A few weeks ago, I was cleaning my room while rapping to Taylor Swift. Yes, rapping. End Game? Ready For It? Thug Story? Anyone?
Anyways, while I was singing big reputation, big reputation, I wondered how I, a 19-year-old Literature student in India could feel connected to and relate so strongly with Taylor Swift, a 30-year-old American singer/songwriter. I have never experienced the journey she has been through or seen someone even remotely like her around me. As much as I love screaming my favorite songs at the top of my lungs, there isn’t a musical bone in my body either.
But that’s the beauty of art isn’t it?
It completely transcends geography, cultures, ages and experiences. It helps us connect through much more deeper things. Such as emotions, feelings or even just a moment.
I turned fifteen and while I didn’t have a red-headed Abigail, I did have a heartbroken best friend to console. I listened to A Place In This World as a teenager, a song from Taylor’s first album, and I cried because I had never before related so much to a song. At the age of 8 or 9, I was staying at my cousin’s house for a few days. She pulled up a video of this girl singing a magical song called Love Story and I thought that she was a princess and the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I used to sing You Belong With Me during lunch break in school with a friend all the time, not because we had a boy-next-door, but because we both loved that song and we bonded over it.
When I was 14, I didn’t know what it meant or how it really felt when your heart got completely shattered. But sitting in the bedroom of our old house, watching Taylor singing All Too Well for the first time on a giant piano during the Grammy awards, flipping her hair again and again, memories and pain etched all over her face, I saw it. I watched it transfixed because it was raw, and it was real. I cried to Teardrops On My Guitar because even though I had never held a guitar in my hands, my crush also walked right past me in the hallway. I don’t have a heartbreak story for December but Back To December has become a memory of melancholy and happiness during the cold season for me. I have always loved the colour Red but it now it has a sad, beautiful and musical twinge to it in my head, making me love the colour even more.
I was in 7th grade when Red came out. It feels like only yesterday. One of the reasons it is my favorite album is that I was aware of this wonderful artist by then. The previous albums all came out when I was too young to even know what albums are. However, after that, my love for Taylor’s music took a backseat. I knew that she had released an album called 1989 and later, Reputation, and I had listened to the singles and enjoyed them but I became more of a ‘casual fan’. I didn’t even know about the Kanye and Kim stuff until just a year ago.
Then something happened. In July 2019, I knew Taylor was going to release her 7th album called Lover soon, but I wasn’t really anticipating it. Until The Archer came out, a few days after I turned 19.
I listened to The Archer and it all came flooding back. Everything. That song is sad, and it is self-reflective. It made me cry. It made me feel. Music hadn’t made me feel in a long time. I had that song on a loop for a month. And then, I went down a rabbit hole. I couldn’t stop watching the Reputation Tour on Netflix. I couldn’t get over what a vulnerable song Delicate was. I could not believe how earth-shattering and badass her live performances of I Did Something Bad and Don’t Blame Me were. I couldn’t stop rapping to Are you Ready For iI? I really listened to the lyrics of Call It What Your Want for the first time and I couldn’t stop smiling. I listened to New Year’s Day and I knew, I just knew I wanted a love like that.
It didn’t end there. I went back and listened to 1989. I listened to most of her songs I hadn’t heard before. And I listened to the songs I had loved as a teenager and I smiled and I cried. I listened to Long Live and understood its meaning for the first time. All I can ever hope for is to be surrounded by people to whom I can say- I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you.
I am not exaggerating when I say that from the moment Lover came out, Taylor was the only artist I listened to for the rest of 2019 and even now, for the most part. I was always a fan but in that year, her music was my constant companion. I call it My Year As A Swiftie.
What Taylor Swift Has Taught Me
Taylor Swift isn’t just a singer. She is a writer and that too, a phenomenal one. She has written or co-written every song of hers. You break down her lyrics, read every individual line and you’ll see how incredible her words are. I am a writer as well, even though I don’t write songs, and all I can ever hope to be is half the writer that she is.
It took Taylor years to speak up about the sexism she has faced over the years in the music industry as a young artist. I was always aware that we lived in a sexist and patriarchal society but as I’m growing up and becoming more of an independent person, I am seeing it in all its glory. I face it, and I see other women facing it every single day. So it means a lot to me when an artist who I love is speaking and singing about it. It gives me courage to fight and not submit. It gives me strength to live my life the way I want.
You can’t deny the fact that money gives you power and more than that, it make you vain. I’m not talking about celebrities because honestly, I don’t know most of them. I’ve just seen the effect that money has on people around me. And so, when a globally reknowned artist with 7 hit albums never fails to thank her fans, family, friends and band, it reminds me to keep my head on the ground.
I have always considered myself to be ambitious. I had a passion for books as a child and I had goals and dreams. But for an example of really incredible ambition, I just have to look towards Taylor. She convinced her parents at the age of mere 14 to move to another city so she could build her dream career. She went around and asked radio stations to play her CD. I cannot even dream of having the guts to do that when I was of that age. But more than her perseverance, this shows me how she started at the very bottom and build her entire career based on hard-work. She worked hard every step of the way, through every album and reached where she is now. When she won Album of the Year for 1989, the second woman to ever win that award twice, she said in her speech that there will be people who will try to undercut your success and take credit for your achievements, but all you gotta do is focus on your work and not let that side-track you. After facing straight-up hate and bullying, she still said that and I’m sure to this day, she believes in it. It takes a lot of resilience and a heart that is inherently good, to say and do all the things she continues to do.
The entire world “cancelled” her and she came with an album as phenomenal as Reputation. If Taylor can do that, how can I let criticism or any failures stop me from continuing to do what I love and to achieve my dreams? She makes me believe in myself, and I think an artist is pretty amazing if they can make you feel like that.
I could go on and on about the inspiring things she continues to do, such as fighting for artists to own their work, speaking out her political opinions no matter the consequences, the beautiful Miss Americana documentary, her charity work, her interactions with her fans on Tumblr, but I wanted to write this post not only as an ode to her, but to say how she has impacted me.
At the end of the last song on her latest album Lover, Taylor says “I want to be defined by the things that I love. Not the things I hate, not the things I’m afraid of, the things that haunt me in the middle of the night. I just think that… you are what you love.” The foreword to Lover has the full passage –
I‘ve decided that in this life, I want to be defined by the things I love- not the things I hate, the things I’m afraid of, or the things that haunt me in the middle of the night. Those things may be struggles, but they’re not my identity. I wish the same for you. May your struggles become inaudible background noise behind the loud, clergies voices of those who love and appreciate you. Turn those voices up in the mix in your head. May you take notice of the things in your life that are nice and make you feel safe and maybe even find wonderment in them. May you write down your feelings and reflect on the years later, only to learn all the trials and the tribulations you thought might kill you… didn’t. I hope that someday you forget the pain ever existed. I hope that if there is a lover in your life, it’s someone who deserves you. If that’s the case, I hope you treat them with care.
We often define ourselves by our insecurities and flaws. We somehow think they surpass our strength, all the amazing things we have done and the loving people that we are. And sometimes, that is also how people see us, through the lens of what we lack. But we need to remind ourselves that, as Taylor said, our struggles are not our identity.
I want to remember that my struggles are an essential part of me, but they are just that. A part. What we love, who we love and the things that bring us joy – I want to let those things define me.
I hope that I have a long journey ahead of me and I hope that after every dark night it brings both me and you, daylight.