a soundtrack for life in your head: why we love taylor swift
I am bad at “getting out the door” for things. I wasn’t late for my haircut, but was feeling a little more worked up than usual. It had been a long day that consisted mostly of being asked questions about what I do and people firmly sticking to their preconceived notions about what I do rather than listening to the words coming out of my mouth. However, I attempted my regular triple axel of personhood by gathering my phone, keys and wallet before exciting my apartment. Because I also fancy myself a modern day Dora the Explorer, I also bring a backpack everywhere.
The most logical step in this processed seemed to be placing my keys in my backpack as I walked from my bedroom to front door. However, because I have no concept of object permanence, I proceeded to check the zipper pocket three more times to make sure they’re still there. Then, because I was busy checking the zipper pocket, I put my phone down. Only then, when I was buckled into my car, did I realize that I had left my phone and in a storm of profanity and self loathing, had to trek back to my apartment. All because I couldn’t trust my brain to relay reality accurately. Great stuff, pink goo filled with song lyrics that lives in my skull.
Basically, I spent twenty minutes making up conspiracy theories about where my keys had gone because I am sure that if I don’t have things in my line of sight, they must be gone forever. Can we trust anything that’s not right in front of us to stay where it needs to? Are my parents even still where I left them in Oregon? Wait, actually… I need to go check on my phone now. And I’m sure I have an email to read. Am I lame for checking my email right now? Is work-life balance a myth? Am I a myth? I should be more present in people’s lives. And this train of thought goes on and on and on.
This is a poorly written approximation of what it’s like to be a Type-A person. The person who knows that we should probably only have two drinks on a weeknight or who drops a pin when they park their car. It’s not that they haven’t made a mental note of the parking spot number already, but they just want to be sure. The most sure they’ve ever been. Because this Matters. If you lost your car in Santa Monica, it would be embarrassing. Don’t be embarrassing.
Ok, now for some secret telling. The “A” in Type A stands for anxiety. And anxiety is fine! (As long as it’s managed and please don’t @ me if there’s a woke-er view on this. I am trying.) Most days it gets me out of bed and helps make me a productive person! That being said, it has crafted many of the ways in which I relate to the world. It can sometimes put you on the sidelines of your own existence or make you feel like you’re always on the outside looking in. Sometimes I stare deeply into the eyes of my friends or coworkers who are awash in the moment, and it almost hurts. I’m right there with them — but my head’s a mile away. Maybe they’re making a memory — I’m just making plans and wondering if I remembered to take my vitamins. Just kidding — I’m making a sad face.
But you know what changes that sad face? Taylor Allison Swift.
I would be hard-pressed to find a day since the invention of Apple Music in which I have not experienced one emotion that required the immediate application of one (1) certified country-but-we-all-know-it’s-pop T-Swift “Bombalurina” bop, applied directly to the ear area (repeat until feeling subsides). It’s music written in a language I understand that also understands me. That’s because I would venture to say that Taylor Swift is not a rockstar in the traditional sense, she’s more of a trial lawyer that just happens to also be one of the most prolific songwriters of my generation.
There’s always a mundane, commonplace sensibility to Taylor Swift’s music that, while sometimes un-aspirational, ultimately soothes the soul of any office-dweller or teen living in a Small Town. However, what all those people most likely have in common is a heaping dose of anxiety, and it’s that anxiety that Taylor speaks so clearly too.
It’s music for people who need control, crave the comfort of things they know and only can handle a world that is explored one weekend at a time. It’s for people who feel deeply, but know we can only wade up to our knees in genuine emotion — for the tide is strong and we practice seaside safety In This House that is John Sampson.
It seems obvious to me, and I could be extremely wrong, that Ms. Swift has channeled so much effort into song writing because sometimes the story is all that we have. She’s not writing about actual events or adventures that have or ever will happen — It’s all just inspiration for the best damn daydreams you’ve ever had.
Wanna feel like you’re deeply in love with some schmuck named Drew? There’s a song for that.
Angry at everyone and want to just stare off in the distance while you imagine the deep satisfaction that comes with crashing a Bugatti while dressed in a garish amount of Versace? There’s a song for that.
The range is there but the common themes remain firmly routed in the existence of a strong inner dialogue, a dialogue that realizes the difficult thoughts and feelings we all face when we look within and all coupled with a healthy realization that we simply can’t control other people. And that people are hell. And that we probably need Jack Antonoff besides us if we ever dared express ourselves via an audible medium.
Her music sits in a place where she never goes too big or too bold. Most likely because her voice is an instrument more suited for portraying the emotion and brilliance of a melody, rather than busting the windows out of any Baptist church. Because of these limits, it becomes more about the listener’s experience and reflections upon what the songs mean. It’s because of this that I’ve experienced a strange phenomenon with much of her music.
I don’t want to ever listen to Taylor Swift in the presence of another human being.
It’s too personal. There are too many memories and difficult times and sad thoughts that poke through the far off twangs that peppered her earlier exploits and too much anger and resentment that bubble up to the top when someone dare mentions “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” Because her music can be mundane and too broad without the references to private jets or well known zip codes, in a sense, we’ve made it all about ourselves. It’s about universal experiences. Some could even say it panders to the middle-class imagination, even if her image does not.
Further more, nothing about a Taylor Swift song is rooted in a sense of ease. The wheels are always turning because, like many anxious people, everything said or done points to preparations for a mythical future. Out of the Woods? Every single relationship you have in your twenties in four minutes. 22? The best case scenario song for people like myself who enjoy Medium Fun. (Which for reference is “Hey, let’s have three drinks spread out over two nice and fun but not rowdy bars then go home and eat granola and chug water because the morning scares me more than the night could ever fulfill me.” Does that explain Medium Fun?)
All of this coupled with the well known idea that she has an iron grip on every single part of her life makes her all the more relatable. Nothing about her really gives you any indication that she’s living the rockstar lifestyle. The Taylor Swift brand of magic is powered by nine to five-ers and KPIs and stays focused on the bigger picture of giving just enough of yourself away, but never getting too immersed in the idea of gambling for grandeur. What’s most important is the acceptance of what’s possible. And love is possible. Revenge is possible. Anger, sadness, heartbreak, fairytales, etc… they’re all possible.
In your head, at least.