Thursday, December 20, 2018

Stars I Love: Taylor Swift

If you had told me a year ago, let alone five years ago, that I'd be doing a whole post on Taylor Swift I wouldn't believe you. It's not that I was a certified hater. Her music was the inadvertent soundtrack of my adolescence, but bopping along in the car to her latest hits wasn't nearly enough to make me a bonafide Swiftie.

Other than being aware of her music growing up, one of the first memories I have was attending a sold-out showing to Valentine's Day. The theater was filled with lots of couples on dates, but it was also filled with teenagers my age. While I was convinced at the time it was the star-studded cast that might've attracted young adults to the movie, or the fact that it was a holiday, I look back and think now that it was all about Taylor. For a few reasons: that theater has never been that packed since (excluding superhero movies), and every time Taylor showed up on-screen, those different groups of girls were in full-fangirl mode - not just when her characters' boyfriend (Taylor Lautner) was on-screen but also when she had a few small individual moments of her own.  I was in the middle of Taylor's influence and didn't even quite realize it.

And, that's how the next several years of my life went: Taylor could be heard in every retail store, on the drives to and from school, seen on award shows and in movies or tv shows, but I didn't become hardcore about it.

Fast forward to 2017, and I wasn't that excited for her sixth album Reputation. Briefly, I was hyped for the Look What You Made Me Do music video, but when it was finally released, I wasn't crazy about it because I didn't understand all of the references or why it was considered a comeback of sorts from her fans. Again, I wrote it off.

Then one day, when I was down on my luck or anxiety or depression or whatever you want to call it that just genuinely made me feel like crap about writing and making something out of nothing, I came across one of her Making Of videos. It truly surprised me that there was someone who's creative and she gets stumped, her words change, her songs morph into something it might not have started out as, and I didn't suddenly feel so bad about what I was trying to do anymore.

We all kind of hear about people who struggle to create, and go through it ourselves if that's what we want to do, but it was a relief to see someone my age who creates what she does and it's not easy. As she practiced the same melody over and over again, look distressed and confused, something in me went: Hey, I do that a lot when I'm writing; I'm confused and stumped but keep trying anyways. And that my friends was how I fell into this rabbit hole. I finally didn't just stop at watching one video or hearing one song - there was nothing left to do but commit to full fangirl mode.

 Like Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, or Friends, or any pop culture influences that impact most millennials, it still surprises me how much she is up there with the likes of Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Britney Spears, and Adele. She's been a mainstay for millions of fans and their childhoods, and now adulthoods, but for some reason, her influence seems is truly underestimated.

As I became curiouser and curiouser about her career, personal life, and personality, I was pleased, surprised, and disappointed to discover the internal assumptions I had about her were wrong.

It's not new that the media will tear someone down as fast as they build someone up. The internet and social media has warped people's appetites for The Next Big Star. Young women, specifically, are put on pedestals but also expected to be 'just like one of us' - they have to be sophisticated but meme-worthy; an activist in all of the right ways or just shut up and act/sing/etc; have an innocent virgin persona or they're a slut; talented enough to be considered a valid artist and aloof enough to not take degrading jokes about them too seriously.

It's quite the tall order, and honestly, one look at the headlines that have been centered on Taylor makes my head spin: The fact that the industry remains wholly sexist and people completely slut-shamed her while Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith are not held to the same standards. Or that she deserved Kayne's famous song to discredit her and Amber Rose's success. Or the weird campaigns of getting Taylor to denounce Trump when tons of other celebrities with just as much influence stayed apolitical. Even when she was celebrated for winning a sexual assault trial, some still shamed her for being one of Time Magazine's Silence Breakers. And so many more, we'd be here forever. It's a shame that even though she's famous, she's living her life and the media keeps reminding us of everything she supposedly does wrong, and 'almost nothing she does right'.

After taking a deeper look at the news pieces about Taylor from all different kinds of perspectives, I didn't realize how much I let the media color my own opinion of her. I thought I just listened to her music, but then it sunk in just how much of an iffy judgment I had about how many boyfriends she had, the beef between her and Katy Perry, or the whole Kayne West debacle. I ended up re-watching Look What Made You Do from a satirical lens to realize that too many outside sources can make people believe whatever they want to sell: "she plays the victim, she's a serial dater, she's an image control freak, she's a racist, she's not a feminist, she's fake" and only gives you a slice of who they are (which was the big inspiration behind Reputation - which is one of my favorite albums now). This isn't to say that Taylor is perfect and can do no wrong, but just that the media seems to take a likeness to for tearing her apart all the time.

