My Bad Blood with T. Swift

Published November 9, 2021, The FXBG Magazine

How I Learned to Embrace Taylor Swift’s Music for a Week

by Jean Mondoro

The first time I heard Taylor Swift’s Blank Space, I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.  “You look like my next mistake; Love’s a game, wanna play?”  It just didn’t sit right with me.  It was a message that seemed to glamorize a relationship without any genuine love for the other person.  She sang, “Baby, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.”  I heard, “I won’t treat you right, but I look good.”

When sharing my opinion with others, I’m told that she plays on the reputation the media has put on her of being a “wild child”.  I can appreciate that she’s exaggerating for effect.  However, I figured that she gained the reputation through some truth, and that was enough reason for me not to listen to her music.  While the melody is catchy (I still can’t get it out of my head), the lyrics are terrible.  Mostly, I don’t see this woman, belittling what men look for in love (“Boys only want love if it’s torture”), as a positive role model.  I’m also of the firm belief that some of the worst messages in songs have the most addictive beats.

Recently, though, I came to the realization that perhaps I haven’t given Taylor Swift a fair chance because of this less-than-intriguing first impression.  I took a step back and asked myself: Why do I dislike her so much?  Is it just the song?  Could I find something to appreciate in her music if I got off my soapbox?  Because I wanted to find out what I was missing, I decided I had to give her another chance.

I downloaded a “This Is Taylor Swift” playlist on Spotify and started to truly listen.

The first song that came on was Willow.  As I listened, I found myself wanting to dislike it and looking for fault with it.  And so, the inner battle began.  It was so engrained in my mind that I did not like Taylor Swift’s music that I had to fight the inclination to dislike her songs.  But as Willow went on, I admitted that it wasn’t too bad.  It’s a sad song of an unhealthy relationship of the past, and I thought the musical and lyrical aspects flowed well, like the tree in the song.  It still wasn’t my favorite musical style, but I was surprised that the lyrics of this song struck me the most.  I reflected on how accurately her words describe a controlling partner when she sang, “Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind.”

Next up on the playlist was Champagne Problems.  This was an interesting one about a relationship that everyone expected to end in marriage but never reached engagement.  It wasn’t inherently bad in any way, but I just didn’t get it.  “Because I dropped your hand while dancing, left you out there standing crestfallen on the landing…”  I understand these lines as well as the other passages which describe the breakup and that “no one’s celebrating”.  But at the end of each stanza she sings, “Champagne problems”, and I don’t know how to interpret that.  Is she referring to him turning to alcohol after the breakup?  Is it a haunting glance towards what could have been (drinking champagne at their wedding)?  Or am I overthinking it?  Perhaps something to appreciate is how Swift can send a message complex enough that not all her listeners “get it” on the first try.

The two songs which followed were ones which I had heard before.  Shake It Off rubbed me the same way as Blank Space.  It strikes me as very classic Swift, and I couldn’t find anything that I liked about this song.  When she sings about not letting the negativity bother her, it sounds to me like she doesn’t care enough about what’s happening around her.  It makes me think that she doesn’t take life seriously.  Wildest Dreams is one that I can appreciate more.  I enjoy the way the melody flows and matches the wishful lyrics about a girl with a strong desire to be remembered by the man who walked away.  I found that I didn’t mind listening to it, as the longing to be missed is something that most of us have experienced, and so it was more easily relatable.

The listening became more tedious as I began to wonder if Swift would ever talk about anything besides these bad relationships.  Gold Rush, Look What You Made Me Do, Mad Woman…does she ever move past this negativity?  The media has certainly hyped-up Taylor Swift as this “wild child, bad girl”, an image that I believe she does dramatize in her music.  On the other hand, though, I still disagree on a deeper level with the messages being shared in these songs.  And while there’s more to a song than just the lyrics, it’s awfully hard to appreciate an entire song when such a major part of the story is something with which I disagree.

I was slightly discouraged.  When I began this journey, I truly did want to find something that I liked and respected in her work.  I knew I had my own stubborn opinion, but I also knew that I was biased and sincerely desired to come to a point of appreciation for things that aren’t my first choice.  At this point in my listening experience, I was beginning to wonder if it was worthwhile.  I had almost given up on it altogether when another song came on, and I was stunned by my response.

Evermore began to come through the speakers, hauntingly beautiful.  When it had ended, I voluntarily listened to it again.  The words are slightly heart wrenching, but the melody is a gentle reminder that there is hope.  It proved to me that she could write and sing in a gentler, more uplifting way.  Evermore sang of pain but also hope, and it is softer and more approachable than all the other songs I listened to.

In the gentle innocence of the song, I was reminded of my own personal upbringing in the Catholic faith.  My parents have taught me to recognize virtue from my earliest days, and song lyrics are no exception.  Most of Swift’s messages are not singing about virtuous love.  They contradict the moral compass by which I strive to live as a Catholic woman.  Listening to the piano fade away, concluding the song, I saw myself separated from Swift’s music by a wall of virtue.  Could my intense dislike for Taylor Swift be rooted in the virtues which have been established deep inside me since childhood?

I can’t seem to look past the vivid image Swift paints of a love without virtue, which so bluntly opposes my personal morals.  Perhaps this part of me hinders my ability to appreciate Swift’s music in its fullness.  And yet Evermore showed me that some of her songs do not possess the same direct resistance to those strong rooted virtues, and those are the ones with which I can connect.

Am I a Swiftie?  No.  Do I still have a strong dislike of Blank Space?  Yes. Do I have as little respect for Taylor Swift’s music as I did before challenging myself to find something to appreciate in her songs?  Not at all.  Believe it or not, I added Evermore to my playlist.

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