Country Role Models

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February 20, 2009

tswiftThe most recent edition of Rolling Stone features precocious teenage country superstar Taylor Swift on its cover, and also contains a eight-page spread covering her “very pink, very perfect life.” As we have come to expect from Swift, the interview is wonderfully candid and refreshingly young and honest. However, (perhaps given Kenny Chesney’s recent Playboy interview) one thing stood out: Swift’s desire to maintain, and in fact, reinforce, her goody-goody image.

According to the interview, Swift is constantly worried about saying something that could be construed as offense to her fans. In defending her stance on not getting caught up in the shenanigans of young Hollywood, she goes so far as to say: “When you lose someone’s trust, it’s lost, and there are a lot of people out there who are counting on me right now.” That’s a lot to carry on her slender shoulders: the expectations of all of her young fans. But I have to wonder, is it necessary?

Unlike nearly any other public forum, music has always been a bastion of rebellion. What would my teenage years have been without Ani DiFranco, Nirvana, Green Day and Eminem? Where’s a suburban white girl going to rebel, if not in her music? I never looked to musicians to be role models.  Music, for me, has always been a refuge of honest emotion. If sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll come along with it, so be it. Can you imagine what music would be like if musicians were expected to be role models? No Madonna. No Rolling Stones. No Steve Earle. Etc. Etc.

Do you want/expect your country artists to be role models?

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  1. vpNo Gravatar says:

    I too grew up in the rebellious time of grunge music, and the artist’s did not deny this image, but embraced it and were true to themselves whether it was right or wrong. That is what I look for in a musician when it comes to image is truth, them just being themselves.

    Now with this article there is one statement that bothers me; “there are a lot of people out there who are counting on me right now.” That there makes it seem that her once genuine goody image is now a task for her a facade that she has to maintain in order to keep her success, as opposed to just being herself who was once truely a goody (I use this as a good word to express her personatlity).

    There are artist who are genuinely good people seemingly perfect, but they also say flat out that they do not consider themselves a role model, because that is too much pressure, that they will stay true to who they are and if someone wishes to look up to them because they appreciate that image is fine.

    I think TS is putting too much pressure on herself which could turn around and bite her in the butt when she least expects it. Not to mention I do believe she is artistically a fake or being lead in the wrong direction, but that is for another discussion.

  2. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    It’s a tricky matter, isn’t it? I hate to take away an artist’s right to dictate his or her own personal life, but artists like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood do attract a lot of very young fans, and in some ways it would seem very selfish of them to throw away the trust those fans have in them by saying or doing something “wrong.” I mean, I think it would be very confusing for a young child if his/her favorite artist said/did something really stupid and the child’s parents had to explain why that wasn’t good. You know? That could make for some serious cognitive dissonance before it’s really called for in the kid’s life.

    But on the other hand, should we be allowing kids to full-on idolize artists in the first place? I’m not saying we need to throw away the idea of role models, and I certainly don’t have kids, but I think it’s important to make clear to children early on that nobody is perfect, that sometimes even famous people make mistakes.

    I’ll say that one thing I really like about Swift is that even though she does feel the weight of having to be an inoffensive role model (or whatever), she has still found a way to be honest in her songs. “Fifteen” has a bit where she mentions her best friend losing her virginity in a totally classy way, and she hasn’t shied away from songs about fairly grown-up matters like romantic disenchantment. Aside from a lot of her interviews and stage banter, which do often sound rehearsed, I don’t get the sense that she’s censoring herself so much that we don’t know who she really is on some level.

  3. KentNo Gravatar says:

    I agree, music artists don’t need to be role models. First of all, I like their music for their music, not the person(s) (not that I don’t normally like the person(s), but it’s kind of hard to tell when you don’t actually know them). If I consider something that an artist that I like does controversial, I will get desensitized to it so that I don’t find it controversial anymore. For example, I got into country music roughly six years ago, and country music is a fairly… sheltered genre in my opinion. So when I discovered my now favourite band Hedley, some of their antics and music videos (see Street Fight), they were a bit overwhelming to me. But I gradually got over that and became desensitized to it.

    Second of all, I think the general public gets angry about things too easily. Taylor Swift shouldn’t have to be worried about being a role model, because people shouldn’t overreact as much as I think they do sometimes. But they do. And that’s why some people probably try to be perfect, like Taylor Swift here.

  4. Craig R.No Gravatar says:

    I believe that the problem that confronts the likes of Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift is image maintenance. Being a role model or not being gay wouldn’t be a problem if these singers, like many other singers in country music, were not knee deep maintaining a look, a sound, a feeling that would sell. Once video replaced radio as a major format of introduction the look took on more meaning. Now the song is second to the style.

