I hope I’m not prematurely saying this, but Taylor Swift is a legend. Love her or hate her, she’s set records and impacted the music industry. In my lifetime (but mostly through the last 10 years), I’ve both hated her and loved her. But throughout the love/hate rollercoaster, I think I can safely say that I admire and respect her artistry. Allow me to explain.
So the story of us (me and Taylor), starts back when she was a country darlin’. I first heard “Teardrops on My Guitar” on Radio Disney (because I was THAT kid) and was kinda like “eh, whatever.” But her other songs, “I’m Only Me When I’m With You” and “Stay Beautiful,” I liked a lot. We started strong. But then, the news came out that she was dating Joe Jonas, aka the love of my life.
I was furious. HOW DARE SHE TAKE MY MAN.
Even though I put up with them “dating,” we went on the first descent to hate when she went on Ellen and basically defamed Joe’s character on daytime tv. Not cool. HOW DARE YOU TALK BAD ABOUT MY MAN. (Yeah preteen me was very passionate too.)
But, when she released Speak Now, my freshman year of high school, I let bygones be bygones and we went on an upward loop. It became an inspirational album to me as a young songwriter. I remember listening to “Enchanted” on repeat before I went to my school’s Halloween dance that year and longingly stared at my crush dancing with his girlfriend the entire night. Her songwriting taught me to take my out-of-control emotions and turn them into songs. It helped teenage me a lot.
When Red came out though, I couldn’t call myself a fan of hers because I was going through an “old music is better” phase and thought I was cooler than everyone for it. In my high school, I perceived that the real cool kids weren’t into anything in the mainstream, so I was trying to align myself with them. Her shift to pop music though, was something that everyone was talking about and most people weren’t into it. It was weird and I still listened to her songs on the radio from time to time but I was in the valley again. It was uncool to like her.
Enter in 2014, she released “Shake It Off” and 1989. This time I was conflicted. I liked the songs but my question to all my new college friends was “is it cool to like Taylor Swift?” At Pepperdine in 2014, of course it was cool, according to my dear friend Noah. But who actually cares about what people think? We’re in college now! So, fearlessly, I danced on the 2nd floor of the communication building to Shake It Off as I tried to power through two finals in a row my first semester.
The love continued and reached an apex when I studied abroad in Shanghai in 2015. My theme song was “Welcome to Shanghai”—my take on the opening track to 1989. I even did a nostalgic mashup and posted it on SoundCloud. Yes, this medley still makes me tear up.
Truly, 1989 and Red became a crucial part of my soundtrack to that period of my life. The enamoration of a new city and processing a crush that never turned into anything (even though I really wanted it to) was fertile ground for Taylor’s songs to take root in my heart. I even went to see her 1989 tour when it came to Shanghai (after my faculty family convinced me to). It was legendary.
But then, by the time “reputation” came out, I really wasn’t in the mood to listen to her because I was tired of her stories of her “playing the victim” and I couldn’t sympathize that anymore. But I heard it anyway. There were a few songs that stood out to me. “Getaway Car” was the final nostalgic kiss goodbye to someone from my time in Shanghai; “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” was the other side of that coin saying that I wasn’t gonna be carrying that baggage anymore; and “New Year’s Day” was the heartfelt thank you to my friends for being with me through it all. But I still wasn’t sure of Taylor, especially with the Right Said Fred inspired chorus for “Look What You Made Me Do.” Another valley.
Now, fast forward to around June 2019, we got back on the upswing. Yeah, she did the song “ME!” with Brendon Urie (another love of my life) in April 2019, but I didn’t like the song publicly…privately though, I was jamming and having a silly goose time. The song that got me back on the upswing was “Delicate.” That song defined the first real dating experience I went through and I think of it fondly, because it was delicate for me.
Then she released “Lover.” Like I did when “reputation” came out, I listened with caution, but my reason this time for that was because I knew that her songs had great emotional power to sway my thoughts on people. I wasn’t in love but it did turn out to be a “Cruel Summer” on the bookend of the experience and “I Think He Knows” that.
Coming out of that though, the songs “Lover” and “Daylight” have been crucial to me understanding how my faith has transformed me this year. The simplicity of the “Can I go where you go?” in “Lover” has made me think of what it means to have a childlike faith. Likewise, the imagery in “Daylight” capture the restoration of hope I’ve felt in what I talked about in my Jonas Brothers retrospective. Overall, this year has been an upswing.
Whether I like it or not, her songs have been a crucial part of my transitions from kid to teen to young adult. Because I’m me and I use music as a language to explain and process how I feel, it doesn’t matter whether I like her or not because she makes music that speaks to me in human terms: in joy, in celebration, in sadness, in heartbreak, in childishness, in maturity, in fantasy terms, in real terms. I have no choice but to respect and admire that.
I can’t tell you if I’ll ever get off this rollercoaster, but I’ve learned something from it: music is a universal language and those that can use it to unite people in their complex vulnerabilities have an unspeakable power. So Taylor, it’s been a crazy ride and although I’d like to be excluded from your narrative as a “Swiftie,” I’m very thankful that you champion the tradition of confessional songwriting. I look up to you as a songwriter and your ability to create worlds within your albums has changed the game. Props, dudette.
Here’s a selection of my favorite songs from her: