It's Taylor Swift's world, and we're just living in it
For every season of my life—well, since I was 15—I have a song from Taylor Swift to illuminate it. Her glittering discography was the backdrop of my adolescence while I blindly filled every heart-shaped hole with a man (in most cases, a boy). With lyrics like “You held your pride like you should have held me,” best believe she was the soundtrack of my youth.
Strangely enough, I wasn’t a big fan of her overtly country sound—until I heard Maggie Roger's flawless cover of Tim McGraw. The moment I started playing Enchanted, I knew I was in deep trouble. Her songs have a way of unearthing feelings that aren’t even there in the first place. I was aware that I was nearing infatuation; it meant I would be vulnerable. You Are In Love illustrated the certainty—and risk—of love. All Too Well was my anthem for moving on while Clean paved way for a new slate—the latter encapsulating all the stages of grief. The cycle then repeated itself; I was young and romanticized what I thought love to be, with its impermanent and fickle nature.
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Artist of the Decade
Taylor Swift is a songwriting prodigy capable of making beautiful things out of the mundane. In Diary of a Song, she reveals how she created Lover, the title track of her seventh album—a late-night revelation in Nashville. It's a song “that people who were in love would want to [slow] dance to.” In her own words, the single highlights “really simple, existential questions that we ask ourselves when we’re in love. ‘Can I go where you go?’ is such a heavy thing to ask somebody. ‘Can we always be this close?’ has so much fear in it—but so does love.”
2019 was a big year for Taylor. Aside from turning 30, she was honored as “Artist of the Decade” at the American Music Awards. It was presented by the iconic Carole King. She praised the younger singer-songwriter and remarked, “It’s rare to see all those talents in one person, but that defines Taylor Swift. She is one of the only modern pop artists whose name appears as the sole songwriter in her song credits.” She also starred in the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, wherein her feline obsession was satiated. (I couldn’t watch it because I’m terrified of cats.)
Her first documentary Taylor Swift: The Reputation Concert Tour proved to critics that she’s a brilliant and spirited performer. Almost a hundred thousand people watched her during her final night on tour in Arlington, Texas. She broke records for having the highest-grossing tour in America. The Netflix documentary Miss Americana is set to premiere on January 31.
Just #Swiftie Things
In a pool of endless click-bait articles online decoding her lyrics and video symbols, Taylor has a safe space: tumblr. Her personal account is a gold mine where she regularly interacts with her dedicated fans. She also proves that she has the ability to make fun of herself. (See footage of herself high on anesthesia post-surgery.) She’s reblogged her songs as Queer Eye references, herself as Christmas trees, embroidery art of all songs from Lover and more kawaii Swiftie things.
Most importantly, she used the platform to call out Big Machine Label Group founder Scott Borchetta and music producer Scooter Braun. This was not the first time she caused a pivotal reckoning in the music industry to expose inequality. In 2014, she withdrew her full catalog of music on Spotify over concerns of artist compensation.
In a Vanity Fair cover story in 2013, she opened up about her reputation as “boy-crazy.” When asked if she was indeed one—as portrayed aggressively by the media—she had this to say: “For a female to write about her feelings and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated—a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way—that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.”
On her September cover story on Vogue in 2019, she posed as Uncle Sam from the classic American army recruitment poster. This was published a few years after an isolating season when a collective mass “canceled” her after a public feud gone awry. She shared, “I don’t think there are that many people who can actually understand what it’s like to have millions of people hate you very loudly. When you say someone is canceled, it’s not a TV show. It’s a human being. You’re sending mass amounts of messaging to this person to either shut up, disappear, or it could also be perceived as ‘kill yourself.‘”
Taylor Swift is human, after all, and she makes me want to do a better job at being one. She acknowledges things I’m—we’re—afraid to say, especially as a female. Am I taking up space? Am I being too emotional? Am I speaking too loud? All I know is I'm asking the wrong questions.
Recite a lyric from any of her albums—the older, the better—and I can easily point out which song it's from, but it's not just the music. For all these years, I've grown along with this woman, witnessed her metamorphosis—from a pit of snakes to a kaleidoscope of butterflies, visions she's slowly embedded in her body of work—and seen how “America's Sweetheart” got tired of, frankly, taking people's sh*t. At some point, she no longer wanted to be limited to people's perception (and scrutiny) of her as fragile and melodramatic, even using these qualities to take back her power.
In NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, Taylor sings a medley of songs from Lover and All Too Well. Simple as can be, this is how I will always remember her: a girl and her guitar.
Art Alexandra Lara