What we can learn from the evolution of Taylor Swift

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I still remember where I was when I heard one of Taylor Swift’s songs for the first time. I was riding in the back of a neighbor’s minivan and my friend showed me the CD case of her debut album as we listened to ‘Teardrops on my Guitar.’ I liked her music right away and from then on was an enthusiastic ‘Swiftie (Swifty?).’

Most of Taylor’s early tunes involve her liking someone, longing for them, enjoying and admiring them, or breaking up with them. As a fourteen year old, I related to her thoughts quite a bit. Even as I got older I continued to enjoy her songs and got so excited each time a new single or album was released. I remember freshman year of college gushing about ‘Red’ with my friends and two years later listening to ‘1989’ on repeat.

Over the years, you can definitely notice a shift away from the country style she started out with to a more pop sound. Not only that, but as Taylor got older, her lyrics also lost some of their hopefulness and sweetness that are so prevalent in her early songs like ‘Love Story’ or ‘Fearless’ or ‘Hey Stephen.’

Her song ‘Blank Space’ made this especially evident as she mocks the reputation given to her by the media of being a psycho man eater who preys on a guy any chance she gets. I remember watching the music video in a music class junior year of college and being in awe of the dark humor we hadn’t really seen before.

This change of tone was also clear in her song ‘Bad Blood’ with a threatening music video to accompany it; now the difference is especially vivid with her newest release, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ which would give a younger me nightmares.

Taylor Swift certainly knows what she’s doing as an artist. Everything she does she does very well, she clearly has a vision and carries it out faithfully. Her tunes are catchy and communicate clearly what she wants to say with each song and video…it is admirably intentional. Not only that, but especially the last two albums have been sensational, meaning they have created a sensation. People talk about it, whether you like her, hate her, think she’s overrated…you’ve probably had a conversation about her newest release.

While I admire her work and can enjoy her latest hits, this last album especially has made me nostalgic for the sweet, romantic Taylor we first met. I think growing up in the spotlight has to be really tough, and I think her experiences have made Taylor Swift a lot more jaded. Even behind the scenes you see her joking around, playing it cool, not wanting to take anything too seriously.

Seeing her change you could say that this is what happens to all of us as we get older. We realize that life isn’t always peachy, we get hurt, we learn from it, we become more realistic…we grow up.

Maybe you can say that 27 year old T-Sizzle is a lot more mature than her 16-year-old self, and I’m sure you’re right; but I wouldn’t say that her outlook on life is somehow superior now than it was 10 years ago.

Her songs now express a hurt that has been caused by friends who turned on her, criticisms she’s received and repeated heartbreak. We see this in her lyrics that denounce romance and instead pronounce relationships as little more than games to be played (Are You Ready For it).

I think to an extent we all experience these sort of wounds over the course of our lives, but I guess I’m not sure becoming hard and cynical is the answer. I think as children we’re really good at trusting, we’re highly dependent on others. As we get older we become more independent and often reluctant to rely on others for anything. We have our own dreams, our own goals, our own needs and wants that don’t require someone else’s help. As long as we can get the job, buy the house, run the marathon, travel…we’re satisfied, complete, invulnerable.

I wonder, though, if those ‘acquisitions’ are enough to fulfill our desire for intimacy. I wonder if we let someone in, we could someday prove that the new Taylor Swift isn’t 100% right in denouncing love. I wonder if our dreams and goals are things we can share and work toward with another person. I wonder if maybe the young Taylor had it right and just got a little misguided on her rise to fame. I wonder if that’s what happens to all of us (minus the fame).

Maybe Taylor Swift isn’t as cynical as her new songs imply, I hope that is the case. Being open to loving and being loved by other people is possibly the most important part of our lives, hurt is inevitable but I don’t think we would ever want heartbreak to have the final word.

Recently I’ve been listening a lot to singer/songwriter Alanna Boudreau. In her song ‘I’ll be your Woman’, she says:

“Keep your affection in boxes, keep your heart free, that’s what they told you those sly foxes but that don’t faze me.”

Isn’t that so true though? We are told that, whether it’s by Taylor Swift, media, our friends or family or even our own experiences…we’re told to be on guard and I think that may be causing more harm than good. If we’re always looking out for ourselves we’ll miss the opportunity to experience the joy that comes from deep communion with others, from self-gift and from really knowing and being known by another person.

I may sing along with Taylor Swift’s newest, catchy hits, but I hope I live my life a little more like the teenager who sung about dancing in the rain and eyes that are like the jungle.

 

 

*Picture taken on our way to Sullivan’s Island while listening/singing along to some old school Taylor*

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