In 2006 I was a 15 year old girl who spent a lot of time in her room writing about her feelings. Riding in the car with my mom one day, a song called “Tim McGraw” came on the radio. We both remarked how good the song was and later set out to find out more about the person who was singing it. Her name was Taylor Swift, and she was a 16 year old girl who spent a lot of time in her room writing about her feelings. Song after song after song came out from her self-titled album and they all sounded like words I could have spoken about my own life or the lives of my friends. It is not an overstatement to say that the knowledge that Taylor Swift was a girl barely a year older than me was revolutionary. She was creating something and bravely putting in out into the world as though it were just as valid as any other person’s created thing. Not only did people pay attention to her, they loved her. She sang lyrics like, “You’re a redneck heartbreak who’s really bad at lying.” And “When we’re on the phone and you talk real slow cause it’s late and your mama don’t know.” I could relate to that.
In 2008 I was a senior in high school and the boy I was “dating” had decided he did not want to “date” me anymore. He had done the classic ignore tactic hoping I would just go away. He promptly started dating (no quotation marks) another girl. My small high school was a Petri dish for gossip to unfold. It was the type of deliciously petty high school drama everyone in a small town will experience. Meanwhile, I was watching a guy I cared about get his heart broken time and again by girls who didn’t seem to care much about him. I had that misguided sense that one fine day he would wake up and see that I had been there all along. But that day didn’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon.” And into the midst of my angst and what we now call “feels,” came an album called “Fearless.” That same 16 year old girl was now 18 and, just like me, had been through a few things. She sang lyrics like, “So here’s to everything coming down to nothing. Here’s to silence that cuts me to the core. Where is this going? Thought I knew for a minute but I don’t anymore.” And “Oh, I remember you driving you my house in the middle of the night. I’m the one who makes you laugh when you know you’re about to cry. I know your favorite songs and you tell me about your dreams. Think I know where you belong. Think I know it’s with me.” I could relate to that.
In 2010 I was a sophomore in college. I entered my 20’s with wrists stacked high with bracelets because I had seen Taylor Swift with wrists full of bracelets. I had a falling out with an old friend and was experiencing life without that looming presence for the first time. I started my first job on campus. I continued to pine away after a boy (a different one this time-the college version) who was largely indifferent to me, a self-flagellating pattern that would be my MO throughout much of my life. I was figuring out my friend group and trying to make decisions about the future. I was dancing on top of parking garages and crying in the shower. Into these high highs and low lows came an album called “Speak Now.” Good old Taylor had come through yet again. She had lived more life and was there to share her wisdom with me as I lived mine. She sang lyrics like, “You are an expert at sorry, and keeping lines blurry. Never impressed by me acing your tests.” And “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.” I could relate to that.
In 2012 I was a senior in college. By this time I had experienced my first real relationship and my first break up. Real life was looming in the distance as college came to an end. Every hour of every day was filled to the brim with school, friends, jobs, and other commitments. I hung pictures on the paper-thin walls of the crappy apartment I shared with friends. I was coming to terms with the fact that I was going to leave college single while many of my friends were engaged, married, or seriously dating. I was searching, studying, and savoring. Into that world came an album called “Red.” Taylor Swift swooped in with her post-Kennedy look and her signature red lips and dropped another gem in my lap. I cried in my car listening to the lyric, “And you call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest.” And my roommates and I all woke each other up on our birthdays that year to lyrics like, “We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical.” I could relate to that.
Fast forward to present day. We’re on the other side of Taylor’s pop powerhouse “1989.” I loved that album, but the day I listened to it, dissecting every lyric and liner note just as I had all the other albums, I realized something. While the songwriting on the album was phenomenal, I didn’t hear myself in it. There were no lyrical gut-punches. I wondered at the time if her foray into pop was going to rain on the lyrical parade. But I trusted her. She had never steered me wrong before. So imagine my horror last night at seeing the new, jaded Taylor Swift literally and metaphorically burying all her old selves. When I saw all those old Taylors piled up together, I got teary-eyed. I think I was just so caught off guard. I realized more profoundly than ever that I have grown up with this girl. She doesn’t know me. I’ve never been able to afford to go to one of her concerts. I’ve never met her. But the fact remains that all those old Taylors represent a season in my life. She truly has been the soundtrack in the background of all my teenage and young adult years. I don’t want that to be over. It’s been a long time since I didn’t have a Taylor Swift song to describe how I was feeling. It makes me sad that her level of fame and success has finally become a double-edged sword too sharp for her graciousness and humility to survive. I can’t imagine the weight of literally endless criticism on your every move, both public and private. I can’t imagine something my boyfriend wore to a party at my house becoming an international news story. Paradoxically, Taylor’s well deserved success has made her a person I don’t and can’t recognize. She sings lyrics like, “The world moves on but one thing’s for sure. Maybe I got mine but you’ll all get yours.”
And I can’t relate to that.