1989: A Different Kind Of TS

Taylor Swift recently announced she was launching a personal line of clothing in China, and produced a video to promote the launch where she talked directly to her Chinese fans. The Wall Street Journal reported that one of the main reasons for the line, which is a partnership with local company JD.com Inc., is to combat unauthorized Taylor Swift products already flooding the market.

Photo: Scott Legato / RockStarProPhotography.com
Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.

Every major media carried a story on the pop star’s merchandise, and a few have questioned whether it will be allowed.

The issue is one image that is very problematic in China, the one that uses the title of her latest album, 1989. Though the title refers to the year Swift was born, in China it has a very different meaning since the Tiananmen Square massacre  occurred June 4 of that year. Estimates of the number of students killed by government soldiers during the pro-democracy demonstrations that rocked Beijing range from the dozens to the thousands, and any mention of the demonstrations or the deaths is strictly taboo. According to the Guardian, the numbers “6,” “4” and “1989” are banned on social media sites. Also Swift’s initials are “TS,” which can be read as the romanized acronym of “Tiananmen Square.”

Nevertheless, Swift’s 1989 World Tour is scheduled to hit Shanghai for three shows in November, and so far no one has objected to the name of the tour in China. Moreover, the album is freely available, through JD.com, so maybe the concern is unfounded. In other Taylor Swift news, a so-called social media feud between the singer and fellow pop star Nicki Minaj led to charges from at least one fan that Swift is guilty of plagiarizing Korean act 2NE1.

The accusation led to an article published in Jezebel that referred to the “Korean roots” of Joseph Kahn, the director of Swift’s video for “Bad Blood.” The mention, it turned out, had something to do with an article on Kahn in the Korea Times newspaper, but the article said nothing about a connection between Kahn and Korean music, only his work on the American pop scene.

Kahn subsequently fired off a long complaint against the writer of the Jezebel piece and said that while he was born in Busan, South Korea, he moved to the U.S. as a young child and his knowledge of K-pop is minimal at best. In any case, the “sci-fi tropes” he used in “Bad Blood” are extremely common in pop culture.