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Swift Boating: Why Do We Care if Taylor Swift Dates a Kennedy?

Taylor Swift, the country-pop idol, likes invoking classic love stories in her music: Romeo and Juliet, the football player and the cheerleader. Soon, the smart money says, we’ll be hearing a reference to Camelot—the Jackie and Jack version—in one of her singles. Twenty-two-year-old Swift—whose latest offering, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” has just climbed to the top of the charts—has been in the news lately for her full-tilt, very public romance with 18-year-old Conor Kennedy. Not long after Kennedy reached legal age, photos hit the wires of Swift prancing around the famous family complex in Hyannis Port, clad in variations on polka-dot swimwear that was, as Daily editor Claire Howorth pointed out on Twitter, awfully reminiscent of Daryl Hanna’s styling in her JFK Jr. era.

Things have gotten a little complicated in Swift’s New Camelot, though: The Boston Herald reports that Swift and boyfriend showed up to a family wedding after having attempted to RSVP via text message just an hour before the event. They were asked not to show, and then asked to leave. They refused. “I personally went up to Ms. Swift, whose entrance distracted the entire event, politely introduced myself to her, and asked her as nicely as I could to leave, “said the mother of the bride. “It was like talking to a ghost. She seemed to look right past me.”

That distant look is, in fact, just one in an arsenal defending her calculated naivete.  Jon Caramonica described Swift in the Times in 2010: “By now, she’s even patented a look she whips out at award shows, concerts and more, when her innocence is threatened by acclaim: eyes wide, mouth agape, hand held over it as if to keep in the breath she’d just gasped as if it were her last.”American princess—sweet, virginal, innocent, classically styled, teenage ever into her twenties—has long been Swift’s schtick, and so perhaps it’s not surprising that she’s long been interested in the myth of the Kennedys. “The only time in my life I have ever been starstruck was meeting Caroline and Ethel Kennedy,” she revealed in a Vogue profile earlier this year. “I got to spend the afternoon with Ethel a couple of weeks ago. She is one of my favorites because you look back at the pictures of her and Bobby and they always look like they are having the most fun out of everybody. You know, eleven kids, all these exotic animals on their property. I’ve read a lot about them.” The whole thing has an air of almost creepy determination.

Then, too, there is the matter of Swift’s habit of taking revenge on her exes by writing them into her songs as thinly veiled blind items.  It helps that her exes are very often famous—teen pop idols like Taylor Lautner and Joe Jonas, famous cad John Mayer—and so Swift’s dating life, and the tabloid dissection thereof is a very concrete part of her marketing campaign, which doesn’t always sit well with her critics

Conor Kennedy happens to be the son of Mary, who committed suicide this spring. Swift accompanied him on a visit to her grave last weekend along with paparazzi. In one particularly striking shot, she stares directly at the camera from behind dark glasses while her boyfriend kneels toward his mother’s grave. It’s hard (if cruel—and Kanye West has made it awfully fraught to be cruel about Taylor Swift) not to wonder if Swift isn’t just interested in appropriating the Kennedys’ All-Americanness, but also their tumult. The family’s mystique—affirmed more, in some ways, by the Swift gossip than the many Vanity Fair covers of recent years—now has as much to do with the reports of their tangled, often ruined lives in the gossip pages as it does with its political legacy—and with how appealing they remain despite the darkness. Swift’s own life has been anything but dark, and—to judge by how much she dramatizes minor breakups or incidents at major awards ceremonies in her lyrics—that lightness has apparently been the greatest tragedy to befall her. The women America has dubbed princesses—Jackie O., Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor—have all lived lives marred by tragedy. (So, by the way, have many of the decidedly unprincesslike queens of true country.) That surely has not escaped Swift's notice, given what a study she has made of the genre. She can’t keep dating and singing about teenagers forever: Her music and her image are probably going to get a little less innocent.

Swift has maybe figured out what she wants that to look like.“Sometimes you see these people who are just so—God—so affected by all of it, where ambition has taken precedence over happiness, “ she told Vogue. “But when I meet people who really embody this serenity of knowing that they have had an amazing life—James Taylor, Kris Kristofferson, and Ethel Kennedy.…They just seem to be effervescent.” Her polka-dots, in other words, probably aren’t going anywhere.