A new profile of huge popstar and professional BFF Taylor Swift has cropped up in Rolling Stone. It contains the usual: hints of which paramours and enemies Swift's written about on her new album, discussion of her cats and her life philosophies. But the biggest thing that struck me about this one wasn't the usual speculation of what Swift's real life will mean for her music — it was the fact that it's pretty clear Taylor Swift is absolutely terrified of the public. And that she has every right to be.
Here's Swift talking about the fans constantly milling around her every location, as described by Josh Eells:
[Swift] hasn't driven alone in five years, and she can't leave her home without being swarmed by fans. ('When a sweet little 12-year-old says to their mom, 'Taylor lives an hour from here . . .' — more times than not, they'll make the trip.') Although she doesn't like to draw attention to it, she says there is a contingent of fans that think her songs contain hidden messages to them. 'Think about it,' she says. ''Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone? Take that, add 'crazytown' to it, and it sounds like an invitation for kidnapping.'
Under the metrics of the non-famous, Swift's precautions sound like paranoia. To her, they're her everyday reality.
Every time a celebrity speaks up about a downside to their well-paid lifestyle, the same response crops up: They can't possibly have it that bad, they're making more in a day than most people make in a lifetime. And yeah, we should keep the opulence of the celebrity paycheck in perspective — the fact that they make so much money is frankly preposterous.
But we also have to look past the glamor and see the off-putting culture right in front of us: These people are terrified. They're living their lives scared shitless about what the rest of us will do to get a piece of them, and that's not a way to live.
Swift is a public figure who very consciously works to make her fans feel appreciated. But she also knows she's one of the biggest pop stars in the world, and that with that closeness she manufactures with them comes a real danger of someone — whether it's the paparazzi or a misguided teen — stepping over the line. Just look at her interaction with Eells discussing all the ways people might be peeking in at her every moment:
'Don't even get me started on wiretaps,' Swift says seriously. 'It's not a good thing for me to talk about socially. I freak out.' As for who might bug a Van Nuys production office on the off chance that Swift is inside: 'The janitor,' she says, as if naming one candidate among hundreds. "The janitor who's being paid by TMZ. This is gonna sound like I'm a crazy person — but we don't even know. I have to stop myself from thinking about how many aspects of technology I don't understand.'
And this moment, which takes on a special salience after the theft of so many female stars' nudes:
There's someone whose entire job it is to figure out things that I don't want the world to see. They look at your career, they look at what you prioritize, and they try to figure out what would be the most revealing or hurtful. Like, I don't take my clothes off in pictures or anything – I'm very private about that. So it scares me how valuable it would be to get a video of me changing. It's sad to have to look for cameras in dressing rooms and bathrooms. I don't walk around naked with my windows open, because there's a value on that.
Taylor Swift makes more money than I will likely ever see; she's probably made enough money while I've been writing this sentence to pay off all of my student loans. But I don't know how any empathetic human can see the clear fear that permeates her every moment and not have some compassion for that. Or for Jennifer Lawrence, whose refusal to accept strange men camping out on her front lawn was painted as a refusal to "accept" fame. As Lawrence told Vogue in Sept 2013:
If I were just your average 23-year-old girl, and I called the police to say that there were strange men sleeping on my lawn and following me to Starbucks, they would leap into action. But because I am a famous person, well, sorry, ma'am, there's nothing we can do. It makes no sense.
I'd imagine her feelings on the matter have grown a few additional spikes in the past few weeks.
I don't have a plan of action for how to make life better for these women — increased regulation of the paparazzi comes to mind, before another Princess Diana incident happens; an overhaul of the way we think of strangers' bodies also comes to mind. The public also has the right, it should be noted, to call out the bullshit when someone like Gwyneth Paltrow complains of how hard childcare can be when you're making a multi-million dollar movie. But it just seems like something we should be acknowledging when we think of these women and their lives: They have a lot of very valid reasons to be genuinely afraid of us. That's as much a part of their narrative in the aftermath of those hacked photos as who they might be dating. In fact, it's moreso. Neither we nor they should have to wait until someone gets physically hurt or otherwise violated before things get better.