I spent a week in New York this past August. My best friend Liz picked me up on 34th street. Manhattan was the specific kind of hot that Manhattan gets in the summer, a literal brick oven. We exchanged greetings. She then informed me that we needed to head to her apartment in Brooklyn.
“Because Taylor is putting out a new video today…”
You see, Liz (who is brilliant, by the way) is kind of into Taylor Swift. As in, last March she curated a gallery show called “Who’s Taylor Swift Anyway?”. As in, her Tumblr has more than 50,000 followers and has been referenced on Buzzfeed and Jezebel. As in, I’m fairly certain that Taylor Swift is AWARE that my best friend EXISTS.
I have to be honest. Back in August I gave zero fucks about Taylor Swift. But I sat on Liz’s couch and watched the premiere of “Shake It Off” as though I was waiting outside of a dressing room to give my opinion on a pair of jeans. I did not like “Shake It Off”. It was too feel good. Too up-beat. Back in August I didn’t feel good. I was not up-beat. I was not going to “Shake It Off” any time soon.
In fact, at that moment I was in the dead center of another bout of unemployment. I felt completely helpless and as though I had no control over what was happening to me. I had lost the plot. One of the countless reasons that Liz is my closest friend is because she knew that I needed New York right then and there. That I needed to get away from my apartment and from doing nothing for days on end. And from the utter routine of being caged in by uncertainty. That I needed to drink too small, too strong gin and tonics in a basement level piano bar in the Village. That I needed to have a come-to-Jesus moment after stumbling across The Starry Night at MoMA (and trust me, there’s a whole essay there).
What Liz also knew, and that I continued to deny for months after that visit, is that I needed Taylor.
I’ve come to the same conclusion that pretty much everyone else in America has come to: We can’t escape Taylor. Every day brings a new think piece. A new story of some amazingly sweet thing that Taylor has done for her fans. Another photoset of Taylor baking with her collection of impossibly gorgeous friends. We eat it up. It is as though we have all contracted a Taylor Swift specific strain of toxoplasmosis: Toxoswiftmosis.
My toxoswiftmosis started innocently enough a month or so ago. I was still in the “everything makes me cry” phase that everyone who has recently been dumped knows all too well (see what I did there, Liz?). It was the middle of the night and I was coming off of a crying jag brought on by a viewing of a not great Anne Hathaway melodrama. I turned to YouTube to find something to distract myself and clicked the first link. It was the video for “Blank Space”. That was it. There was Taylor wearing some truly fabulous chandelier earrings and destroying paintings and cars and just… having a ball. So from that night on whenever I came home late or couldn’t sleep, I would play that video on repeat.
On Friday I went to a record store and bought a copy of 1989. I have not stopped listening. Something has shifted inside of me. I feel as though a huge weight has been lifted. That is the power of good pop music. Her lyrics are both wildly specific and extremely universal. I look at Taylor and I see the woman I’d like to be. Not the supermodel with perfect hair – I want to be the woman who laughs and is free of cynicism and is frank about and owns her sexuality. Who feels things and understands that FEELINGS, and specifically the feelings that young women have are full of power. I want to be the woman who succeeds by working hard and who is relentlessly kind.
Taylor Swift represents many things to everyone who has fallen in love with her. She is the savior of an entire industry. She is the champion that hordes of teenage Tumblr users so desperately needed to systematically and succinctly shut down comment section bullies. She is the voice that says “I know that this thing is really hard, but we’re all going to be alright” and we believe her. We sing her lyrics like mantras into hairbrushes. We are better now, and we are legion.
So hey Taylor? On the off chance that you might be reading this, your record means a lot to me. I’ve been having a shit time of it lately, but when I listen to 1989 I feel like everything bad is truly temporary. That something good is just around the corner, and that I really am in control of my own happiness.
I am now actively shaking it off.