. (There’s a reason any long-lasting publication has its own voice and style.) An op-ed by Swift, who has 41.7 million Twitter followers and as many haters, is one of the surest viral bets on the Internet. Nothing is 100 percent, but you had to believe that her story would be widely read. By extension, pieces about her piece had a better chance of getting that famous BuzzFeed “social lift” because of the interest in the material (or, at least, the singer). As a result, you get hundreds of pieces that read like they were directly cribbed—but not plagiarized—from the style manual of whatever publication ran the post. (Pacific Standard‘s style: “bemused skepticism.” See: the headline.)

Internet publishing used to be about individual voices; now, it’s about small groups nailing a collective tone, which is the only way to produce enough content to grow on a massive scale.

Then, of course, the endless cycle moved on. There was potato salad to churn, another opportunity for the virality that would keep people coming back for more.

Noah Davis

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 1 • 4:00 AM

How to Plant a Library

Somewhere outside of Oslo, there are 1,000 newly-planted spruce trees. One hundred years from now, if everything goes to plan, they’ll be published together as 100 pieces of art.



September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


September 26 • 6:00 AM

Sounds Like the Blues

At a music-licensing firm, any situation can become nostalgic, romantic, or adventurous, given the right background sounds.


September 26 • 5:00 AM

The Dark Side of Empathy

New research finds the much-lauded feeling of identification with another person’s emotions can lead to unwarranted aggressive behavior.



September 25 • 4:00 PM

Forging a New Path: Working to Build the Perfect Wildlife Corridor

When it comes to designing wildlife corridors, our most brilliant analytical minds are still no match for Mother Nature. But we’re getting there.


September 25 • 2:00 PM

Fashion as a Inescapable Institution

Like it or not, fashion is an institution because we can no longer feasibly make our own clothes.


September 25 • 12:00 PM

The Fake Birth Mothers Who Bilk Couples Out of Their Cash by Promising Future Babies

Another group that’s especially vulnerable to scams and fraud is that made up of those who are desperate to adopt a child.


Follow us


Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

Would You Rather Go Blind or Lose Your Mind?

Americans consistently fear blindness, but how they compare it to other ailments varies across racial lines.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.