    Taylor Swift is not a great songwriter, has no real life experiences to express( i.e. Lynn, Haggard, Cash), and can barely sing. So image is her selling point. She is selling to young girls who want to see themselves as “nice” . So her image is teenage senior. A girl on the verge of leaving high school and starting life. That is a her core audience. But to be afraid of offending them translates into being afraid to lose them, which means losing money.

    That sad price that a Swift or Chesney pay for their image maintenance is that few, if any, great songs come from their career. If Swift had said that she was afraid of not upholding the tradition of great country female singers before her then we would know that she was the real deal. But to be real deal, one has to come with warts and all, which is expressed through one’s music, not one’s image.

    When I read Swift’s comment I started thinking about a very young Dolly Parton, starting off on Porter’s show, without firm footing,and replacing a beloved female performer. She started off singing songs about not being dumb, giving up a child for adoption, and telling men what a woman really needs to feel. Dolly took charge of her image and dared to be honest with her words and her voice. She trusted herself and the audience. Too bad Swift and Chesney fear their fans more than they trust them.

  5. JakeNo Gravatar says:

    Great comments everyone :D

    I agree that Taylor should’nt have to carry the weight of being a rolemodel, but let’s not forget that she is 19 and has a lot of life lessons to learn before she realizes that being a rolemodel for all of her fans is too much pressure.

    Growing up I saw many Generation X artists like X-Tina and Britney Spears embrace the party girl image, which in the same way isn’t always being true to themselves. With Taylor and other artists that are emerging from the Echo Boom or Y generation, they realize many listeners are fed up with the party girl image, and so they have gone the other way by being that goody-two-shoes artist. Which in essense may be better than that of the party girls of the early 2000′s, but in the end is wrong because they are hiding themselves.

  6. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I can see why someone like Swift feels the pull of trying to be a role model. I guess she kinda knows the reality of her fan base–adolescents and the parents who have control of how their money is spent. I actually believe that Swift cares about her fans and really doesn’t want to let them down, however. I just think that the fan base and her naivete also play a part in her feeling as though she needs to be a role model.

    As far as whether or not I want/expect artists to be role models? I personally don’t. I do prefer to respect them though, if not because of their personal character/integrity, for their musical integrity.

  7. Erik NorthNo Gravatar says:

    I think it is always a tricky thing to make pop or country music stars one’s role models, because each of them likely has some kind of skeleton in their closet which they keep there so as not to blow a good career and a good image. I really hate to use the words of Bush’s former press spokesman Ari Fleischer in this context, but it often is a case of them having to watch what they say, and watch what they do. And you’re on a slippery slope if you think any of these folks are squeaky clean.

    If, on the other hand, the artists in question have a reasonably good image and are not afraid to admit to some of the same kinds of human foibles that befall the rest of us…well, I would think of that kind of artist as someone to look up to. And if you like the kind of music they make and what they sing moves you, you’re on much surer footing (IMHO).

  8. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    To be clear, I don’t personally care what an artist does with his/her personal life as long as the music is good. The only time I think the ‘role model’ conversation is even called for is when an artist has a very appreciable fanbase of people who can’t get into PG-13 movies. Like, I don’t expect my Steve Earles or my Alison Krausses to be role models, because most people who are old enough to enjoy their music are also mature enough to not have their world crash down if the artist says or does something unbecoming. But little kids do think differently than adults, so I think it’s sort of the responsibility of someone like Swift to be cautious that she doesn’t set a bad example. I agree that she sounds like she might be going overboard with her worries, but like I said, I don’t think that’s kept her from writing some pretty frank songs.

    Honestly, though, I think the main responsibility always comes down to the parents. They should be screening albums and stations like CMT to check for appropriateness; you certainly shouldn’t expect every artist to be a role model for kids.

  9. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I essentially agree with Dan here.

  10. Erik NorthNo Gravatar says:

    I agree with Dan on this as well. I think that parents really have to be the first real good role models and really give their children a good moral compass from which to start. When that happens, the rest usually takes care of itself (IMHO).

  11. Matt B.No Gravatar says:

    Being an artist worried about being a role model makes sense for Taylor Swift. Because Swift is, like the Disney camp, an artist who has young fans (my Tween Niece being one) who wants to ensure they don’t get upset by her actions. While it’s a goal she’ll ultimately fail at without even knowing it, it’s also laudable because of those fans. But I have to also agree with Dan as I think parents/family should be the main role modes for young people, not celebrities or athletes.

  12. Kevin J. CoyneNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t believe in role models. I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow.

    Hey, If I fail, If I succeed. At least I lived as I believed.

    Wait, that’s not what I really believe. That’s what Whitney Houston believed. Didn’t work out too well for her, either.

    Role models are good. Very good.

    I’m at that age where I still need them, even though I am one. Thank God for my Belmont philosophy professors!

  13. LindaNo Gravatar says:

    “Swift is constantly worried about saying something that could be construed as offense to her fans.”

    First of all, this makes her sound insecure, a people-pleaser. Secondly, that is not a good position for her to be in, to always walk on eggshells wondering if what she said will offend her fans, always second-guessing herself. I think she will hit her rebellious days (all successful teen singing stars do to a degree, even LeAnn Rimes during her “Twisted Angel” days) and the media will bring this quote back to bite her.

    “In defending her stance on not getting caught up in the shenanigans of young Hollywood, she goes so far as to say: “When you lose someone’s trust, it’s lost, and there are a lot of people out there who are counting on me right now.” That’s a lot to carry on her slender shoulders: the expectations of all of her young fans. But I have to wonder, is it necessary?”

    I think Taylor is trying too hard to be a good girl. That’s the way all the teen singing stars were like in the beginning before they turned into a woman and suddenly decided to explore their womanhood. In pop music, think Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson. They all started as good girls and look what they’ve become. In country music, the only teen star I can think of who’ve continued to be in the spotlight is LeAnn Rimes (Lila McCann, Jessica Andrews, and whoever else all fell off the planet) and like I said in a previous paragraph, even LeAnn went through a minor rebellious phase.

    One day, Taylor will realize she is tired of doing what’s expected of her, just like all those other past teen stars I mentioned, country music or not. And she will do things that will offend her fans. No young star stays perfect.

  14. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar says:

    One of the thing I find refreshing is that generally speaking Country singers tend to live more wholesome lives than their rock or pop counterparts.. There are exceptions, of course on both sides of the equation, but wholesome living seems to come more naturally to Country artists.

    I don’t expect anyone to be a role model in the sense of expecting them to be perfect, but I find that if I respect the artist as a person, I generally enjoy their music more, and feel better about enriching them with my my hard earned dollars.

    One of the reasons I am a Country fan, aside from the music, is because I genuinely like most Country performers…I find them to be real, decent, down to earth and humble people, even if they are not perfect. They seem like good-hearted and well intentioned people on the whole.

  15. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar says:

    Also, if an artist is content to be who they are, and who they are is a naturally humble and decent person, then they don’t really have to worry about “image”..

    It’s sorta like someone who habitually tells the truth doesn’t have to worry about keeping their story strait, but for a liar, consistency is a constant concern.

    As for Taylor and her music…I think she is a gifted songwriter, but limited by her youth. And I think her songs are honest and based on her teenage experience, whether autobiographical or based on the lives of her peers, there is authenticity about them. Not my cup of tea stlye-wise, but I do hear the ring of truth in them, and in no way do I think she is a “fake”.

  16. DiamondNo Gravatar says:

    I teach teens who really like Taylor. I’m not too worried about her as a role model for our youth, if that’s what she is. There are far worse examples out there for kids to model themselves after, and I have a feeling, even when she matures/rebels, she won’t go off the deep end. In five or six years, I kind of think she’ll be writing stronger songs that will resonate with a huge grown-up audience. Whether she’s singing those songs, or others are, will be interesting to see.

  17. ScottNo Gravatar says:

    In a perfect world, we wouldnt need celbrities to be role models for kids,because the parents would do a fine enough job. But we don’t have a perfect world. Artists/athletes, etc, become role models whether they want to or not, just because their out there, visible. So it is a great responsiblitiy, and I’m sure it can feel like a heavy weight sometimes.

    However, it’s also a great honor. To know that someone thinks enough of you or your situation to want to emulate you…there can be no higher compliment. And it has benefits for the role model, too. Knowing that things you’ve done and said are being modeled and that those teens might just pass your message on to their kids someday, means your message lives on, and therefore so do you. That folks, is the closest we’ll ever get to true immortality.

    Taylor is doing really good things, and avoiding bad decisions. She gives a voice to teenagers’ lives. She’s modeling the right way to be. She’s not appearing on magazine covers in a towel or making offensive gestures about other cultures.

    Kudos to you, Taylor. Keep up the good work.

  18. CarsonNo Gravatar says:

    See, I think some of taking this too seriously in the fact that I think by saying this, Taylor means she doesn’t want to be the next Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan.

    She has been compared to Britney with her beauty, youth and hit charts and one could even compare the fact that both aren’t the GREATEST singers ever, but has this certain appeal to them (i.e. Britney-her dancing, Taylor-her sweetness, songwriting).

    By this, I think Taylor’s not saying, “I’m gonna act like a senior, even though it’s hard, and not cuss in my songs, and be someone else” but instead saying, “You know…I have a lot of younger fans who I don’t want to offend. I don’t want their parents to not trust me. I don’t want to be known for flashing panties and starting off innocent that singing about sex over rap sounds.”

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