BY Julian Yap Joe Nin
Taylor Swift has it ALL – a successful music career spanning over more than a decade (still going), an inexplicably wonderful relationship with her loyal fans, an exclusive squad of her own and any man she wants at the snap of her fingers.
How did she make this all possible?
By playing the victim, which made her entire career – it did not just erupt following the fallout with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. It was all planned right from the beginning when she got catapulted into the spotlight for her music and relationship with the media.
Swift is someone you really do NOT want to mess with.
This is one of the most iconic photos in the music industry – the moment Swift and West first met at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
That’s not all.
This was also the moment Swift won the award, Best Female Video for ‘You Belong With Me’ when West interrupted her, took the microphone from her and announced that Beyoncé should have won this award instead of her.
What everyone saw was the threat of an ‘angry black man’ being made to an ‘innocent white woman’ – a stereotype, Swift was able to take advantage of to strengthen her own brand and continue damaging West’s reputation.
This was just pure PR gold for Swift.
Even both their clothes reflected the literal scheme of a villain and it’s victim – West, wearing a dark pair of shades and an all black outfit reminiscent of the villain in contrast to Swift as the victim, dressed in an angelic white and silver dress.
When it comes to her music, there is no surprise there either.
The ending of her relationships with many famous men such as Joe Jonas, John Mayer and Harry Styles was the main subject of the many songs she has written – again portraying herself as the victim of a boyfriend’s bad behaviour, or the rejection by her crush.
Take, her relationship with John Mayer, for example.
Her time with him in 2010 inspired the song, ‘Dear John’ in her ‘Speak Now’ album, which contains the lyric:
“Don’t you think 19’s too young to be played by your dark, twisted games, when I loved you so? I should’ve known.”
It may seem that being a victim of the betrayal of an ex is an incredibly old-fashioned story that you would regularly see in the tabloids – a narrative surrounding Swift’s relationships that has become the subject of much media attention and coverage.
For Swift however, this narrative has helped her to reach the top of music charts and resulted in record-breaking sales – her 1989 album, which is a departure away from country music made Swift the first artist to sell one million or more copies of an album in a week-long period for three albums.
Swift’s all girl squad was no pushover either.
The squad, comprised of successful, beautiful women from supermodels to singers to actors with Swift at the centre of it all – could very much be interpreted as a message titled ‘fuck you’ from her to all the girls, like her exes, who have bullied and rejected her at school.
Again, what seems like just a group of really good friends hanging out and having a good time is nothing but a marketing ploy – rubbing her triumph and successes in peoples’ faces whilst evoking her past victimhood.
Like her relationship with the squad, her relationship with her fans is also founded on victimhood.
Take, this comment that Swift left for a bullied fan, for example.
“We go through life with a list of names we’ve been called. (I have a feeling mine is longer than yours). But it doesn’t mean those things are true and it doesn’t mean we have to let those terrible names define us in any way, you lovely, BEAUTIFUL girl.”
Apart from befriending and interacting with her fans online, particularly, with those who are vulnerable, the 1989 World Tour is also another great example of how the narrative of playing the victim is so emblematic to the Taylor Swift brand.
1989 Secret Sessions, Photo Credits: Taylor Swift Instagram
From having attended one of her concerts from ‘The Red Tour’ back in 2014 with my sister in London, I have experienced it first hand.
There is no denying that Swift uses her concerts as a catalyst to connect with her fans at a more intimate level – by mixing her performances up with long speeches about different stages of life: growing up, falling in love, being bullied and staying strong throughout it all.
Giving fans her advice during their most vulnerable times and putting herself into the narrative was such a smart move on Swift’s part.
Not only was she able to control the message offered to them, this only encourages her fans to go out and spend a butt load of money in buying her albums and tour tickets – further fueling the Taylor Swift brand and generating positive publicity amongst the media, press and the public.
It is needless to say that Taylor Swift has officially scored a touchdown.
And honestly, all hail to her PR team – the best of the best and mastermind behind all of her success so far.
Unlike Swift, Ryan Lochte failed miserably by playing the victim.
Yes, Ryan Lochte – 12-time Olympic medalist American swimmer, in second ranking just behind the undisputed Michael Phelps.
What went wrong on his side?
Lochte initially reported that him and his three fellow U.S. swimmers Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen, were being robbed at gunpoint by men who were posing as police at a gas station.
In fact, what had actually happened was a completely different story.
The Rio police revealed that Lochte had ‘fabricated’ and ‘over-exaggerated’ the entire story – further proven when footage of that night was released showing the swimmers getting into a heated confrontation with armed security guards after vandalizing property of the gas station.
All four athletes were on their way back to the Olympic Village from a party in a taxi, which pulled over at a gas station to allow them to use the restrooms when this incident took place.
This incident made major headlines all around the world and only created nothing but trouble for Rio and Lochte.
Let’s start with Rio.
Rio is the first city in South America to host the Olympic Games – that is HUGE.
Unfortunately, Rio is also known to be a beautiful city that is constantly plagued with street crime particularly in tourist areas that have high levels of traffic – a major issue heading into the Games.
One of the most important concerns of hosting the Olympics in Rio or in fact, any city is ensuring the safety of the world’s top elite athletes.
Brazil deployed over 85,000 police and military to show that Rio will indeed be the safest city in the world during the Games.
The Australian team, for example, banned its athletes from going on the sand of Rio’s Copacabana and Ipanema beaches between the times of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The U.S. team was advised by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to take USOC vehicles, media buses or Uber instead of taking taxis – a protocol Lochte and his swim mates clearly did not follow.
Even with such extensive security warnings and detailed protocols – it still wasn’t enough.
Lochte’s story harmed Brazil because the storyline stole attention away from the Rio Games themselves.
Worse, this armed robbery incident just put the criminal downside of this city back in the spotlight – the last thing Brazil or Rio wanted.
Lochte, on the other hand, was equally in hot waters after the Rio Olympics incident – he lost all four of his commercial sponsors: swimwear company Speedo USA, clothing line Ralph Lauren Corp, mattress maker Airweave and hair-removal brand Gentle Hair Removal.
Speedo was the first company to cut ties with the athlete, making the decision to donate a $50,000 portion of Lochte’s fee to Save the Children, a charity that benefits youngsters in Brazil.
Ralph Lauren followed soon after, ending its association with Lochte by not renewing his contract.
Ryan Lochte’s name & image has been taken off the Olympic endorser page on Ralph Lauren’s website pic.twitter.com/NKZhTm8peU
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) August 21, 2016
Shortly after, Gentle Hair Removal and Airweave ended their partnership with the Olympic swimmer too.
This is a BIG blow to Lochte’s career – the loss of all these major endorsements raises many red flags as to whether he will be able to gain sponsorship money so that he can continue training again for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
That is not the only issue.
The new, up and coming talent is also something that Lochte has to seriously watch out for – every four-year cycle, it is no surprise that many younger Olympic stars emerge.
This only makes the competition for endorsements fiercer than ever that it will take several gold medals or an incredibly compelling personal story to earn big, multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals.
Lochte is 32 – his age may deter him from being as competitive moving forward.
In Rio, he qualified in only one individual event, finishing fifth in the 200-meter individual medley – leaps behind the one and only, Michael Phelps.
But, Lochte did help Phelps and the American team to win gold in the 4×200 freestyle relay.
But that’s just it – Lochte only won one gold medal in the Rio Olympics.
The stories about Lochte in the news and tabloids even up till this day – not the most positive especially since he has somewhat of a reputation for acting up.
This only challenges brands to question their decision of whether to take a gamble in sponsoring a celebrity or celebrity athlete like Lochte.
Lochte really screwed up.
Most of his marketing value was tied to campaigns prior to the Olympics.
Now that he has made such a mistake, this has cost him almost all, if not all, of his short-term marketability – advertisers and brands have no tolerance for such controversial behaviour of any type.
Moving forward, the way Lochte deals with anything is going to be more important than the aftermath effects of the Rio incident.
Take a page out of Swift’s victim playbook, Lochte.
Playing the victim certainly did not help Lochte’s case, but instead, it became his worst nightmare.
How does Taylor Swift feel?
Ryan Lochte, not so much.
Probably, more like this.