If I were able to have dinner with anyone dead or alive, it would be Taylor Swift. There’s no question. When I was asked this question at a company “get to know you” session, I answered I would choose Amelia Earhart. Not a dishonest answer, but just not the actual top choice. I gave a historical figure I’m fascinated by, instead of Taylor Swift, because I didn’t want to be perceived as someone who was into shallow pop culture; likes what everyone else likes, isn’t interested in deeper possibilities and just wants to talk to one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
I’ve loved Taylor Swift since 2008, when Fearless came out. That album was a game changer for me. It was perfectly melodramatic for an over-emotional 12 year old. The song “Fifteen” helped me imagine my future. Taylor gave me someone to root for, to back. I recently found an old journal in my childhood bedroom from when I was in seventh grade. It’s filled with love poems and attempted lyrics, all songs about heartbreak and disappointment. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 16, and my first real relationship wasn’t until college, so I have no idea what energy I was tapping into writing these entries. They were certainly inspired by Taylor Swift, who I wanted to be, who I wanted to be my best friend.
I was deeply loyal to Taylor through Speak Now, to Red, through 1989. 1989 was my most listened to album in the summer of 2015, when I returned to my hometown after my first year at college, and spent three hot, uncomfortable months trying to fit myself into a hometown persona I had quickly outgrown when I moved to Boston. That summer I went to the 1989 World Tour, and had floor seats with my aunt and my cousins. Haim opened! Taylor Swift brought out Lena Dunham, Heidi Klum and the entire U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. She mashed up “Wildest Dreams” and “Enchanted”. At 18, this was the most amazing stage show I’d ever seen. I was mesmerized, I was thrilled to share a space with her, even though there were thousands of people surrounding me bursting with adoration, hundreds of thousands waiting for her the next night, and all the nights after.
The way I feel about Taylor Swift can be perfectly summed up in an on-going bit on one of my favorite podcasts Las Culturistas. Co-host Matt Rogers has explained in-depth, that there is Taylor Swift, and then, there is Tayla Swiff. Taylor Swift performed “All Too Well” at the Grammy’s. Tayla Swiff wrote “ME!” with Brendon Urie. Taylor wrote “New Year’s Day”, Tayla wrote “Endgame”. Taylor Swift wrote a song about young people standing up to vote. Tayla Swiff was suspected of sneaking into her New York apartment in a suitcase.
Obviously, everything comes back to Taylor Swift. It’s all her. But when you’re that mega-famous, there is certainly a divide between the person and the celebrity. We can’t expect Taylor Swift to be everything we want all the time, to never change, to never evolve. Tayla sometimes works in Taylor’s favor. “Blank Space” is quintessential Tayla, and that song is brilliant.
In 2015, I started performing poetry I had written for the first time. It was liberating. I stood in rooms all over campus and spilled my guts: about my failed relationship attempts, one night stands, all of my insecurities as I thought of myself as someone not deserving of “real” love. Mustering up the courage to perform a poem about my grandparents at one of my first shows is Taylor Swift. A year later, performing a poem about an ex at a poetry party in front of said ex is classic Tayla Swiff. I was also in a production of The Vagina Monologues in 2016, and we made our promotion video based on Taylor’s infamous “Bad Blood” music video. I was filmed lip syncing, intensely, to both Kendrick Lamar verses. Looking back on it now is absolutely humiliating, I actually want to die thinking about it. Luckily, that video has been scrubbed from the internet.
Later in 2016, the Kanye West debacle went down. Quick recap if somehow you missed it: Kanye released his album The Life of Pablo, which featured the lyric on his song “Famous”: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that bitch famous.” A back and forth started: Taylor Swift said she never approved of this line and that it was misogynistic. She even referenced it in a Grammy speech that year. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West retaliated by posting a video online of Kanye on the phone with Taylor, discussing the “Famous” lyric. Taylor seems to give her consent to being included in the song, calling it a “compliment”.
The night the video was posted I was so uncomfortable I had to get off of Twitter for awhile. #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty was trending worldwide, with people celebrating her apparent public downfall. I put Taylor Swift into the “uncool” part of my brain, the “outgrown” part of my brain. She was the woman no one wanted to be: whiny, jumping at any opportunity to be a victim. I did not back Taylor Swift, who the world had condemned as a liar and an attention seeker. I wondered if I was in the wrong, I had been overlooking her ugly qualities the whole time I was a fan. In 2020, the full video of the Kanye West/Taylor Swift phone call was released, showing that Taylor never approved of him calling her a bitch. It seemed like Kim Kardashian had doctored the footage to fit a certain narrative against Taylor.
