I know, I know—I rise from the ashes that is this blog to write about Taylor Swift? Yeah, well. Is that even surprising? It’s me. Plus, I have to get this out of my system right now. This is the only time I can write this. So here you go.
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Remember that one night I touched Taylor Swift’s hair—February 19, 2011, still the best night of my life, are you tired of hearing about it yet?—I had a (what I guess you could call) premonition. As I was walking on the coliseum floor towards the exit doors after the concert, mind still blown, soul still not completely reattached to my body, I felt a tiny pang of fear in my heart. It was reality trying to creep in: “What if that’s it? What if me and Taylor are two intersecting lines, and our one point of intersection is tonight, and as I am walking away right now it’s the start of our lines moving away from each other?”
I definitely did not want to think about it at the time. I had an absolutely perfect night and reached an entirely inconceivable tier of happiness that I wasn’t even sure I deserved—there was no place for negativity in my headspace. Which is why, if you’ve had the chance to read my laughably long account of that night, the very last paragraph was this:
(Also…I realize now that no matter what else Taylor Swift does with her appearance or her music or her career or her life in the future, because of what happened on February 19, 2011, I would always and forever think of her as a perfect, beautiful human being. Always. I love you Taylor.) — me, circa 2011
How about that? I was already defensive about a thing that hadn’t even happened yet. But you could tell, no? I had a feeling. I wouldn’t have written that if I didn’t. I just wanted to be defiant and tell the universe, “No way, no way, never gonna happen.”
But it happened anyway.
I was completely on the nose, too. I mean, of course the Taylor-and-me relationship is more of a tangled web than two intersecting lines, but our separation definitely started happening after that concert, or more accurately, after that era. Speak Now was The Peak Of It All—album and concert—and after that it’s been somewhat of a downhill slope. I’ve actually already written my review of the Speak Now album, which could help bring more context to this, but I haven’t taken a picture of my merch to go along with the post yet (lol) because we temporarily moved to a smaller residence recently so some of my stuff isn’t with me at the moment…but yeah, I can see that it would be more appropriate to post this first before that. In fact, the start of that review had a disclaimer. Me talking about Speak Now would always be 100% stanning, and I felt uncomfortable posting it when in fact my current self isn’t really much of a Taylor Swift stan any longer.
But then Taylor released her new single yesterday and announced her death herself, making it a little easier for me. This post is going to be my one big long disclaimer.
If I had to chart the start of my break-up with TSwizzle I would say it was when I was watching her livestream announcement of her fourth album Red, and she played the first single for the first time—We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. It was my first taste of the Oh no she’s taking her art to a direction I’m not sure I like feeling that would eventually become more familiar. I think the idea of Pop!Taylor always makes me feel dread even now because of WANEGBT trauma. “WTF? I want my country Taylor back!” 19-year-old Nenen demanded, not knowing there was no going back. That Taylor Swift was on her way to her death. But I digress: Taylor gave me All Too Well in Red, and that’s always gonna be the best, so I forgave her. (And I’ve found a lot more love for Red much, much later, to be honest. Minus the Shellback tracks, of course. But that’s for my future review.) Plus our realities crossed again in the Red era, when she performed here, deluding me into thinking my intersecting lines premonition was already debunked.
The 1989 era was when the break-up actually happened. Nearly everything about that era was a mess. Well, I guess there was plenty in there for a lot of fans, but nothing was there for me—only my emotional baggage made me keep stanning her. (Lol.) I never liked the 1989 album on a deep level. It’s got bops in there, I could admit that, but really, I have not played it in like … two years? Maybe longer than that? No songs to relate to my own life. No lyrics to be genuinely blown away by. And for Taylor, I could forgive the art if I liked the person, but it turns out I wasn’t in fact very sure of the person at all. It’s cringeworthy for me to read my excitement in my 1989 review about the Stronger, More Independent Feminist Icon Taylor Swift™ she seemed to be at the height of the 1989 promotion cycle, because that person disappeared at the end of the promotion cycle. Her feminism turned out to be of the white privilege sort, and it was nowhere to be found when it mattered most. “I’m so excited about following my fans!” she proclaimed, as Swiftmas and Secret Sessions and #taylurking happened … but that ended as abruptly as it started, too: yes, when 1989 no longer needed to be promoted. (This irked me the most. She was literally able to turn “I love of my fans so much!!!” into a marketing stunt. Incredible.) (I met her in 2011 because of her generosity, full stop. Backstage tour, meet and greet passes, moshpit upgrades, meeting her parents—the whole [dream] works. All because she wanted to thank us for working on a measly fansite. I thought this generosity was so genuine and 1989 added a bad taste to it.) Even her #girlsquad that was like women supporting other women! (but suspiciously mostly just white women of the supermodel kind) (and weirdly giving out a “we’re so cool, you wanna be us, but no, you can’t sit with us” vibe) became a promotional tactic too, that culminated in an infamous music video. There wasn’t anything that catered to my taste even in the 1989 World Tour production, actually, not her sets or costumes or choreography—it was all such a 100% Pop Superstar production at that point and there is just something so perpetually awkward about Taylor that makes me inwardly cringe seeing her try to fit into the generic-female-pop-star-sexily-dancing-on-stage mold and never quite convincingly nailing it. (She does try her best, bless her. She’s just not a good dancer lol) Not to mention she so kindly left Manila out of her tour stops so she didn’t give me a chance to change my opinion. (Am I still bitter? Of course I am.) She had reached a level of stardom where headlines like “It’s Taylor Swift’s world and we’re all just living in it” were commonplace and revered, and I was happy for all her success, I really was, but I was also wary of reading things like that. In all of this, I was trying to see that girl that I originally liked, desperately wanting to find some authenticity to Taylor Swift beyond the Brand that seemed to permeate every facet of her public persona … and then boom, the Kimye incident broke out. And I, of course, no longer seventeen, questioned everything.
