Taylor Swift and the Evolution of #Squad

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There is a different definition of the word ‘squad’ in town—bringing a complicated history and a fresh set of cultural expectations.

‘Squad’ was once a term used exclusively in a military context—a tight band of highly-trained soldiers or marksmen. We know the word in the context of sports teams and police officers, and more recently ‘squad’ found a new life in the lexicon of hip hop culture.

A Swift rise to #squad

Taylor Swift’s steady rise to worldwide stardom has been well documented by the media. Swift says she wasn’t one of the popular girls in school, and songwriting became a solace when her friends were few. Swift has always been careful with public image, her astute business sense clearly playing a significant role in amassing and maintaining her $200 million net worth.

Swift’s relationships have never been far from the tabloids, with speculation over which song features the object of her latest fling. But in late 2012 the media conversation about Swift began to shift gears.

Swift’s conscious decision to pursue friendship over romance was reflected in her social media posts, and so a new definition of ‘squad’ began to evolve.

Swift’s use of the term undoubtedly finds its roots in hip hop culture—reflected in the music of rappers Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame and the 1017 Brick Squad who were the first to use it to refer to tight friendships.

Swift riffs on this meaning when she refers to her female friends as her #squad. Removed from its ghetto context #squad has emerged as an all-American, ‘inspo’ hashtag for white girls.

The essential ingredients of a #squad remain similar—dogged loyalty and a tight group of people united by a single goal. Swift’s girl squad has launched a cultural phenomenon. The awkward girl-next-door immortalised in Swift’s music video You Belong to Me is transformed into Squad Leader.

Swift’s squad is as much defined by its famously beautiful and talented members (supermodels, actresses and musicians) as it is by their unwavering commitment to support one another. These trademark qualities speak powerfully against the idea that talented women must only, always be at odds with one another.

Do #squadgoals undermine the roots of the word ‘squad’?

As society’s leading generator of endlessly shareable content BuzzFeed continues to run with the squad trend: ‘What Celebrity Squad Should You Be A Member Of?’ ‘Is Your Squad More Like The Avengers Or The Justice League?’ ‘How To Make An Epic Entrance Like Taylor Swift And Her Squad’.

While the number of women in Swift’s squad grows, so does the cultural chatter:

What makes a good squad?

Why is friendship so significant?

An answer to these pressing concerns has emerged in the form of a hashtag: #squadgoals

#squadgoals is attached to all sorts of things—pictures of cute animals, famous friends, characters from TV and films, and lots and lots of pictures of Taylor Swift and her girl squad.

Writer Judnick Mayard critiques this use of #squad in an article for The Guardian:

Black women and men are empowered by their squads and #squadgoals as they refer to the allies they’ve found in this life that is inundated by racism, sexism and elitism affecting those who look like them … a history of empowerment through the community and the protection of a self-made family. Squad goals are filled with the tales of little black children who want to make it somewhere better and hope to find that somewhere filled with those they love who want the same success, not just white faces that don’t recognize or respect them.

In an article for The Atlantic, Megan Garber unpacks the social history behind ‘the summer of the #squad’, saying Taylor Swift is ‘a performer not just of music, but of friendship’. Whether intentional or not, Swift and her girl squad have crafted an image of friendship that is so culturally powerful we all want to copy it.

There’s a lot to admire about Taylor Swift and her #squad—women supporting each other in friendship is a powerful narrative. But I cannot help but think we miss out on truly grasping the meaning of #squad if our only blueprint is an Instagram feed of smart and attractive women.

More than it seems

Our mainstream embrace of #squad often fails to understand the deeper cultural complexity.

Understanding this intricate history causes me to think about my own #squadgoals. Am I tempted only to seek the glamourous heights of Swift and her squad? After all, there is nothing wrong with having famous and beautiful friends.

Maybe this is why Mayard’s explanation of #squad resonates so deeply. This image of #squadgoals strips away the idea of air-brushed, filtered, Instagram perfection that BuzzFeed tells me should rate at the top of my friendship priorities.

At the heart of #squad is true friendship: relationships formed in the grit of life; a community; a cobbled-together family.

As a Christian, Jesus challenges me to invest my time and energy into the people society shuns, the ‘least of these’. Jesus calls me to lay aside my preference for outward perfection.

To love God, to humbly love and serve others, to love justice, to faithfully walk in holiness, to deny my own desires and prefer the needs of others above my own—these are my #squadgoals.

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