The recent Netflix documentary Taylor Swift: The Reputation Concert Tour ostensibly presents itself as a document of the pop superstar’s two sold-out shows at Dallas’ AT&T Stadium in November, the climax of the most successful concert tour in American history. But it’s really about the staggering enormity of Swift’s immense popularity. With many concert films, it’s customary to keep the cameras fixed on the performers, giving the audience a uniquely personal view of every glance, gesture, and bead of sweat. (See Netflix’s Springsteen On Broadway, or classics like Stop Making Sense and The Last Waltz.) The Reputation Concert Tour, however, cuts constantly to sweeping overhead shots of AT&T Stadium, which resembles the Grand Canyon if it were filled with 60,000 screaming Taylor Swift fans. We also see close-ups of those fans singing, dancing, and crying their heads off. It’s an effective visual representation of the macro and micro scale of Swift-mania. She matters to people, the film explains, both intimately and universally.
The Reputation Concert Tour film appeared on Netflix about three weeks after nominations for the 2019 Grammys were announced, and in some ways it felt like a rebuttal. As Rolling Stone observed, 2017’s Reputation is Swift’s least Grammy-nominated album since her 2006 self-titled debut, garnering just a single nomination in the Best Pop Vocal Album category. This despite the field for Album Of The Year being newly expanded to eight nominees, affording space for relatively under-the-radar releases by the R&B artist H.E.R. and country singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, along with blockbusters by ubiquitous superstars like Cardi B, Drake, and Post Malone.
But not the most ubiquitous superstar. To quote the woman herself, there’s a blank space at the Grammys this year, and it’s worth pondering which institution has been damaged most in the process.
When Reputation was released nearly a year and a half ago, critics lined up to call it a turning point in Swift’s career — nobody argued that it spelled the end of her commercial dominance, exactly, but it did seem like the album’s general sourness and troubled roll-out pointed to a decline in Swift’s previously charmed career. Last month, about a week before the Netflix documentary was released, The New York Times declared that the monolithic, one-size-fits-all pop archetype that Swift personifies “has been almost completely dismantled,” making way for “Pop 2.0” represented by “K-pop, Latin trap, melodic hip-hop and more.” Swift, some would argue, is on her way out.
Getting shut out of the Song, Record, and Album Of The Year categories suggests that enough Grammy voters have bought into this narrative about Taylor Swift being passé. Of course, nothing is more passé than the Grammys itself, though the award show has been extremely eager this decade to honor young talent in order to burnish its own dubious credibility. And few have been honored before now as much as Taylor Swift, who won Album Of The Year in 2010 at the age of 20, and then again six years later.
While the Grammys didn’t make Taylor Swift’s career — she was already huge on country radio even without all the hardware — they anointed her a certain status early on that fortified the brand as she maneuvered toward her smashingly successful pop crossover. But now, the Recording Academy apparently was so intent on proving how much it suddenly loves hip-hop that it couldn’t even grant Reputation a courtesy Album Of The Year nomination, effectively throwing their previously beloved wunderkind under the bus.