But see, this time, I no longer needed her. I was doing some growing up of my own, too. Outside of celebrity worship. And because our break-up spanned years, the separation was not severe; it became easy for me to accept that, to the surprise of no one, my favorite is problematic. I did not have to like everything she did. I could see she’s not at all a perfect human being, and that at times the cracks were more prominent than the beauty. Sometimes the thought of her annoyed me, even. This girl I was rooting for who made a muck of my expectations of her. This girl who I wanted to continue to succeed, who I wanted to continue to admire, who I wanted to be woke, but just made decisions I couldn’t get with. For the record though—I don’t blame her. I could not even begin to imagine what it would feel like to be in her shoes, where every move you make is guaranteed to be judged by people who don’t know shit. And I know she has no responsibility to please me. It’s just, you know … life. So, in mine, for a while, she became completely irrelevant. And—blasphemous it must be to say this, as a Swiftie, haha—it was easy. To not play her songs, to not even care to download her songs (yes that 50 Shades track that I only ever heard on radio), to not pay attention to her, to not care. (Plus she was in hiding as well, so. Easy!)
She didn’t need me, either; she never has. I know this. But of course we had our intersection point. Which is why I come to write stuff like this time and again. In spite of everything, that intersection is a colossal moment to me, and it’s always in me, buried deep, but there. Like—in reviewing Speak Now, of course, I had to listen to the whole album, and when Long Live started playing, I was so completely caught off guard, I started crying from the first note. I had forgotten that song. “I said, ‘Remember this moment,’ in the back of my mind,” Taylor sang.
Can you take a moment
Promise me this:
That you’ll stand by me forever
But if God forbid, fate should step in
And force us into a goodbye
If you have children someday
When they point to the pictures
Please tell them my name
Tell them how the crowds went wild
Tell them how I hope they shine
Long live the walls we crashed through
I had the time of my life with you
And then I realized she knew all along. The way I also knew. I heard that song live once, did I not? She sang it and I sang it with her. “The night you danced like you knew our lives would never be the same.” On February 19, 2011. Our point of intersection. And it was there in the air: Things will change, we know it will, but we will always have this night. And because of that night, I will stan forever. For better or for worse.
Those lyrics, though. My heart hurts. Where is that Taylor? Who weaved that kind of magic? Oh right, of course—we have arrived at the dramatic plot twist. As of yesterday, she can’t come to the phone, because that Taylor Swift is dead.
I can still remember so clearly where I was and how I felt listening to her first singles since the Speak Now era, and they’re all related by the common thread of disappointment. So I know my lesson well: Don’t judge a Taylor Swift album by its first single. But it’s gotten worse every time.
Mine: Anatomy Lab. I didn’t hate Mine; it’s just that my first impression was that it didn’t sound very far from the songs in Fearless and I had expected something distinctly new and different. (Be careful what you wish for, young Nenen!) WANEGBT: In our living room. You already know what I thought. Traumatic. Shake It Off: My brother’s (empty) bedroom, where the WiFi signal was stronger. I was appalled. I mellowed out upon seeing the music video, though, because Taylor was so self-deprecating in that video and there’s nothing that I wish more for Taylor than for her to not take herself too seriously. That’s my message if I ever meet her again: Come back down to Earth, Taylor! You don’t have to be this ~queen~ they make you out to be. I’m not even sure the proverbial crown fits you well. You can be small, you know? We will be here even if you’re small.
But it’s no use. She’s dead. Oh, to go back to the purity of Shake It Off … but yeah. It’s a brand new era now, and I should have known that it was going to be like this upon seeing the album art and trying really hard to like it and failing. They used a blackletter font, one of the types of fonts I greatly dislike because they never look right unless they’re used in certificates and, well, in newspapers, but this was not actually a newspaper, this is a 2017 album and it’s going to have to be used in merch and I will have to use it in designs—GAH. And it’s all supposed to look edgy but it just looks like it’s trying to be edgy. And now all the merchandise being sold on her website are dark and serpent-y. (Is she expecting her stan army to suddenly embrace the #ThugLife all of a sudden?) I should have known.
Maybe I did know, because I was practically begging for good lyrics yesterday, wasn’t I?
