The Taylor Swift ‘Anti-Hero’ Controversy Raises A Bigger Conversation About How WOC Are Treated When They Speak Out
“I'm literally a Swiftie. I want to preface the video you're about to see with that fact. It pains me and it's literally such an honour to even beg this question, ‘Am I on a mood board somewhere?’”.
This is the opening line of indie musician Manuela Torres-Orejuela’s TikTok video where she dares to call into question the similarities between one of her own music videos and Taylor Swift’s ‘Anti-Hero’ video.
It’s a tale as old as time — mainstream celebrity artists have been called out for potentially copying lesser-known musicians, intentionally or otherwise, for decades now. Whether it’s track sampling disputes, or similarity in songwriting or visuals, the music world is not without its copycat conflicts. And while disagreements about the accuracy of these claims are part and parcel of the industry, does this excuse the vitriol of hatred aimed at women of colour when they speak out?
Colombian artist Torres-Orejuela pulled side-by-side scenes from her video ‘Glimmer’ which was shot in October 2020 and released in April 2022, against Swift’s recent single from her 10th studio album Midnights. She shared them on social media after her loved ones encouraged her to do so.
Her immediate reaction was to keep quiet after watching ‘Anti-Hero’. “My heart sank. I wanted to send it to some friends and family. But I knew a lot of people’s response to my reaction would be like, ‘You’re crazy, you’re delusional.’ I was already gaslighting myself about it,” she tells Remezcla.
They knew it was going to be “a risk and scary” move, but as a small, independent artist, they built up the courage to post their side of the story. Currently, their Instagram video has over 6,600 likes and hundreds of commenters offering support.
Beneath her other Instagram posts though, Torres-Orejuela’s initial worry became a reality — Swifties have banded together to litter hate in her comments. Labels of ‘clout chaser’ are thrown around, accompanied by rat, vomit and shit emojis.
“Taylor Swift is so great but some of her fans need to go back to primary school and learn some manners. You can defend your fav without being mean!!!” reads one TikTok comment Torres-Orejuela liked.
“I think that the Swifties that are essentially using gaslighting language are deflecting,” she explains to Remezcla. “A lot of the comments bring up that they don’t even see the similarities. They’re just saying ‘flop, ugly, attention-seeking.’ They’re using basic bullying-like terms.”
The point here isn’t about whether Swift or her team copied Torres-Orejuela. They themselves admit that there can be “parallel thoughts and creative coincidence”. “I just want to acknowledge that this happens a lot: small artists of colour being easy targets for mood boards,” she says.
"As a Brown woman, oftentimes when I try to stand up for myself, it’s really easy to be talked down to and told to ‘shut up’ or ‘you’re crazy, you’re delusional."
Whether in music, art or beauty, there has been a myriad of examples of white artists taking credit for and profiting off people of colour — all the way from Elvis in the ‘70s to Hailey Bieber’s recent ‘glazed brownie lips’ trend.
“As a Brown woman, oftentimes when I try to stand up for myself, it’s really easy to be talked down to and told to ‘shut up’ or ‘you’re crazy, you’re delusional,’” she continues. “I’m 5’2. I’m a small Brown woman in a lot of artistic spaces. I’ve worked with other artists and in entertainment fields, understanding that I’m never gonna be taken as seriously as other people in power.”
Regardless of what you think of Torres-Orejuela and Swift’s music videos, what matters is the way we talk to and about young women of colour who challenge the way things are. On one hand, we’re patronised as being voiceless and helpless. On the other, if we risk defying those who hold power, we are labelled crazy, delusional and conniving.
As Swift said herself, “it must be exhausting, always rooting for the anti-hero”.