As a female around the same age as Taylor Swift, I feel as though I grew up with her. When she became famous – in all of her country princess glory – I was in high school and could relate to every lyric that she sang. Her teardrops on her guitar seemed to resonate with me; I would listen to her croon about broken love as I stared at my dusty guitar in the corner of my bedroom and nodded in agreement with each line delivered. Taylor Swift, in a twisted way, became the distant friend of mine who would become my security blanket on days when I felt less-than-great about my single status, and days when I found myself missing my ex. But, as I got older, it seemed like Ms. Swift remained in the mindset of a fifteen-year-old. As she cried in her songs about boys breaking her heart, I started to relate more to songs in the realm of “party all night and day!” rather than songs about sipping hot tea and looking at photos of my ex and I. Despite this, I still went to the store and purchased Fearless, Taylor’s second album. “You Belong With Me” made its way to parties that I frequented, and I definitely recall drunkenly singing along to “You’re Not Sorry” with my best friend in the early morning hours.
My best friend and I, still holding on to hope for our girl Taylor, went to Madison Square Garden to see her “Fearless Tour” in 2009. The Garden was sold out – girls screaming at pitches I didn’t even know were possible, moms donning earplugs, and boyfriends diligently checking their phones – an eclectic mix gathered to see the singer. With decent seats, we were actually very excited to be there in that moment. I will never forget as long as I live, the second that Taylor came onto stage and began singing. I dropped my hands from the air, slouched a bit, and lost any and all hope for her. Singing live is not her forte, sadly. As someone once put it, she is “a shower singer who got a record deal.” None of her recorded notes were hit, her stage presence was more awkward than I could stomach, and she fake-cried more than three times within the first twenty minutes of the show. I could not wait to leave. Let it be known that I have frequented many concerts in my day, and Taylor’s was, without a doubt, the worst show I have ever seen live. I speculate that the energy was rampant due only to the fact that the crowd felt like they were witnessing their personal messiah in the flesh. I was able to push the rowdiness aside long enough to truly pay attention to her as she awkwardly leaped around and slammed her long legs to the beat of the music. It was at this time that I felt my first tinge of hatred for Taylor. How can someone perform so terribly and still sell out Madison Square Garden? The last time I was at a sold out show at The Garden, I was watching KISS perform… true artists, not a second-rate high school talent show performance.
It took a while to shake off the horrible memory of that concert and, by the time that I felt I was capable of picking up the pieces of my life and moving on from such a tragedy, Taylor Swift released Speak Now. Within the lapse of a year, the singer had publicly dated John Mayer, Joe Jonas, and Taylor Lautner, and had been humorously (or, for some people, tragically) humiliated by Kanye West at the MTV VMAs. Speak Now was a reflection of Taylor’s “whirlwind” year – songs about heartbreak, love, and growing up – none of these topics were a shock to anyone. When I heard her first single, “Mine” on the radio, I was hit with a wave of post-traumatic stress disorder (or something eerily similar). Her squeaky, almost-country-almost-pop voice was damn near on every radio station and, before I could declare my unwavering hatred for her, three more singles came out of the woodwork. What is happening?! “Back to December” was shared by just about every female my age at the time and dubbed the “best break up song of the year”, despite the fact that it was more of an “I wish we didn’t break up” song versus an actual break up song. I spent the better part of 2010 shaking my head in disagreement with every Taylor Swift fan that I came into contact with.
Fast forward two years… It was a fateful Tuesday morning shift at my job in Austin, TX. I was opening the restaurant, setting up the bar for the day, and cleaning the tables when my eardrums began wailing in pain at the sound of “We Are Never Getting Back Together.” Why did this have to happen to me? Why here? Why now? I had so many questions and no questions at the same time. The bubble of Taylor-free happiness that I was living in for the last 730 days was popped the second the repetitive chorus chimed through the speakers surrounding me. I looked at a coworker and asked, pale faced, “Is this the most obnoxious thing you have ever heard in your life or is it just me?” He asked if the singer was from the Disney Channel and I responded that I had no clue – but, truth is, I knew all too well who the singer was.
