You may think that being a columnist means having an easy life. You may be picturing me in my pyjamas, on the couch, contemplating having a bath at 11am on a Monday. “I do like her writing”, I hope you’re thinking, “but she’s a right jammy bastard”.
You wouldn’t be entirely wrong, of course – though I should say that I managed to get dressed today, and did so before even having lunch. I’m essentially one of those inspiring Silicon Valley CEOs who get profiled in fancy magazines.
My life could indeed be harder, but that doesn’t mean my job doesn’t have its tough moments. Take last week: I was minding my own business, going about my life, when an email landed. Could I perhaps write about TIME’s Person of the Year?
I put my head in my hands, dejected. Once again, she had come to haunt me. I’ve tried everything and yet, and yet: Taylor Swift remains impossible to ignore.
For context, I first blocked the American singer on Twitter around six years ago. To be clear, I didn’t mute her: I made the decision to block her account. It seemed unlikely that she would ever find out, but I liked knowing that I’d done it. It was an act of outright aggression, not one of passive opposition.
Why, I hear you ask, do I hate Taylor Swift so much? Well that’s an easy one: I find her exceedingly, tediously bland. She throws me back to my school days, when some pretty enough blonde would be beloved by everyone despite not having anything even vaguely resembling a personality.
Taken in isolation, I wouldn’t have had a problem with her; really, it’s the popularity that baffled me, and in time that bafflement usually turned into impotent fury. Must we really settle for the lowest common denominator? Must the lowest common denominator really be this inoffensive and uninteresting?
It feels especially grating that Swift, of all people, would be picked by TIME as their Person of the Year in 2023. I am admittedly biased, but the choice marked the end of an era on the internet.
For a long time, being online meant having access to niche communities, to nooks and crannies where things and people could get weird, and there was something for everyone. It was a beautiful world to live in, but one that gradually disappeared as large platforms took over everything.
All of us now share the same two, three or four apps, and we scroll and scroll without real meaning or purpose. The number of things we could be watching or listening to is technically limitless – larger than ever before – but in practice we all end up watching and listening to the same things.
We could be challenging ourselves, pushing our limits, but instead all we want is a preppy 33-year-old singing about the fact that break-ups are sad. More than a person of the year, Taylor Swift is the avatar of this new monolithic culture we’ve accidentally created for ourselves.
She also represents the escapism we’re clearly all desperate for. It is striking that TIME decided to let Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Trump’s prosecutors, Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell and OpenAI’s Sam Altman languish on the shortlist. It is undeniable that these people shaped the world more thoroughly in 2023 than Taylor Swift did.
What does it mean that they all lost out to her in the end? The world was a dark place in 2022 and even the more optimistic among us would find it hard to argue that things got better this year. Next year doesn’t exactly look like it will offer a light at the end of the tunnel either.
We could be looking to the people quietly trying to make things better, bit by bit, but clearly we’re all knackered. We’ve run out of hope and so what we want is to be distracted enough to be able to go about our day-to-day lives. What did we do in 2023? We clamoured for some circuses and some bland, beige bread. Roll on 2024.