Discover more from Contents and Containers
Taylor Swift finds joy through her suffering
Her own woman, Taylor Swift wins over her fans again
Taylor Swift, like many professional recording artists, doesn’t actually own her music. And in an effort to reclaim control of that music, she is re-recording her first six albums. Her latest one, out last week, is Red (Taylor’s Version). The crown jewel of her new 30-song record is a ten-minute, five-verse version of “All Too Well,” an extremely popular song despite never being released as a single. The autobiographical tear-jerker recalls a relationship between a then-20-year-old Taylor and a 29-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal. Swift confessed to Seth Meyers that the 2012 song was too emotional for her to perform as it recalled a heartbreaking breakup. But the rabid excitement of her fans moved the song from a sorrow-filled experience to one full of joy. Her fans’ passion, their empathy with her experience, and their love and support turned her suffering into joy.
“It was my favorite,” Swift said. “It was about something very personal to me. It was very hard to perform it live. Now for me, honestly, this song is 100 percent about us and for you.”
And in this new version, not only does her sorrow turn to joy because of how she newly sings this song, she is doing so with the song as her own intellectual property. Bravo, Taylor.
She shares her story with us, and invites us to do the same
Accompanying the new recording of “All Too Well” is a music video that sets the song to a story. Swift did the music video and song justice with an awe-inspiring performance on SNL. Her grandeur, her mastery, her confidence dazzle the audience. As she begins on an acoustic guitar, throwing her hair and head back as she rocks out in the beginning, almost as if to perform the very narrative of her music career. She moves through phases of her career, as if the crowning achievement of it, is her triumph over the record industry and over her despair of this break-up.
Swift’s songwriting is meant for us to experience and relate to as we bob our heads too. Her lyrics are simple, and the stories are consumable. Her words are memorable and evocative (and not just the ‘fuck the patriarchy’ keychain), she paints a scene that the listener can enter in to and fully experience. I laughed and felt like I was there at the same party or dinner table:
The idea you had of me, who was she? A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you Not weeping in a party bathroom Some actress asking me what happened, you That's what happened, you You who charmed my dad with self-effacing jokes Sipping coffee like you're on a late-night show But then he watched me watch the front door all night, willing you to come And he said, "It's supposed to be fun turning twenty-one"
Swift writes a heart-breaking song that so many of us can relate to, whether we were the heart-breaker or the broken-hearted. She bears her soul on her sleeve, and even if it is simple autobiography, she doesn’t center the uniqueness of her experience and invites others to share in it.
Swift triumphs over her oppressors and detractors
Swift’s undeniable charisma and contagion, her mastery of pop musical composition, draws the ire of critics, who may be motivated by contempt of her success, or sheer skill at delivering simple, heartfelt songs. Swift brushes them aside as she declares her independence as a woman and as an artist, not subject to the powers of the industry or of men, even! She moves from the suffering to joy, she claims her dignity, asserts herself, and can face any hostility in her path.
Swift is inspiring for all people who are oppressed by forces greater than themselves, she is a symbol of someone who can stand up for herself. We aren’t all as talented, wealthy, or maybe even lucky as Swift, but I am inspired by her refusal to let a bad dating experience inform how she experiences present joy now. Some people want to tell us she is not over Jake Gyllenhaal and it is sad to see her dying on that hill, but she is triumphing over her despair, and finding new life and a new way.
She can fully share her feelings, expressed in songs, and when she does, she collects love and empathy from people who have been there too. Her sharing of despair is a call to normalize the sharing of our negative feelings and not to hide them anymore. In sharing the new version of her song, she shows that when we share our worst feelings, we may collect more sympathy and empathy, instead of judgment and pain.
In front of her giant fan base, Swift’s vulnerability may not seem to be very courageous, but she may inspire those millions to demonstrate the same courage and vulnerability. Would happen if we trusted the community around us to support us in the same way? What if we determined to make the world and church that we live in the way we want, as Swift did with her new recordings? Why can’t we have the things we want? Why can’t we take the words of Jesus seriously and form our society and faith communities in the same way?
We can share what feels unmentionable too
Taylor Swift’s boldness in sharing her feelings inspires me to share my own feelings of suffering and disappointment (perhaps Swift is an Enneagram Three like me). Taylor collected her detractors, her haters, and we should expect the same when we share our negative feelings, especially if they implicate our oppressors. But I pray that we can find supportive communities that allow us to share our feelings and feel our suffering move to joy.
This encourages me to share my feelings of pain around racism in my life and in my faith and even in the church. To hide them merely protects my oppressors, to cope with them allows others to be similarly injured, and doesn’t make the changes we need to make. When I do not tell my story, I let my oppressors continue to colonize my heart and my soul.
Swift’s anthem then, is one of conquest. She sings on top of the ones who broke her heart, and the ones who stole her music. And she does so with grace and passion, effortlessly narrating her story and her career. We can enter into fully our pain, share it, and triumph over it, as our suffering becomes joy. We can notice “the first fall of snow and how it glistened as it fell” despite “this city’s barren cold.”