Two years passed since my almost-meltdown in Texas. I was living in New York City for six months when the news broke that Taylor Swift had moved to Manhattan to “focus on writing her new album.” I had to refrain from gagging when I read that headline, and prayed that she wasn’t living close enough to me where I could bump into her on the streets. When I told my boyfriend the news of her move (in utter disgust, mind you), he asked me where my hatred for her stemmed from. The words escaped my mouth before I could even put them together: “She is simply the worst. She is older than both of us and acts like she is fifteen. She is also basically a borderline child molester because she is dating a seventeen-year-old right now.” According to him, I had such a seething venom in my words that he didn’t even want to question me.
All was quiet in the world of Taylor Swift for several months. The only news about her was that she left the gym “looking as though she did not even exercise.” It wasn’t until I took an interest in Jack Antonoff’s new band Bleachers in March of 2014 that I began hearing actual news about Taylor. According to Jack, he was assisting in the writing process for her new album. I ranted to my friends about how it was ridiculous that he would ever work with her, vowing to only listen to the songs that he contributed his talents to. That seemed fair to me. “Out of the Woods” was released and, knowing that Jack had produced and co-wrote the song, I purchased it on iTunes before listening to it – hoping that some of my money would go to him. I braced myself to hate it, but what happened immediately after I hit play stopped my entire world…
Four long years of hating Taylor Swift had come to this: I actually liked this song. The opening mix to the song is clearly the work of Jack Antonoff and anyone who listens to his music can vouch for that. But the chorus, the bridge, and everything in-between was so different. This wasn’t the girl who sang songs that made me want to smash my head against a wall – this was a singer who had clearly come to terms with the fact that what she was doing before wasn’t hitting the right audiences. (In my head, I am the audience that she wanted so badly to reach.) “Out of the Woods” spoke to me in ways that Taylor’s music hadn’t in years. Could this mean that I like Taylor Swift now? I played the song for my boyfriend, who nodded to the beat and admitted to enjoying it after it was over. I asked him if he could explain to me how or why I was enjoying the song. He could not. He told me to listen to some of the other songs that she had released. I was hesitant, but obliged. I opened Spotify (two days before Taylor decided to pull her music from the app), and listened to the entire album from start to finish.
When the last song on the album finished, I felt like I had just gone through every emotion possible: curiosity, confusion, anger, happiness, sadness, happiness again, and then utter disbelief. I had just listened to over an hour of Taylor Swift and only winced during “Welcome to New York” – one song on the entire album! This must mean that I like her, right? I noticed online that others felt the same – various writers were commenting on their feelings of confusion as well. Even Saturday Night Live put together a skit about hating and then loving Taylor. The world was buzzing about this album and rightfully so. The album is fantastic and has broken records worldwide.
1989 is the album that has, in my opinion, made Taylor’s career come full circle. Her debut, self-titled album was a very childlike take on country music – songs that told stories with a nice banjo in the background. As the years progressed, her music almost took a backseat to her personal life – the media painted a picture of a girl who seemed to be looking for love just to write songs, which then projected a shadow over her lyrics. Taylor is a very talented songwriter – that aspect of her career has never wavered. Each album has proven that, despite competition on the charts, the singer knows how to sell her music. While fellow artists have changed their look, their sound, and their personas, Taylor has remained true to her good-girl image and I truly think that was a fantastic choice on her part. Her audience ranges from age 5 to age 55 (and maybe even older), and it all has to do with the image that I once shunned as being too good.
For those who have chosen to remain seated in their state of anger and hatred for Taylor, I extend an invitation your way to step out of your comfort zone and give Taylor’s new album a shot. I can promise that your mind will change about her music when “Shake It Off” comes on and you can’t help but sing along with the chorus. You will find yourself zoning out to her ballad “This Love”, which happens to be my favorite song off of the album, and you might even come to terms with the fact that “Blank Space” could possibly be one of the best songs this year. As the saying goes, “Don’t knock it until you try it.”
Throughout my journey with Taylor Swift, I have learned that not every singer can perform live, not every album can reach every audience, and not every lyric can carry the weight that you want it to. Taylor and I have grown up with each other – her heartbreak was once my heartbreak and, although for a long time it seemed as though she wasn’t moving forward in life like I was, she finally caught up and created a piece of work that I can stand by. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to admit out loud that I am a fan of hers, but typing it is something that I can do. So, here’s to you Taylor Swift: you lost me and now you have me again.
– By Jessica Natale for The Untitled Magazine