Hollywood is full of multitalented artists who can easily traverse the boundaries of performance genres and mediums, from music to television to film.
Taylor Swift is not one of those people.
Although Swift rose to fame as a musician, she has also tried her hand at a small acting career, appearing as a guest star in a few television shows, some commercials and three films: “Valentine’s Day,” “The Lorax” and “The Giver.”
Whatever talent and promise Swift has as a musician doesn’t extend to the big screen as her performances come off flat and uninspired due to her lack of emotional depth and authenticity in her delivery. Though none of her performances are very memorable or substantial, some are less cringeworthy than others.
Swift first appeared onscreen in “Valentine’s Day” in 2010 as Felicia, a good-natured but air-headed high schooler. Felicia has little character definition other than that she’s on the dance team, likes “caramel lattes, just FYI” and is head-over-heels for her track star boyfriend (Taylor Lautner).
Swift’s performance as Felicia is off-putting and disingenuous, as if she is desperately trying to encapsulate every high school white girl stereotype she can without knowing what being a normal teenager is like. While partially a result of bad writing, the character’s idiotic demeanor is only made worse by Swift’s forced delivery; for example, her pathetic dance moves and brain-dead act.
Next is 2012’s adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” in which Swift plays the main character’s neighbor and love interest, an environmental activist named Audrey. Because Swift is only lending her voice and doesn’t actually appear in front of the camera, her delivery seems much more natural and believable.
The best example is when Audrey talks about how the world used to be filled with trees and how her greatest wish is to see a real tree. Although the rest of her performance in the film is rather bland, Swift conveys a sense of longing, wonder and innocence with the inflections of her voice ranging from high and energetic to low and dreamy.
Though Audrey’s character suffers from the same lack of depth as Felicia’s, Swift’s vocal delivery seems more realistic. Out of her three films, “The Lorax” is her most palatable performance.
If Swift’s best performance is a vocals-only role, perhaps she should stick to her music career. Just a thought.
Swift’s most recent role is Rosemary in the 2014 adaptation of Lois Lowry’s “The Giver.” Swift’s character in the film is minor – almost nonexistent despite having her name on the film posters and appearing in the trailers.
The role could easily have been filled by a less prominent name or undiscovered star. The casting directors’ decision to choose the pop star was nothing more than an attempted cash grab using Swift’s musical fame.
In the brief three minutes that Swift is on screen, she merely plays the piano and sings in a hologram projection of a memory. Despite the hype, the scene is hardly worth being called a performance. The argument could be made that Swift was cast for her singing and piano abilities; however, she is not in the film enough to justify this, and the role could have easily gone to any other musically inclined actress.
Swift has also appeared in commercials, the most famous of which are the 2016 Apple Music ads. The trio of ads features Swift singing to some old rock songs while dancing or running on a treadmill. The ads ranged from the little cutesy “Dance Like No One’s Watching” to the cringeworthy and obviously staged “Taylor vs. Treadmill.”
They problematically demonstrate Swift’s tendency to change her image so often that it is nearly impossible to tell who she is or wants to be. She began her career as the country darling, then transitioned into the pop princess, the fierce feminist and, most recently with the Apple Music ads, the rocker chick.
The “Taylor Mic Drop” ad tries to present Swift as the rocker youth who shamelessly sings and dances in the bathroom like the rest of us. However, it simultaneously reminds viewers that she is not like the rest of us, by placing her in a lavish and unaffordable bathroom set. It’s also hard to believe that ex-country star Swift rocked out to Jimmy Eat World in middle school.
[Read more: UCLA students’ love of Taylor Swift goes back years]
To be fair, all of the film and commercial roles have featured Swift performing other people’s words and artistic visions, so I watched five of her “best music videos:” “You Belong With Me,” “Shake It Off,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “Blank Space” and “Out of the Woods.” The songs have a variety of emotional meanings in both their stories and sounds, and Swift’s acting performances in the music videos reflect that variety.
In the videos, Swift portrays longing and vulnerability in “You Belong With Me,” a free spirit and loveable awkwardness in “Shake It Off,” strength and independence in “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” madness and grief in “Blank Space” and ferocity in “Out of the Woods.” Swift’s music videos – more than her movies – prove that she is capable of emotionally rich performances given that the words and emotions she delivers are her own.
Swift’s value is highest as a musician rather than an actress. Her roles in film and television advertising rest more on her ability to sell tickets rather than the character.
For now, Swift should stick to what she knows and give up on any Oscar dreams – or take some acting classes.