Falling Swiftly: Get Excited For 1989-Era Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift 1989Does anyone else feel a little like the Taylor tide is turning? Mama gonna ride that wave.

Taylor Swift has always been a curiously divisive public figure. Flawed but seemingly a fundamentally nice (and, crucially, cat-loving) person, the backlash against Swift seems to have endured throughout all of her success. I would never have referred to myself as a fan (though we all celebrated turning 22 with a loud sing-along of the track of the same name, right?), but I always felt a little bemused by the ferocity of her critics. It’s long been apparent to me that Swift possesses a rare gift for damn catchy songwriting, with hits like “I Knew You Were Trouble” ubiquitous on international radio and eternally trapped inside my head. On the eve of Taylor Swift’s fifth studio album, 1989, I’ve been feeling a very new and fervent affection for the young singer-songwriter, though. And it’s not just because of the cats. (It’s at least 50% because of the cats.)

Criticism of Swift has been extensive, to say the least. My personal issues with her have been with problematic lyrics of early hits, the boy-centric psychology that has permeated her previous albums and her pretty firm attempt to dissociate with feminism (asked if she would consider herself a feminist, Swift answered: “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”). In the past few months, though, I would argue that Swift has adequately addressed all of those issues. Regarding one of her early songs, “Better Than Revenge” (a song about a girl who “stole” Swift’s ex-boyfriend from her), she has since commented: “I was 17 when I wrote that. That’s the age you are when you think someone can actually take your boyfriend. Then you grow up and realise no one takes someone from you if they don’t want to leave.” I think it is, as Swift herself points out, crucial to remember the age that she was when she was penning her early hits. No one has the world figured out at 17 and being immersed in the catfight-loving media, it’s hardly surprising that this naïve attitude emerged from a young Swift.

Possibly most widespread of all Taylor Swift’s criticism has been the condemnation she’s received for her openness regarding her relationships with Joe Jonas, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal and other people whose names don’t begin with ‘J’. This is perhaps the preposterous argument of all time, and I’ll waste as little time as possible addressing it. Do you know how many songs are written about break-ups? Most. Do you like Ed Sheeran? Do you like Adele? Do you like Maroon 5? Do you like ABBA? Do you like Justin Timberlake? None of these artists have provoked the toxic, aggressive backlash that Swift has faced. If you want to argue that Adele was let off the hook owing to the private identity of her subject, then look at the Justin Timberlake example. He wrote a breakup anthem about Britney Spears, and yet “Cry Me a River” is never blasted for its autobiographical nature (likewise Ed Sheeran). My personal frustration with some of Swift’s music, that it is a tad boy-centric for my taste, has been curbed lately, with “Shake It Off” providing an encouraging introduction to an album that has been teased as a move away from the relationship post-mortems of her previous hits. Swift herself says, “It’s definitely much more about the last two years of my life which have been about moving to New York, surrounding myself with my friends, figuring out who I am, independence, freedom, all of those things. When I am reflecting back on a romantic relationship, it’s mostly just looking back on the things I learned from it.” Is it weird to feel proud of a person who is two years older than you? Because I feel it.

She also told Esquire: “I do not need some guy around in order to get inspiration, in order to make a great record, in order to live my life, in order to feel okay about myself. And I wanted to show my fans the same thing.” My heart soars.

The final slice of beef that I have had in the past with the “Love Story” hitmaker is perhaps a little more complicated, though once again comes down to age and growth, I think. Swift’s previous comments about feminism seem to illustrate a fundamental misunderstanding of what feminism is and does, a result, no doubt, of the prevalent derogative rhetoric surrounding the term. In more recent interviews, though, a very different attitude seems to have emerged from Swift, who told The Guardian: “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means.”

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Swift recently extended support to Emma Watson following the actress’s speech at the UN.

