Standing on the forty yard line of the beautiful new US Bank stadium in Minneapolis, I’m trying to take in whatever stimulus my overwhelmed mind can get a hold of. Joan Jett’s bad reputation is blaring over the loudspeakers, barely audibly compared to the screams of both pre-teens and retirees alike. Bright likes are shining. Snakes, some of kind of cobra it looks like, are hissing on monitors.
And then the lights go out.
Suddenly, there’s only one thing to which the crowd can pay attention. In the middle of a solid red light eminating from the middle of the darkness stands the silhouette of a tall, slender woman. Impossibly, the crowd gets even louder. When the stadium explodes with light that same impossible feat is repeated (twice over), and standing, now illuminated, is Taylor Swift. I am in love. After the first few beats of “Are You Ready for It” hit, she clears her throat and lets a small grin creep across her face. She looks confident, almost cocksure. And most importantly, she knows that we, in fact, are not ready for it.
“We were both young when I first saw you” – Love Story
I’d love to say I remember the first time I saw Taylor Swift; there’s something romantic about that. But that’s rarely how things work. It was definitely 2009, I was probably still in college, and I definitely wasn’t all that into her music. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it wasn’t that it wasn’t catchy, it just wasn’t… there. She was like a lot of other girls on the scene at the time: singing about love that conquers everything or complaining about boys. Her two first top 40 number one hits, Love Story and You Belong With Me , did just that, to a T.
I want it to be known that, at this point, I never expected I would genuinely enjoy Taylor Swift. That said, I didn’t think I’d have five different songs from five different members of the Jonas Brothers or One Direction on my workout playlist, so maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised by that revelation. But the songs didn’t strike a chord with me in my early 20s. Or at least I wouldn’t admit it.
“Like any great love, it keeps you guessing” – Welcome to New York
That said, they were catchy. Very catchy. Despite “not being into them”, I found myself listening to them more and more. When her next album, Speak Now, came out, I was watching singles on Youtube. And when Red was released in 2012, I was somehow buying the special edition from Target. I knew all the words to her hits. I had seen all the music videos (We Are Never Getting Back Together is her opus btw). I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point I was hooked.
It makes sense, in a way. You wouldn’t guess it, but I’m a hopeless romantic. Songs about spontaneous proposals in the dark and borderline obsession touch my heart in a way I don’t really understand. The first time I listened to Red, most specifically the titular song that describes the feeling of remembering your love for someone, I raelize that she might have seemed like the same old pop star, but something was obviously very different. She herself seemed like a different person. She seemed less unsure of herself, more confident, more brazen. What’s more, I Knew You Were Trouble showed an entirely different town than anything we’d ever seen. She wasn’t pure pop, she wasn’t pure country, she was something else. And I was ready for more.
“But on a Wednesday, in a cafe, I watched it begin again” – Begin Again
A few years later when 1989 came out, I got my fill. I binged it. I learned all the words to all the songs. I’d reached a level of fandom I hadn’t had since Artpop was released a few years earlier. The hook was truly in now. And for good reason. She’d taken a step forward from I Knew You Were Trouble and created this overwhelming synth sound. She’d created a concept album that told a story. This wasn’t complaining about boys, this was, as Lady Gaga called it, Art Pop. It was I listening to a different person. No, this was a new person.
Dont just take my word for it, Swift herself had this to say in an interview with Rolling Stone in regards to 1989 and it’s opening smash, Shake it Off (which had been released two months prior to 1989):
“Two years gives you enough time to grow and change; change what you believe in and what’s influencing and inspiring you,” Swift said of the two years between Red and 1989. “In the process, my music changed. I woke up every single day not wanting, but needing, to make a new style of music. This album is a rebirth for me.”
If you want to see it, rather than read it, take a look at the music video for arguably her biggest hit ever, Shake it Off. Taylor Swift dances with fans and does a lot of laughing and goofing around. It’s fun. If you have been in a coma for five years, here is the video, check it out for yourself:
She plays a lot of roles in this video, but most interestingly (at least to me) is when she is in a cheerleading outfit leading another group of similarly dressed backup dancers. The girl in the bleachers became cheer captain. Her metamorphosis was complete. This point was made clear in the opening single “Look What You Made Me Do” for her most recent album Reputation, when Swift states “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Because she’s dead”.
“Don’t blame me, love made me crazy” – Don’t Blame Me
Anyways, back to US Bank stadium. I’m not sure when this inadvertently turned into my love letter to Taylor Swift, but here we are. I’m pleading insanity, love made me crazy.
Here stood an entirely different woman, completely in front of a crowd. She had changed gimmicks more times than Stone Cold Steve Austin in 2001, from wide eyed country starlet to longing schoolgirl to jilted lover to finally embracing her queenship. She radiated power. And yet, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, she was saying was genuine anymore. Every word that came out of her mouth seemed like a game. She seemed so… conniving. Not that that’s a bad thing, but when she started up her second song, I started to see things a little differently.
“For every lie I tell them, they tell me three” – You Say I Did Something Bad
As she slowly, almost lovingly, belted out a near acapella version of her soon to be hit and titular song to this piece, I started to see a woman who had come out of her post 1989 balloon at war with her haters. And she was winning. In fact, she wasn’t just winning, she was dominating.
How did we end up here? Why did Swift, moreso than anyone else we’ve seen in front of the public eye in recent memory, go through such a change. And why did she land where she landed? I think, like most things, there might be more than one answer here.
The first, is of course, that we as a society sort of forced her hand here. She belts about it all throughout the album. It’s hard to go more than two songs without hearing the word reputation. The theme of the album puts all the cards on the table. We attacked her reputation. And, god damnit, she’s going to defend it. Who can blame her? Since before she was even considered an adult, she was thrust into the public spotlight and was forced to endure an eleven year slog through the public eye. Like so many child stars before her, it clearly had an impact. But, unlike the hordes of child stars before her, it didn’t break her. The fact that she’s broken more stadium records than I can count on this last tour seems that, at least from a professional stadium, it didn’t.
Though, maybe we didn’t force Taylor’s hand at all. Maybe she forced ours. The cynical part of me thinks this might have all been some grand design to develop a sympathetic star who’s conducted a ruthless campaign of seducing the country at a mass level across all demographics. That’s not the most flattering accusation and it’s almost definitely not true. But if it is, that makes Taylor a lot of things, chief among them bad.
But either way, it’s Taylor’s world now. Even if she did do something bad, it feels pretty fucking good.