I didn't always like Taylor Swift. When she first made it big with Love Story, I thought it was a decent song - memorable, catchy, but over-the-top cheesy. (Disclaimer: In 2008 when Love Story was first released, I was a cynical 17-year-old who thought she knew better than everyone else in music.)
While Taylor and I had a relationship of hits and misses for a while, it wasn't until the release of Red that I solidly decided that I liked her as an artist. She writes good songs - her collaborations with Ed Sheeran (Everything Has Changed) and The Civil Wars (Safe and Sound) in particular were the songs that made me come around. The 1989 album, already so talked-about, and its ongoing world tour firmly put Taylor at the top of the pop music world. I love 1989, I love the music video for Blank Space, I love a lot of things about Taylor Swift.
But there's one thing I don't like, and that's how Taylor has turned the BFF into a status symbol - an idol to be adored, a girl gang to aspire to.
Let me get this out of the way - I think Taylor is a good person. She donated $50,000 to a fan who was struggling with cancer; $15,000 to a family in hospital after a car accident (anyone else think the cost of healthcare in the U.S. is beyond ridiculous?! But that's a topic for another time); she bakes cookies and surprises fans with hand-picked presents at Christmas. Really, there's no reason for anyone to criticise anything about Taylor, right?
Taylor's girl-gang is not new; she's been collecting girlfriends from Karlie Kloss to Lorde and proudly sharing her #squadgoals on Instagram. Who can forget this now-famous photo of Taylor and HAIM on a vacation boat?
In theory, it's brilliant. Feminism has been ruling, women are empowered, and we want to show that we are every bit as brilliant as men. We want to show that we are united. Having BFFs surely must be the perfect solution, to show that we are equally friends with each other, and that we've got each other's backs.
Except that having BFFs is just the new, politically-correct way to talk about being popular.
In reality, Taylor's role-modelling is just another picture-perfect image telling women what they should aim to become. The squad is overwhelmingly made up of tall, willowy, white women, and unsurprisingly, girls want to be like her. "If I'm like Taylor, I can have BFFs too!"
There is no doubt that Taylor Swift's immaculately manicured image is a huge contributor to how popular she is - she's the perfect not-a-girl, not-yet-a-woman who takes on large corporations and wins, yet has time to care for her fans. Another caveat: I'm not saying that this is entirely Taylor's fault. Taylor is tall, willowy, and white; people overwhelmingly have friends who are like themselves; therefore Taylor's friends are also tall, willowy and white.
But the culture that has emerged around Taylor's collection of friends is frightening. Everyone wants to be Taylor's BFF, and if you're not one of her BFFs, well you're not part of the squad. Taylor Swift's brand has taken the image of friendship and turned it into some sort of club, some sort of status symbol: that's the real message that the Taylor Swift brand is sending.
Taylor Swift is not your friend, and unless your name is Karlie Kloss or Lorde, Taylor Swift is most certainly not your BFF. Even if she were, BFFs shouldn't have a leader of the pack, the role that Taylor undoubtedly claims.
There shouldn't be a hierarchy of BFFs, or a war to claim the coolest kids for your squad. BFFs are not a collection of the who's who in feminist pop - they are the people you get along with, who you share secrets with, who come over at 2am in the morning with a tub of Ben & Jerry's because you watched Ross and Rachel break up on Friends again.
A healthy friendship is based on equal standing and respect, not one with a queen idol at the head of the gang. It's just as important to value yourself as it is to value your friends, and one's self-worth shouldn't be determined by the people they choose or don't choose to surround themselves by.