This statement underlines the significance of Emma Watson’s recent UN speech (which directly addressed this misunderstanding), which Swift herself noted in an interview with Tout Le Monde En Parle. She explained: “I wish when I was younger I had been able to watch a video of my favourite actress explaining in such an intellectual, beautiful, poignant way the definition of feminism. Because I would have understood it. And then earlier on in my life, I would have proudly claimed I was a feminist because I would have understood what the word means.”

While Emma Watson and Taylor Swift’s comments on feminism might be criticised as overly simplistic, they provide a much-needed introduction to the concept of feminism for their young fans. Certainly, Swift’s enlightenment regarding gender issues is something that has me won over. While I was always optimistic that she never opposed equality of the genders, endorsement of the term “feminism” itself is a significant move forward. I think it’s important to note that her earlier comments had come when she was still exceptionally young. She’s still young now, in fact, but her recent statements seem to be considerably more informed. She’s not alone in her transformation, I feel inclined to point out. Queen Bey herself, now celebrated for her notable use of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s definition of feminism in “Flawless”, sang lead on the Destiny’s Child track “Nasty Girl” (a lesson in slut-shaming, with lyrics like: “These men don’t want no hot female that’s been around the block female, you nasty girl”). The media in general seems to have forgiven and forgotten in Beyoncé’s case (she’s instead attacked for a multitude of other sins, stemming from the media’s blatant and continued sexism and racism), and yet Swift still seems to be persecuted for the problematic lyrics of her youth. I think in both instances, these women have become more informed and mature since the release of these early records.

One decision by Swift that I think is particularly brilliant is that for her covers of both “Just a Dream” by Nelly and “Riptide” by Vance Joy, she opts out of changing the pronouns. This heteronormative habit of the pop industry is pretty prevalent when it comes to covers, but it’s so good to see Swift bucking that trend. It allows queer female fans to identify with the music in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to had the pronouns been changed. Added to that, her latest track, “Welcome To New York”, includes the line, “Everyone else here was someone else before. You can want who you want; boys and boys and girls and girls.”

Untitled-3To me, whether or not Swift’s virtues outweigh her flaws isn’t even a question. From “no, it’s becky”, to her considerable generosity with fans, to her philanthropic efforts, Swift seems like just the kind of person I’d want to sit down and marathon Parks and Rec with while consuming a big ol’ batch of her homemade cookies. If you take one look at her cute-ass Tumblr page, you can’t ignore the wonderfully down-to-earth person that Swift proves to be. Legit, if I was a famous person, I would aspire to be everything that Taylor is (we’re on first name terms now). Everything on that page reads in perfect keeping with Tumblr’s slightly odd, totally brilliant sense of humour. The fact that Taylor gets it and actively seeks to be on the same level as her fans speaks volumes if you ask me. Even at her ridiculous level of fame, she manages to become an involved member of her own fan community. Stories of Swift’s efforts for her fans have included her surprising a bride-to-be, visiting and singing to a sick fan in hospital, inviting fans to hang with her and listen to 1989 ahead of the release, giving a fan she ran into $90 because it was her birthday, inviting a fan who was hit by a car on the way to her concert backstage at another tour date, sending love on Instagram to a fan being bullied, and reportedly donating thousands of dollars to a homeless fan. I’ll buy her record because it’s catchy as hell, and damn those hooks, but I write this blog because girl deserves a break from all those who won’t.

Her newest tracks have slayed. “Shake It Off” is one of my favourite songs that Taylor has yet delivered. It’s fun, fast and freeing; it’s an invitation to have a good time, to let loose. In message, it seems an updated “22”, with an even fresher sound. It is also the best track in my iTunes for pushing me through the end of a 5k run. “Out of the Woods” is just as impressive, a near-perfect pop song that shows the vast potential of Taylor Swift. At 25, she’s producing some of the best pop around. It’s hard to imagine how good she’ll be in the future, but I’m hella excited about it.

I really hope the momentum of public opinion is beginning to shift in Taylor Swift’s favour. It’s about time we all just dance like it’s 1989.

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