Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo and ‘Confessional’ S*xism in Songwriting –

On October 21, Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album. midnight and 3 hours later they released a deluxe version of 3am with seven bonus tracks. Of the seven tracks, the penultimate “Would’ve could’ve Should’ve” became an immediate fan favorite. The song, which seems to be inspired by her relationship with John Mayer, apparently explores Swift’s regret about being involved with him, stating, “I can’t let this go / I’m fighting you in my sleep / The wound won’t heal. / I keep waiting for a sign / I feel sorry for you all the time.

As well as Speak NowThe songs “Dear John” and “Would-ve could-ve Should-ve” celebrate their 13-year age difference when Taylor was 19 and John was 32. Swift, now 32, explores how, despite 13 years later, she is still reeling from the effects of the relationship and her inability to move on from the trauma of the partnership.


NASHVILLE, TN – SEP 20: Taylor Swift, NSAI Songwriter and Performer of the Decade Award winner, performs on stage during the NSAI 2022 Nashville Songwriter Awards at the Ryman Auditorium on September 20, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)
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Naturally, fans immediately noticed the connection between the two songs, and shortly after its release, it became a trending topic on Twitter. I even tweeted a joke about John Mayer to pay for my crimes again, and the response I received was disturbing. Many responded with the same weary criticism of Taylor – that she only writes about her failed relationships and that she can’t keep a man, so she should look in the mirror. What was unnerving was the criticism that Swift shouldn’t write about it anymore because it happened so long ago.

For many years, music has been used to express and process trauma. After the September 11, 2001 att*cks music therapists conducted activities related to music – songwriting, singing and listening to music – to reduce stress and process the trauma associated with the tragedy. As far as singers and songwriters in the music industry are concerned, songwriting helps the artist regain the freedom to tell their own stories while safely reflecting on the experience.

This raises two questions: who is allowed to compose music about their emotions and experiences, and is there a time limit when they must simply “live it through”?

Artists like Drake, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran and their ilk are notorious for writing about their relationships, successful or not. The aforementioned artists are praised for their songwriting and the songwriters are called “confessional”. In the album cycle for 1989Swift mentioned double standards in the face of female songwriters when she told Australian radio show Jules, Merrick and Sophie, “This is a very s*xist approach. Nobody talks like that about Ed Sheeran. Nobody talks like that about Bruno Mars. They all write songs about their exes, their current girlfriends, their personal lives, and no one raises a red flag.”


Busy Philipps / NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 25: Busy Philipps attends the New York Center for Reproductive Rights Jazz Gala at Lincoln Center on October 25, 2022 in New York City.  (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for Reproductive Rights)/Taylor Swift/American singer Taylor Swift attends "Conversation with... Taylor Swift" during the Toronto International Film Festival 2022 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 9, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP) (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)


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This standard has influenced songwriters – from emerging artists like Olivia Rodrigo to industry legend Joni Mitchell – for years. Mitchell strongly despises the term “confessional” songwriter, stating that confession usually means someone is “trying to beat something out of you on the outside”. [..] They’re trying to get you to confess something. To humiliate and humiliate yourself and put yourself in a bad position.” Singer Emmy the Great resonates with these feelings stating, “A male singer-songwriter may play on the same themes as a female singer-songwriter, and the end result may be the suggestion that a girl is singing from her diary and a boy is making statements about life’s important topics.” This contributes to the old binarity that women should only write about their personal experiences, usually romantic ones, and male artists can dance around a larger, more general motif.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOV 05: Olivia Rodrigo performs on stage during the 37th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Microsoft Theater on November 5, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.  (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 05: Olivia Rodrigo performs on stage during the 37th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Microsoft Theater on November 5, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

At the time of release Sourdebut record of Olivia Rodrigo, she was 18 years old and acknowledged s*xist criticism of songwriters for example, she is “told they only write songs about boys,” despite the album’s exploration of a range of teenage emotions, from anger to jealousy to sadness. In 2010, when Justin Bieber released “Baby,” a song about “puppy love” with the same pure naivety as Rodrigo, critics praised the then teenage heartthrob. Both artists write about teenage love, but Rodrigo faces the same hurtful comments about her being obsessed with boys that have been dumped by Taylor throughout her career.

Binaries of what men and women write about still exist in the music industry. Black female artists face this criticism on an even larger scale due to the intersection of s*xism and racism. In particular, the country music scene has historically not been kind or attractive in terms of diversity and gender. Despite using music and lyrics to bring changes to the genre in which she works, singer-songwriter Mickey Guyton has received terrible hate mail following her own musical critique of the toxicity of the country music industry as a black artist. Guyton explained during a speech on Face to face with Becky G. that it is a constant struggle to “just be who you are”.

Mickey Guyton on stage at Global Citizen Festival Concert 2022 NYC, The Great Lawn, Central Park, New York, NY on September 24, 2022.  Photo: Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection

Mickey Guyton on stage at Global Citizen Festival Concert 2022 NYC, The Great Lawn, Central Park, New York, NY on September 24, 2022. Photo: Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection

Drake is known as an emotionally sensitive “certified lover” or man who “easily seduces and falls in love with women”, and his discography epitomizes this statement. In all of his entries, he highlights all the different ways in which women abused and mistreated him, and now he puts them in their place.

In 2011 interview With Stereogum, Drake has gone on record saying that his music has a “s*xually chauvinistic tinge” as that is the stage in his life he is currently in. It’s good to be self-aware, but that’s not something artistes like Megan Thee Stallion are entitled to without careful scrutiny. Megan restores s*x and pleasure like what women involved in and not what they do with songs like “WAP” and “Body” but subjected to harsh criticism to empower women on the topic of s*x.


In music, artists use their work to process their emotions—be it grief, joy, or trauma. It can be a powerful tool for safe self-expression, self-reflection, and a way to make what they feel inside tangible. That’s why songs like “Would’ve could’ve Should’ve”, despite being so specific to Swift’s own experience, seem to be universal and resonate with her listeners. Until we finally start to accept the fact that not all female authors are “confessional” and that male authors write about romance, breakups and the like, the next Olivia Rodrigo will enter the industry, as Taylor Swift did before her, and face the same unwarranted s*xist ridicule for using art to heal and grow.

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#Taylor #Swift #Olivia #Rodrigo #Confessional #S*xism #Songwriting

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