Everybody’s got something to say about Taylor Swift and Emma Chamberlain. They’re the queens of the music industry and of the internet. They’ve revolutionized their respective fields. They’re wealthy and white. They have gossip-inspiring dating lives and mysterious views on activism and political engagement. They fit Western beauty standards and live perfect lives with their perfect girl squads and multimillion-dollar houses.
But despite the critical acclaim and cult followings that both women have garnered, they both served briefly as the Internet’s Most Hated Woman. Swift’s stint came in 2017; Chamberlain’s a year or so later. During these unpleasant time periods, the internet decided that these women were deserving of unnecessary, relentless, and shameless hate. Most often, it was without legitimate cause.
While none of these tweets seem out of the ordinary in the toxic world of Twitter, the brevity of such intense dislike is mystifying. Swift and Chamberlain were respectively targets of hate for a few months, periods during which they underwent tremendous change and experienced enormous success. Perhaps these trolls, who were hiding behind their screens and spewing mean words on the internet, felt threatened by Swift and Chamberlain’s abilities to reinvent themselves and still succeed.
It’s no coincidence that the height of dislike toward Taylor Swift peaked around the release of her sixth studio album, reputation. She’d weathered feuds with Katy Perry and Kim and Kanye; her Instagram comments were polluted with snake emojis; Elle released an article titled “The Depressingly Predictable Downfall Of Taylor Swift.” Things weren’t looking good for Swift—until she revamped her sparkly wardrobe with black leather, released the top-selling record of the year, and embraced her new serpentine identity. Her fans went wild—and her critics did too, by zeroing in on her declining ticket sales and deeming her a failure.
Similarly, people decided that Emma Chamberlain was less funny and more bratty when she moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles in the summer of 2018. She dyed her hair brown, left her old friend group for James Charles and the Dolan twins, and joked about becoming an “LA girl”: vegan, SoulCycle-obsessed, and materialistic. Her popularity grew exponentially, and her loyal followers, longing for the old Chamberlain’s relatable driving vlogs and clothing hauls, complained. “i miss emma before la. i miss emma who would stay at phil’s for 5 hours editing. i miss iced almond milk latte drinking-carmex wearing emma. i miss no makeup wearing emma. i miss blonde emma. i miss the old emma chamberlain,” one fan dramatically lamented. Others were heated for absolutely no reason: “idk emma chamberlain but she is the most boring looking basic white girl and you guys are GASSING it.”
What was it about these two women that inspired so much public anger? Why is it that people who didn’t listen to Swift’s music and didn’t watch Chamberlain’s videos felt the need to furiously spew hate into the internet?
And why did the backlash only slow when their styles and personas changed? Taylor Swift became a cardigan-wearing, Joe Biden-supporting queen of the “indie dad demo”; Chamberlain distanced herself from her original LA squad and dyed her hair back to that sorely-missed blonde. Her video content shifted from trips to the Gucci store and road trips to Las Vegas to cleaning out her wardrobe and making coffee. Swift and Chamberlain were cool, relatable big sisters again. Apparently, reputation Taylor and LA Emma were just too edgy for the world.
Of course, neither woman is a saint. They’ve both received some well-deserved backlash over the years. Swift was dangerously quiet in the months leading up to the 2016 election; Chamberlain didn’t speak out about the Black Lives Matter movement until her followers prompted her to do so. Swift has been called out for opportunistic allyship; Chamberlain was criticized for posing in a racially offensive way in an Instagram post.
Society likes women to be predictable. Taylor Swift ushered many of us through adolescence like a knowledgeable older sister, through her songs about romance and friendship. Emma Chamberlain has influenced the way an entire generation dresses, talks, and navigates the internet. For some, watching an Emma Chamberlain video or listening to a Taylor Swift record feels like talking to a friend. And nobody wants their friends to change.
But humans evolve. The expectation that somebody should act the same for their entire life is absurd—and we shouldn’t hold celebrities to such a standard. Our love for a celebrity shouldn’t be dependent on where they live, who they’re friends with, or what they wear. We should embrace change and quit scrutinizing public figures for their reinventions. It’s cool that our idols grow up with us.
By Sophia Peyser