Creative Nonfiction: Taylor Swift & ABC Nashville's Juliette Barnes

Curator's Note

 In one corner: Taylor Swift, a human being who has risen to the top of the pop music charts. In the other corner: Juliette Barnes, a fictional character on the ABC television series Nashville. In almost every piece written about Nashville, Hayden Panettiere's character is frequently compared to the "fearless" starlet.

At face value, it's a good comparison. Both are blonde country-pop singers emerging from Nashville, the King's Landing of country music. Both have successful music careers that draw criticism from the hardcore country music contigency who insist both are pop singers, not country musicians. And the high profile careers of both women have led to a few high-profile relationships and breakups, leading the general public to view both as people engaging in the world exclusively for the purpose of writing about it later, and not actually being a part of the world.

Of course, Juliette Barnes is not a real person. She's a character created by Callie Khouri and brought to life by Hayden Panettiere. She may look and act like a fictional version of Swift, but everything she does must have a reason behind it or else it contributes nothing to the qualities of Nashville. Swift, on the other hand, is a real person. She's a flesh-and-blood human being, with all the contradictions that apply to us lowly sacks of hyper-aware tissue and bone. If the spotlight wasn't on her 24/7, Swift's actions would simply be those of a twentysomething woman living her life, a subject on which Lena Dunham has a few things to say.

Yet the spotlight is always on Taylor Swift. That means everything she does and says is anaylized within the context of what we previously knew about her and how that knowlege is affected by this new information. It's curiously similar to how we deconstruct the character of Juliette, really. With both women, we seek to provide meaning within the framework of a narrative. But does that mean the Muppets are right, that "a celebrity is not a people"? My gut says no; a vast ocean of entertainment magazines and tabloids will probably say otherwise. Either way, it's somewhat dehumanizing to narrowly define Swift's aspects through the lens of Juliette Barnes. After all, only the latter's actions have to add up to something concrete.



Interesting post, Cameron. I am familiar with the show, even though I haven't seen it, and wanted to know how the ebb and flow of Swift's love life is treated in Nashville. Or is, as you seem to suggest, Juliette an archetype that Swift only coincidentally embodies?

Any similarities are coincidental. (Hayden Panattiere herself has pointed out that the character is not based on Swift; this was a perception people had based on the advertising for the show.) Juliette is a fairly complex character; she's quickly become one of the better characters on the show. But she's only had one real romantic relationship on the show so far, and that with a well-liked football player in order to rehab her image after she gets caught shoplifting. (She's also fooled around with Deacon, who's a veteran guitarist she was trying to woo onto her band, but I haven't caught up in a couple of weeks and I hesitate to call what they have a "romantic" relationship from where I stand in the show's narrative.) Juliette is defined more by her parallels to Rayna James (the veteran country singer played by Connie Britton) and by her motivations for being in country music than by romance, though romance does play a role, as it does in all good soaps. But we can really know Juliette because if we don't, she's a poor character for a soap. As Tim said back in the comments of his post on Monday, we don't really know Taylor Swift as a person, we just know who she is in public. We make lots of judgment calls about her based on her dating life and the songs she ostensibly writes on the very subject, but the truth is we don't ever know why she makes the choices she makes. Nonetheless, we try to interpret both women's lives in terms of narratives we can understand. Superficially, Juliette seems to be a fictionalized version of Taylor Swift, even if that's not actually true within the show.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.