“Look What You Made Me Do” dropped on the night of my 21st birthday in August 2017. I was out at a bar with friends, and at midnight the bar played it over the speakers, with the music video flashing on the TVs surrounding us. There was a banner underneath the video that said “TAYLOR SWIFT’S NEW SINGLE JUST DROPPED.” I was one of the last of my friends to turn 21, I could finally go to the bar, and they were playing Taylor Swift? And it sounds like THIS?
We left the bar and went back to our apartment and listened to the song more clearly. I remember laughing. I remember feeling deeply embarrassed, but I’m not sure for who. I remember the lyric “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now/Why? Oh, ’cause she’s dead” and all of us gasping in true disbelief and putting our heads in our hands. I took one look at the Reputation album cover and never fully listened.
When Lover came out in 2019 I was interested, but not enough to listen to the album more than once. I had no ill will toward her anymore, but I had completely lost interest. I thought she had shown exactly who she was, and I didn’t have the emotional energy to get involved and be a fan again.
When quarantine began this year, I found myself returning to old creature comforts, soothing sounds, songs that reminded me of what I loved years ago, which reminded me of growth and change. So, barring Reputation, I returned to Taylor Swift. I finally gave Lover the listen it deserved, and I enjoyed myself. I watched her documentary Miss Americana and I felt relief. There was a dormant part of me that wanted to adore her unabashedly, and now I felt like I could. I listened to Speak Now so many times in April. “Haunted”, which came out in 2010, is on my Spotify Top Songs of 2020 playlist.
Then, in July, she dropped folklore. A surprise release, only 12 hours notice. I was cautiously optimistic. What did Taylor Swift create in quarantine? When it came out, I rolled my eyes at the length (who has time to listen to 16 songs?), and braced myself when the first lyric of the whole album was “I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit.” And then I really listened, and I was enchanted.
I know I love folklore because it feels like it’s always been there. An old friend I fell into step with. Someone who has been in my life so long I don’t remember exactly how we met. The album hit me in waves, I would get emotional and obsessed with different songs over the span of weeks. I heard the lyric “I knew I’d curse you for the longest time/Chasin’ shadows in the grocery line” in “cardigan” and it brought me to tears in my kitchen. I went on a long, sweaty walk in the middle of summer and listened to “betty”, and I longed for the possibility of a perfect apology like Taylor had crafted. I listened to “august” at the beach in August, and “exile” in the car on the way to Acadia, Maine in the fall. I felt trust return slowly, like when you reunite with a friend you’ve fallen out with. I was so impressed with folklore that I went back and genuinely listened to Reputation. I found myself able to relax and not take it so seriously. I even found songs I had cast out previously that I really enjoyed this time around (shout out to “Delicate” and “Dancing With Our Hands Tied”).
When I was home for Thanksgiving, I had what I thought was my last Taylor Swift hurrah, at least for a little while. I watched the Long Pond Recording Sessions of folklore on Disney+ with Taylor, Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner and it made me love the songs even more hearing them stripped down. I wanted to see more Taylor, so I watched the “Reputation World Tour” movie on Netflix, all 2+ hours of it. I was googling “Karlie Kloss” and “Taylor Swift’s squad where are they??” in the year 2020. Then, I drove back to Boston alone and sang all of folklore as loud as I could. I thought I had really, truly gotten her out of my system for now. My Spotify algorithm would return to some semblance of normalcy. I’d be interested in listening to new music.
Then, in December, she announced evermore. Again, just a 12 hour notice, a sister record to folklore would be released at midnight. I went berserk. I was actually trembling in anticipation. I listened to nothing but full Taylor Swift albums all day, folklore into Lover into Reputation into Red. I rewatched Miss Americana for the second time this year. My roommate KP and I wrote up what our folklore track lists would be if we made our own versions. Then, at midnight, my boyfriend and I listened to the album together on his bed in our own headphones, communicating in facial expressions and promises to not make any hasty calls, staring up through the skylight in his room at the top of a rickety house in Allston. I thought, teenage me would think this was the most romantic thing in the world. I thought, this is how Taylor wants this album to be listened to.
I’m grateful to the folklore/evermore phase because it brought me, tripping and falling, unable to run fast enough, back to someone I’ve always loved, who is imperfect, and sometimes unbearably cringey. This is because I really believe Taylor Swift is sincere. To be genuinely sincere, you have to accept that your decisions and what makes you feel personally and creatively fulfilled will not resonate with everyone. You have to accept it all, and keep going.
On “mirrorball” off of folklore, Taylor sings, “I’m still a believer but I don’t know why/I’ve never been a natural/all I do is try”.