I was finishing a quiz when the single dropped. It was 11:46 AM and I was rejoicing in finishing early (my class was supposed to end at 12:05) so I could hear the song when it became available, but when I checked Twitter it was already out—and I was already seeing so many tweets about it before even getting the chance to hear it. I saw the title first, and my heart dropped, even then. Look What You Made Me Do. Oh for heaven’s sake. Pointing fingers? Again? Really?! Have we learned nothing? I am not here for this, T.
One of the most prevailing criticisms of Taylor is she plays the victim card far more often than most would like, and I can honestly agree. She is a gifted songwriter, and she knows how to manipulate. The thing is, there are times when she pulls it off well. There’s Mean. There’s Dear John. Both come from places of hurt that are familiar to most of us, and Taylor can write masterful lyrics from that kind of vulnerability. But it’s different when it’s just spiteful. There’s Better Than Revenge. There’s Bad Blood. There’s an intent to hurt and be vindictive and it can be tone deaf, to be honest. In these songs, it’s easy to remember that Taylor is, in fact, singing from the position of power, and the vulnerability does not sell.
I said I want her to be small, but it seems she insists on being big, so, fine. If she wanted to take the Snake persona, or whatever you call it, in her hands and turn the tables, control the narrative, I was all for it. But I wanted her to embrace it. Dark? Then go full dark. Reveal she was Regina George all along. Own up to it. Like she did in Blank Space. Step completely into those stilettos and play with it, unapologetic. I was so READY for the Taylor Swift heel turn.
But did that happen? No. The ball was already in her court and she freaking dropped it. Look what you made me do, she whines. Over and over and over. (Halp.) I don’t like you and the role you made me play, she whines. But no one believes you were forced to play a role, Taylor, except your blindest stans. That is the problem. This song is not fixing that problem. But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time, she claims, and I ask: How, exactly? Saan banda, ategurl? I wanted winning, not whining.
Like, I could blame Taylor for releasing this dud of a song, forcing me to have to write this longass essay. Look what you made me do, Taylor. But I know what I expect her, or anyone else, to answer back at me: Excuse me? You did that yourself.
Taylor made her own choices and I wanted her to EMBRACE THIS FACT. Whatever happened to her whole Grammy speech about not letting anyone else take credit for your success?
And really, what is it that exactly that we made her do? Write an awful song? Um. That’s all on her. Lol. It isn’t actually clear what the actual point of this song is and I guess (I am hoping) she will pull it off hell of a lot better in the rest of the tracks of the album, but … man. I know it appears to be a diss for Kanye West, but I doubt he’s even bothered. “What? That I made you famous?” He could ask incredulously. “But I thought you were mad about that line? I thought you wanted out of the narrative?” Me too, Kanye. Me too.
It’s difficult to find anything in the song that I like. But I only listened to it two and a half times. It’s all I could bring myself to do. At this point I haven’t heard it being played on the radio yet, thankfully. The first two times I genuinely thought it was awful. My face was this Gavin meme. Then I saw this video and realized that, fine, it’s not awful—just the chorus is—it’s just so disappointingly mediocre and forgettable. I understand this whole album production process is so long, so how in the heck did no one ever stop to ask Taylor, “Gurl, are you sure about this? Like, 100% sure?” But then again, nothing would’ve stopped her from doing anything she didn’t want to, as it always has been and always will be, which is why saying Look What You Made Me Do is such a lame blame game cop out. I could almost imagine she rushed to write this in July 2016 and never improved on it. The song seems to come from the same place where her “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative” note came from—that is, in the past year, there has been no growth, no character development, no gained self-awareness on her part, and more than anything this disappoints me the most. She was in hiding for all those months and what she concluded was that it was still the world turning on her and she did not have a hand in the results? Or, okay, fine, maybe the album will sing a different tune. But why did she choose this, of all the songs, as the very hyped up first single? What was she thinking?
And the music? Nothing about it sounds new or groundbreaking or anything really that would make me feel excited about what’s to come.
She’s obviously been hurt by all the noise, I can see it, but I’m yet to be convinced this kind of hurt is something she knows to write well. It’s a singular kind of hurt. A hurt that only a Taylor Swift of Taylor Swift Stardom and of Her Own Doing can feel, so it’s difficult for us lowly humans to sympathize. I wish she didn’t overthink it and just went with something honest for which we can all snap “SHE DID THAT!” and applaud, ya know? Maybe that was her intention but it just fell flat on its face.
And the problem is it’s probably going to be a big hit anyways and we’re all going to have that chorus on loop in our heads and again the commercial success will convince her this mediocrity of a song is good. Blech.
The old Taylor Swift is dead, she proclaims. Apparently it’s all our fault, not hers. Uh-huh. Well I guess it’s great that I can assume the one I was stanning is dead? My break-up is complete and my memories of her are pure and magical. Now we have to deal with the problematic one, who’s still alive. Oh boy.
I have to give her this—she’s trying her hardest to remind us this is her world and we’re just living in it. Best of luck, new T.