Taylor Swift has released another album spilling the beans on her private life. ‘I’d written so much tortured poetry in the past two years and wanted to share it all with you,’ she says. Her fans are lapping up The Tortured Poets Department, but her critics say dishing the dirt on her ex boyfriends isn’t fair.

Swift is famous for two things; being so massively successful that a musical visit by her can boost a country’s GDP, and for writing snarky songs about her exes. There is something very appealing about the extremes at play here; the former so grown-up and the second so teenage.

Why do people never stop being surprised at the subject matter of Swift’s songs?

Swift is audacious above all, and the title of her album is a particularly brazen joke; it’s not tortured poetry when it makes you the wealthiest lyricist in the world, or when your forte is toying with discarded men like a particularly sleek and self-assured cat. (Which she resembles.) Nobody really believes that songs like I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can) and The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived are the end result of copious tears cried into a lonely pillow.

But why do people never stop being surprised at the subject matter of Swift’s songs? It shouldn’t be such a shock when an artiste fracks their private life for inspiration; singer-songwriters in the pop and rock arena especially have done it from the Rolling Stones to One Direction. The backlash has to be because she’s female; though I’m not over-keen on her voice or her music (too white for me – there, I said it!) I’m extremely keen on her writing. There’s something subversive about seeing a young woman of the type who would usually have been a mere muse turn the tables; jilted women are meant to suck it up and change the sheets for their successor and failure to do so will draw charges of being a ‘bunny-boiler’. Swift gets the lionesses’ share of this.

‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ goes the old line, but Swift doesn’t do fury; she does cold contempt and mirthful mocking. Surely seeing her with her clothes off more than compensated the likes of Joe Jonas (‘Mr Perfectly Fine – how’s your heart after breaking mine?’), John Mayer (‘Dear John/Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?/Don’t you think nineteen is too young?/To be played by your dark twisted games?’) and Jake Gyllenhaal (‘You call me up again/Just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest’) for a bit of sniggering on the part of the Swifties? I’m suspicious of people who tut-tut over how many people showbiz stars ‘date’; they do it simply because they’re more attractive and get more opportunities. Which of us could know for sure that we’d behave with the decorum of a Victorian maiden were we to find ourselves in their shoes?

Taylor Swift wows the crowd in Arizona (Getty Images)

Teenage girls play a sorrowful role in the Story of Pop; weeping fans, abandoned groupies – even when they’re stars they crash and burn like Britney. But Swift has always been in control of her life, persuading her parents to move from Pennsylvania to Nashville when only 13. Unusually for a female pop star (whose role was sadly summed up by another broken teenage songbird, Marianne Faithfull, as ‘I’m pretty – please buy me’) she appeals even more to women than to men. There is something about the fervour of her fans which implies that they need her more than want her, and this may be a sign of the times we live in.

Always objectified and mocked, desired and belittled, teenage girls have never had the easiest time growing up; in these days when social media causes so many of them to over-think and second-guess themselves into a stupor of anxiety and low self-esteem, it’s far worse. Swift is a diamond, but not in the sentimental Cockney sense; she is glittering and hard and cutting. In her refusal to #BeKind she stands as an example to a generation of girls who have been groomed into giving up their hard-earned rights to everything from single-sex toilets to sporting triumph, who can see by her example that being tough pays off. She represents all the suppressed female fury which has seen the demographic which worships her become the highest-achieving and most socially liberal, yet the most racked with anxiety and self-loathing in recorded history. Swift is their Ripley, their Plath, their Final Girl.

Let’s hope that her incisors never grow blunt, because #BeKind is the enemy of creativity as well as womanhood. She is the heir to John Updike in her merciless micro-blading of the war of the sexes – but she is not an avenging angel, as many of her fans seek to see her, but rather a classic writer-rotter. In the Daily Mail, Tim de Lisle noted: ‘Swift is all about the lyrics…the forces of fame have turned her into Madonna and Adele rolled into one, when she’s really closer to Zadie Smith.’

That a good writer is a rotter is nothing new. Back in 1975, Esquire magazine published part of a short story by Truman Capote entitled ‘Le Cote Basque, 1965’ in which a group of New York society women meet for lunch at the eponymous restaurant and discuss their friends’ scandalous behaviour. It went on to appear as part of his unfinished novel Answered Prayers, and is now the subject of a new TV show, Feud: Capote Vs. the Swans. I remember reading the book in 1994 when I had already been a writer for more than half my life – and far from being scandalised that Capote had blabbed about his mates in that way, I only wished my friends were interesting enough for me to do the same thing. I totally identified with his reaction when his ‘swans’ dumped him: ‘What did they expect from me? I’m a writer!’

I’ve been a published writer since I was 17; now I’m 64. I know my kind: we’re rotters. Look at the way every great novelist from Dickens to Tolstoy to Amis treated their wives. Think of what Graham Greene said – ‘There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer’ – or what John le Carre said about his adulterous affairs, often with his friends’ wives:

‘They produced in my life a duality and a tension that became almost a necessary drug for my writing, a dangerous edge of some kind…they are not therefore a ‘dark part’ of my life, separate from the ‘high literary calling’, so to speak, but, alas, integral to it, and inseparable.’

I’m sure there must be some nice writers out there somewhere, but if we’re talking about excellent writers, they’re definitely massively outnumbered by the nasty ones. It goes hand in hand with being unsentimental enough to see the human condition clearly and with being hard-hearted enough to use whatever happens to you as part of the creative process.

Taylor Swift has learned the same lesson

Nora Ephron said of her writer mother – who raised four daughters to be writers – ‘We all grew up with this thing that my mother said to us over and over, and over and over again, which is ‘Everything is copy.’ You’d come home with something that you thought was the tragedy of your life – someone hadn’t asked you to dance, or the hem had fallen out of your dress, or whatever you thought was the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being – and my mother would say ‘Everything is copy…writers are cannibals, they are predators.’ Taylor Swift has learned the same lesson.

Last week, Swift described her latest record as ‘an anthology of new works that reflect events, opinions and sentiments from a fleeting and fatalistic moment in time – one that was both sensational and sorrowful in equal measure. This period of the author’s life is now over, the chapter closed and boarded up. There is nothing to avenge, no scores to settle once wounds have healed. And upon further reflection, a good number of them turned out to be self-inflicted.’

Pop stars don’t talk like that – but writers do. Every aspect of good writing, from criticism to comedy, requires a streak of cruelty, and that includes towards oneself. Rather than attempt to cut them down to size with trigger warnings and sensitivity readers, let’s just accept that writers – be they critics or songwriters – are more morally lacking (or ‘moral-diverse’ in the modern vernacular) than many who are drawn to more altruistic professions. Let writers, including Swift, be rotters – for the alternative, that they be sober, responsible citizens, is the surest way to create a dull, moribund culture, fit only for crybabies, tormented poets and other assorted bores.

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