Taylor swift’s not so perfect wildest dreams





Mikala Jones, Sidwell Friends '18 & Afia Tyus, Sidwell Friends '16



A Taylor Swift music video fuels stereotypes and generalizations of Africa. (Published: 2016)





At the end of the summer, Taylor Swift released her video for “Wildest Dreams,” one of her hit songs from her 1989 album. Immediately following the release, the video sparked enormous controversy because of its depiction of an unspecified African country. The video depicts a love story that takes place in the 1950’s, paralleling movies such as Out of Africa which see and represent Africa only through a colonial lens. At first glance, the video appears trivial, a dramatized romance staged in a savannah. However, Swift’s video is dangerous because it not only perpetuates stereotypes about Africa, but also her portrayal glamorizes the history of colonialism during the 1900s, a time when the continent became a playground for white European supremacy.

We, Mikala and Afia, do not believe that Taylor Swift had bad intentions when she created her video, but that does not change the fact that her video will be one of the few images of Africa millions of people will see this year. Therefore, despite Swift’s intentions, her video will continue to feed into what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian novelist, calls “the danger of a single story”. The single story the West has created around Africa is one of animals, famine, corruption, and disease. Although we rarely conceptualize other places according to their continent (for example, we rarely characterize the United States as wholistically part of a singular North America with similar challenges and successes as Mexico and Canada), “Africa” is often referred to as if it were a singular country rather than a continent. We often forget (or simply don’t know) that Africa is the world’s second largest and second most populous continent with over 1 billion people across more than 50 countries. It is a diverse, multifaceted, thriving region that is much more than how it is portrayed to the world in media, literature and even in music videos.

For centuries the majority of Western media has represented Africa in a negative light. Similar to the 1931 film, Trader Horn, a film loosely based on a safari that took place in Africa during the 1930's, Swift’s video presents Africa as a “dreamscape:” an untamed wilderness, untouched by man, and full of animals. The music video unintentionally reflects a time when Africa was known as the “dark continent,”

"WE, MIKALA AND AFIA, DO NOT BELIEVE THAT TAYLOR SWIFT HAD BAD INTENTIONS WHEN SHE CREATED HER VIDEO, BUT THAT DOES NOT CHANGE THE FACT THAT HER VIDEO WILL BE ONE OF THE FEW IMAGES OF AFRICA MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WILL SEE THIS YEAR."

a term dating back to 1878, when explorer Henry Morton Stanley first used the phrase to describe the continent that had largely been unexplored by Europeans. During this time, many Europeans imposed their power by exploiting the continent for its resources and then using the land for their own benefit.

While there are distinct differences between the music video and the 1931 film, it is shocking to think that 84 years later, we see the same single-sided image of “Africa”. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated in her TED Talk, the Danger of a Single Story, a "single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story."

Just before Taylor’s video was released this summer, the hashtag #TheAfricatheMediaNeverShowsYou was trending all over Twitter and other social media. The hashtag was created to shine a light on the beauty and success of African architecture, fashion, food, technology, and music. The goal of this hashtag is to create a complete and complex story, one in which we see the one billion people that live in 55 countries as facing diverse challenges, and also achieving success and innovation.

Taylor Swift’s video is part of a larger conversation about the portrayal of Africa in the media. Particular for consumer of Swift’s music, it is important to recognize that her video is one of the many misrepresentations of Africa that stem from an unbalanced and biased relationship with the West.

The media is a powerful tool that can positively influence how we view the world, but stereotypes prevent us from having a fully developed pictures of people and places, especially when those people and places are thousands of miles away. In order to gain a full picture of the African continent, we have to first understand where these stereotypes come from and why they are harmful. The next step in combating the single story is to provide a diverse collection of stories about Africa and its people that showcase the “bright continent.” In doing so, we can begin to make connections by emphasizing similarities across the world rather than just differences. At the end of Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, she stated: “when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”