Taylor Swift’s Next PR Move (Why Can’t We Let Teen Stars Grow Up?)

We know it’s hard to let go. The public loves its pop stars.

We, the public, feel that entertainers like Taylor Swift belong to us, to our families and to our Rockwellian image of what a young American woman should be: smart, pretty and forever 17. Sure, it’s unfair, but we don’t care; “the public” does not subject itself to petty concerns like ethical consistency. We’d never criticize our own daughters or nieces for growing up, but Taylor Swift? How could she?

Swift doesn’t just boast legions of young fans who idolize her; she also attracts a large adult demographic more interested in glorifying youth itself. To disillusioned grown-ups, being young like Swift means being unbridled, healthy, passionate, and open to everything that a bright new world can offer. The reality of being young, of course, is different–while it may at times prove sublime, the act of becoming an adult remains fraught with disappointment, divorce, bulimia, bullying and acne (the horror!).

Swift, now 22, just released “Red,” her fourth album. It is, of course, a departure from her previous albums, the first of which reached our impressionable ears just six years ago. But will we accept it? In a fascinating application of herd mentality, young and talented female artists like Swift often encounter a public backlash when they move into adulthood.  The public feels–despite all logic–that the artist they learned to love as a precocious teen has somehow betrayed them by becoming an adult.

Young superstars like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus have no choice but to rebel, fighting back to reclaim their own personas through public meltdowns, domestic struggles or sassy new hairdos. The public shouldn’t blame them or resent them for it, because most young people go through similar identity crises. Example: Do you remember what your hair looked like at 20? Now imagine your every move being scrutinized by millions upon millions of fans–and just as many critics.

Sure, public perception of Taylor Swift’s latest album is a matter of opinion–but from a public relations standpoint, she has effectively grown into her new, more mature persona. She’s already made the big change, and she didn’t need a buzz cut or a TMZ mug shot to do it.