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Taylor Swift and the never-ending tape that runs in our heads
I am not a full-blown Swiftie yet, but I have put myself in line for tickets for her performance in Philadelphia next May at the Lincoln Financial Field. Her latest record, Midnights, dazzled me all the way through. Catchy and engaging, Swift knows how to capture the attention of her listeners with memorable melodies and bops that just make you want to dance. Swift is so impressive, she holds the top ten in every Billboard spot for the first time ever for any artist.
On this particular record, Swift’s first single rang quite true for me. It seems like she and I have a similar tape running through our heads. My hope is that Taylor, in her songwriting, can continue to confront that tape in her head and reject it. Anti-Hero is filled with messages that seem to have gotten crammed in her head. Her opening line is indicative, “I have this thing where I get older, but just never wiser.” That sort of condemning phrase could be her own judgment, or it could be the critical reception she has received from the media, or maybe it’s even older than that from her childhood. But Taylor, as is evidenced by this album and her development over the course of over a decade of writing songs suggests that she has gotten wiser as she’s gotten older!
Taylor is haunted by her depression at night as she recalls who she has ghosted; her moral failures. She proceeds to tell us that she shouldn’t be left to her own devices – a tale as old as time – and one day, she’ll be left because of course she will be because her lover or her friend got tired of her scheming. “Scheming” is another tape running through her head. So far, she is both unwise and scheming. That smells like someone put those very negative thoughts in her mind.
And then she hits us with her brutal chorus: “It’s me / hi / I’m the problem it’s me.” She continues to tell us that everyone agrees. She’s been told again and again she’s the problem and maybe that’s the media consensus, or her friends' or families' consensus about her. And if she’s like me, she hears the negative voices most loudly and deafeningly that they may as well be the only voices. Sadly, she confesses that she’s not so aware of her own tape – she stars into the sun (she experiences pain) instead of in the mirror at who she truly is. She tells her fans that they must be exhausted always rooting for someone as uninspiring as her – an anti-hero.
In the second verse, she names herself “a monster” and everyone else a “sexy baby.” She takes up too much space (maybe a comment about how she perceives her body image too), a reference to how her massive stardom makes her a monster instead of someone to be known, as she lurches toward our favorite city for a performance. She takes the critics personally, but she persists through it.
And then she continues – and this is what really caught my attention, because a former narcissistic mentor of mine (who my new mentor named as “the most arrogant person he’s ever met”) drilled into my twenty-something head that I was a narcissist. Taylor calls herself a “covert narcissist,” and if you think she isn’t, her altruism is like that of a hypocritical politician, or “some kind of Congressman.”
In the little social connection she’s made, she repeats the same line in her pre-verse about waking up screaming from dreaming, and losing a key attachment, and “life will lose all its meaning (for the last time).”
As she foretells her own death, Taylor is betrayed by her daughter-in-law for her money, maybe the only thing she has of value. But the daughter-in-law finds out that Swift didn’t leave her in the will, and Taylor’s self-fulfilling prophecy about her “covert narcissism” is exposed. She was exactly what her worst critics thought she was, and if you thought differently, well, she’s laughing at you from hell.
My heart hurt when I heard the song! Taylor, reject that tape. Love yourself, and see yourself for who you are, for who God sees you. See you best, and damn the haters. We will certainly collect them, but they don’t define us. Taylor’s self-deprecation continues in her seemingly pop-forward positive record, but I hope she finds a truer sense of herself than what her worst critics say. In the video for the record, she’s followed by another version of herself, maybe the one that her worst enemies created and put in her head.I hope she re-writes that toxic tape, and finds a new consensus, from within herself, about who she is.
Taylor, and for all of us, let’s stare into the mirror and not into the sun. See who we really are. We all are guilty of staring into the sun instead of knowing ourselves. Let’s also see our true reflections.
It’s not you Taylor. You’re not the problem. And everyone doesn’t agree. And for you reading, it’s also not you; the consensus about you being terrible must be rejected. Embrace your true self.