When I was nineteen I was deep into the punk scene. I even painted a target and the words “Please Kill Me” on the back of my hoodie (that on the front had “trix are for kids”) honoring the band Television after I read the book “Please Kill Me”. I was obsessed with my image and I would only listen to music that fit with that image. I would turn the music in my shitty Chevy Lumina way up when I rolled up to places because I wanted people to know I was cool.
Enter my thirteen year old sister and Taylor Swift. It was the album “Fearless” that got me. The title song reminded me of being seventeen and my boyfriend stopping in the rain because he wanted to kiss me. He was the first boy I ever really loved, we dated through high school and the first year of college. At nineteen, he was still A BIG DEAL to me. That moment in the rain was such a pure one, it was innocent. An expression of love between two people who barely knew what love meant, they only knew that it meant something bigger than themselves individually. When I listened to the song “Fearless” and that moment came back to me, I was shook. My world shifted. I was a different person.
Before that moment, I thought Taylor Swift was obnoxious. I probably jumped on that train because it was the popular one at the time. It still is, honestly, but more about that later. To me, never having listened to more music of hers than I had to when it came on in some store, I thought she made a living blasting her ex boyfriends and that she needed to grow up. What I was denying, however, was the part of myself that wanted to create music and blast my ex boyfriends. When you’re young, what’s more painful than the sting of rejection? In high school we are made and broken by the puppy love that we know. I wrote a poem that I thought was the best thing ever written called “Fifty Eight Days” that was about the boy who broke my heart after I crushed on him for less than two months. I still remember that heartbreak, I was fifteen and spent the entire weekend crying on the bathroom floor after he asked a girl named Lindsey to be his girlfriend instead of me.
Maybe it was all of those mounting teenage heartbreaks that made me put on the armor of punk. Maybe my desperate need to be cool came from the place inside of me that still felt the sting of those rejections. I didn’t know, I was nineteen and completely incapable of processing those emotions and understanding how they affected my actions. But when I heard “I don’t know why but with you I’d dance in a storm in my best dress. Fearless” my heart rang. The words resounded in my head and I knew that I got that. Taylor Swift spoke straight in to my heart, spelling out the things that I could never express that I wanted.
I spent years in the Taylor Swift closet. My sister knew, and eventually one of her friends knew, but I kept my love of Taylor deeply hidden. I only listened to her by myself or with my kid sister and her friend. When I pulled up to places in my shitty Chevy Lumina I changed the song. I didn’t dare tell anyone my secret. Two years later I decided that it was time, I’d made a new friend who was obsessed with Taylor Swift and I thought it was time to be myself. I remember posting it on facebook and a friend commented and said “You just lost all your punk points.”
Throughout my twenties, Taylor Swift’s music and I developed a deep connection. When Red came out, “All Too Well” defined the heartbreak I felt after losing the boy who kissed me in the rain just to do it. I remembered telling him when we broke up “Can you imagine not knowing each other, not loving each other?” I listened to that song and felt like I knew what she was singing about…all too well.
Speak Now was released and it was the fifth biggest debut in history for a female artist (source: wikipedia). Speak Now was an album completely written by Swift herself. Every lyric on that album came from her own brain, and it sold over a million copies in its first week. Taylor Swift took her experiences, her pains, her loves, and she wrote an entire album that made her millions of dollars. She was young and successful, but yet the most popular opinion seemed to be “she’s so annoying”. What was it that we, as consumers, found so annoying? Was it her songs, or her success?
As Taylor transitioned to pop music (her album “Red” was counted as her last country album but it’s arguable if stylistically that label still applied) she received both more acceptance and more flak. In her netflix documentary “Miss Americana” you can see Taylor herself processing that her album “Reputation” was a critical flop, not nominated for any awards. I was floored when I watched her deflate, because Reputation was a very important album to me. When it came out, I was in the process of extricating myself from an abusive relationship and I was in a very dark place. I listened to that album obsessively, because it was dark and I wanted to revel in my darkness. As I experienced the flashbacks that are triggered by PTSD, “This is why we can’t have nice things” was my anthem. I loved that man so much, and I was broken hearted that I had to leave him because of his demons. But that’s why we couldn’t have nice things.
I remember a friend sending me an article touting Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” as performative and that she was making money off of the oppression of queer people. In 2019, we still had to tear down this woman. No one was mentioning her work that she had been doing in the queer community, how she had boldly stepped out of her political silence to speak up for women and the LGBTQ+ community. In her documentary “Miss Americana” you see her having that conversation with her management team, and an old white dude tells her “What if I told you that you could cut your audience in half with one post?” She responds with, basically, “This is important. I’m doing it. No matter what you say. It’s my voice.”
It’s her voice. Her music, her documentary, her tweets. She came into the spotlight at a time that female artists, especially country female artists, were primarily under the thumb of men who produced them. The way had been paved for her by bold women like Dolly Parton but it was still a time when female artists were, on the whole, majorly controlled. I’m not claiming that she broke the trail, but she was brave enough to travel it.
I remember seeing an interview with her years ago, probably around 2012-2013 (I can’t find it now despite furious googling) where she talked about her change in style. She was asked if she was embarrassed by how she was seen when she wore elaborate sparkly gowns in her youth and she responded with something along the lines of “no. I can’t take it back, so why bother caring? When I was younger I wanted to wear princess dresses, so I did. Now I don’t, so I don’t.”
That is an attitude that I ASPIRE to. The person I was when I was fifteen is vastly different than who I was at twenty two. I became a different person when I was twenty six, and I’m yet another reincarnation now at thirty. More iterations of myself are sure to come, and with every new one I battle the insecurity of thinking that what I used to do was stupid. It wasn’t stupid though, it was just who I was. I can still love that part of me and change to be a better version whenever I want to.
Taylor, for her part, seems to understand that a huge chunk of the world loves to hate her. In her documentary she says “I want to work really hard while society is still tolerating me being successful.” Her documentary is arguably a fluff piece as it was overseen by her, and it is her telling her story and in no way objective (I love you, Taylor, but that’s true. Still support you doing you though). But it is her telling her story, expressing her feelings about a specific time in her life when she found her voice. She has the platform, the money, and the connections to do so, so why shouldn’t she?
Now to bring us to present day, Taylor Swift released a new album last night, “Folklore”. There was no elaborate roll out. Earlier that morning she basically said well my summer plans changed, and this happened instead. Hope you like it.
I’ve been listening to it on repeat today as I prepared to and started writing this article. At first I thought I would just do a review about the album, but a morning facebook notification inspired this long rant instead. I had posted a link to the music video for “Cardigan” and a friend commented “Though normally I can’t stand her I loved everything about this!” I spiraled through the thoughts of wondering why it is still so popular to hate on this woman, and how often I feel like I have to tell people “but seriously, did you listen to this song though?” I realized that maybe, like me, people hate on Taylor Swift because in some way they hate on themselves. We hate that we thought our first love was even close to real love, that we once wanted nothing more than to be kissed in the rain, to dance around in a princess gown on a royal stage. Maybe we all hate the version of ourselves that wrote the cheesy poems about a boy that we loved as deeply as we knew how for a whole month and a half.
In her new album, on the track “this is me trying” she seems to be speaking to that as well as, once again, telling us her perspective.
They told me all of my cages were mental
So I got wasted like all my potential
And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad
I have a lot of regrets about that
I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere
Fell behind all my classmates and I ended up here
Pourin’ out my heart to a stranger
But I didn’t pour the whiskey
I just wanted you to know
That this is me trying
Listen to her lyrics. Love her, and love the parts of yourself that you’ve tried to bury.
Categories: Musical Artists