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Writing about Taylor Swift is a dangerous game. Despite TS having an anti-online-bullying stance, my review of her Hyde Park gig inspired some pretty legendary insults.
Despite this, I still count myself a fan. Ryan Adams covering Taylor’s 1989 is proof that her songs have longevity, her lyrics are universal, and her world domination most probably justified. But Ryan’s cover versions also hit home the fact that Taylor Swift was better when she was country, and I don’t care who disagrees. I’m right about this!
I get that Taylor had to evolve. Her fan base is super dedicated, and even with a label like ‘country’, she’s always been center stage in the public domain. Hell, she’s dated everybody, been in movies, launched perfumes: this is a woman ready to claim the world, and she’s written a million catchy songs to do just that.
But watching her 1989 tour, I was smacked in the face with nostalgia. I never got the chance to see the Speak Now tour in person, though I watched the DVD a bunch and that, to me, is peak Swift-dom, and here’s why.
Before all the controversy, the seemingly colonialism-inspired music videos and questionable approach to feminism, Taylor’s quest was simple: true love. Although 1989 and Red are about a young woman’s quest to find love, I think they lack the sincerity of Speak Now. Now that she’s a pop star, her stage shows are slick affairs with co-ordinated dance routines and super famous friends walking catwalks or gracing video screens to tell us why Taylor is the absolute best famous person on all time.
But back when Speak Now was blowing up (think Mine, Mean and Back to December), Taylor’s personality was totally shining through, and the soundbytes doing the rounds weren’t so scandalous. She seemed like a person we could have a cup of tea with, and that’s why I loved her so much.
As a country singer with a guitar, Taylor was speaking directly to us. As a pop singer with sick beats and a choreographed dance routine that most non-dancers would be terrified to attempt, her songs are so much less personal.
I’ll get a lot of flack for saying so, and a million detailed emails about how Taylor is still speaking on behalf of us all, but to me, huge pop songs about being whisked off in expensive cars are lifestyle porn akin to Nicholas Sparks movies. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I love a fantasy as much as the next person. But where Taylor once spoke to us about what being a young woman was like, approaching relationships with megastars such as Jake Gyllenhaal with a vulnerability we could all relate to, everything’s so much glossier now, polished to pop perfection, and less accessible for it.
But it’s not just the music that seems like a personality transplant has taken place. There’s so much more control over the Taylor empire because it’s big business. And this contradiction, of marketing someone as the girl next door and everyone’s BFF, whilst deliberately making sure we know she’s the biggest star in the world, with half her lyrics copyright protected so we aren’t even allowed to utter them anymore, has made the Swiftie experience a lot less enjoyable.
And about those 1989 tour motivational speeches, which encourage the audience to not stop looking for love, to always believe in themselves, and to never bully people online (err, okay?). I have a difficult time buying it. I understand TS might have acquired some wisdom having dated the world’s most eligible bachelors, but I find it hard to think of her as relatable to the rest of us anymore.
Taylor Swift is firmly ensconced in the pop category. She’s getting a barrage of clichéd questions thrown at her in every interview, about feminism and pop star rivalry and what dating famous men is like, because she’s chosen to enter this world. And I’m not suggesting she shouldn’t follow her dreams and make the types of music that feel right for her.
But I can’t help feeling something has gotten lost along the way. And I miss that rawer, realer version of Swift, when she might have stepped outside without perfectly coifed hair and pristine layers of make-up and her squad in tow.
And as for the Bad Blood fiasco: not only does that video portray all that’s wrong with white feminism today (famous white women supporting each other whilst fighting other women?), if the song is actually about Katy Perry, then that’s super disappointing to me. Celeb disputes and controversy sell records, but Country Taylor probably wouldn’t have trashed another woman so publicly, or courted the associated publicity. She was better than that, and too sweet to involve herself in public spats, or to allow the men in her life to school other women on feminism. Ed Sheeran and Calvin Harris both need to stop.
I don’t want Taylor to stop making music. I actually love that her music is so personal, that she’s unafraid to write about what really matters to her, themes such as friendship, love and heartbreak. And I hope she never stops opening up in her songs this way.
But I’m secretly hoping that at some point in the future she’ll be sick of the pop music circus and will make another country album. Because she’s never more relatable on stage than when she’s strumming a guitar. And that Taylor, I really, truly miss.