In spite of success, I remain the same person. In spite of success, I remain the same songwriter. When I was twelve years old and started writing songs, I was writing songs about my life. Just because more people are interested in the subject matter of those songs now, I'm going to continue write about my life, and I guess people are going to continue to speculate about it, and I'll continue to not say who the song is about.
What I came to love about Taylor was Taylor - the things that genuine fans have been holding onto for almost a decade. I fell in love with her unwavering personality and work ethic. Her confidence of wanting to be a singer/songwriter since she was a teenager earned her a songwriting contract at age 13, where she worked from the bottom of the industry to the top even as studio heads said that nobody wanted to listen to a teenage country star. With Taylor Swift, Speak Now and Fearless she proved them wrong and worked so hard she earned a lifetime achievement award at age 19. She kept the train rolling with Red. And then she moved from country to pop with 1989 when everyone told her not to. Her talent blew the roof off of the pop genre and she became the first woman in Grammy history to win two Album of the Year awards. And then go on to break all kinds of records for her comeback album Reputation. All of this is not just luck or happenstance; it's hard work and talent.

Perhaps more than other singer on the planet, she has a personal relationship with her fans from giving out hand-picked Christmas presents to holding secret sessions and inviting Swifties into her houses to party over her yet-to-be-released albums; she shows up at wedding receptions to perform and surprises veterans for private concerts. In return, her fandom is truly nice (from what I've encountered so far) with layered conversations about what certain songs mean, towards whom, when she's made mistakes or been misunderstood. Gearing up for her next album is like waiting for the next Harry Potter book, trying to decipher what Instagram posts and messages mean. Her albums are the Marvel Cinematic Universe of easter eggs about her life, so that gives us a lot to debate and celebrate.

What I love about Taylor, as much as anything else, is her music. Musicians often draw on their private lives, romantic relationships and personal growth for their albums, and Swift is no different despite what the media wants us to believe. She transitions between her earlier work with ideas of adolescence to moving to New York and spending time on her friendships and focusing on herself; her values of relationships have grown from love being perfect fairy tales to complicated and messy where no one is the wiser. She's been opening her diary about her life through her music, and I think - even in the wake of supposedly making so much progress with respecting women and their artform in any way - is brave. The way she plays with imagery and words is some of the most clever I've listened to, and a breath of fresh air to some of the other pop music today. People, including myself, truly underestimate the creativity she has. And that's a shame. Because beyond the reputation, she is someone that is truly worth listening to and admiring. I'm glad I finally started doing both.

Favorite Songs
but this changes all the time sooooo....

Mean

After receiving a scathing review about singing off-key alongside Stevie Nicks, Swift turned it into a national anthem against bullying. And won two Grammys for it.

All Too Well

Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much
And maybe this thing was a masterpiece 'til you tore it all up.
Running scared, I was there, I remember it all too well.
Hey, you call me up again just to break me like a promise.
So casually cruel in the name of being honest
I'm a crumpled up piece of paper lying here
'Cause I remember it all, all, all too well.

Damn, girl.


Fifteen

I heard this song when I was a teenager, but had I deeply listened to it, I think I would've liked Taylor a lot sooner. Fifteen perfectly describes what teenagers go through having crushes, not fitting in, trying to make it through high school but feeling pressure to find your place in the world. It not only shows the foresight of Taylor trying to tell record studios that young adults want to listen to someone their age, but just how prophetic it was that those fans felt validated from her songs and have ended up becoming adults with her. And, her experiences and music are still this relateable.


Wildest Dreams

I hope to be a pretty woke person, but I can't wrap my brain around the accusations and analysis of this video of celebrating or expressing colonialism when it's obviously centered on an actress having an affair while filming a movie during the Classic Hollywood era....So call me racist, but I think this is one of the prettiest music videos ever, and I love the mix of bittersweet lyrics. *sigh*

Gorgeous

It's nearly impossible for me to pick a song from Reputation because that album owns me...However, I absolutely love Gorgeous. On the surface level the lyrics are pretty simple: You're so gorgeous / I can't say anything to your face / 'Cause look at your face / And I'm so furious / At you for making me feel this way / But, what can I say? / You're gorgeous...but while truly listening to the whole song,  it feels like that moment of being at a party with someone who you're inwardly going ga-ga for but just have no way of forming words...basically how I look and react whenever I see Ryan Gosling.

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