I still remember where I was when I connected with Taylor Swift for the first time. I was sitting in my dorm room at 20 years old; I was studying abroad, and a boy had just broken my heart. A friend sent me a link to the “White Horse” music video. “You need to see this,” he said. My friend was right. Taylor Swift‘s ballad of heartbreak and broken promises filled my heart. It was everything I’d ever felt but never been brave enough to say. “White Horse” was my gateway Taylor. From there, it was only a short time before I became a fanatic.
Taylor and I are close in age. She was born only a year after me, which meant that we were growing in about the same ways at about the same time. We also seemed to suffer from a similar ailment: a fear of vulnerability that prevented us from getting what we wanted and left us feeling rejected (see: “You Belong with Me). Her ballads of unrequited love spoke to deep pain I had hidden in shame. Hearing Taylor allowed that shame to transform into righteous indignation. I understood why other people mocked her, but she always seemed to know exactly where I was in my life and the relationships that I needed to get out of but couldn’t (see: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”). Taylor’s albums were a road map for the pains I endured when I was young. They helped me feel heard so that I might heal. And eventually, I grew up.
The thing is: she didn’t.
My heart had been broken enough times, and I made enough mistakes that I was finally able to forgive people. I learned to look outside of myself. I was not the center of the universe. I also learned to cop to my privilege, to recognize it, and to work as hard as I could to grow past it. Taylor has had a couple of hiccups in her career, and my default was to give her grace. Who doesn’t screw up while growing? Plus, this is the girl whose music had helped me through countless breakups. We had grown apart, but I had faith that she would get there in the end. Then, like the rest of the internet, I listened to “Look What You Made Me Do,” and my heart sank. Instead of maturing, Taylor seems to have gotten pettier. She’s one of the most powerful women in the world, but that doesn’t matter to her. She’s not interested in an exercise in empathy or forgiveness. She wants revenge.
What does she want revenge for? Kim Kardashian smearing her name by releasing an audio recording of . . . something Taylor said. Don’t get me wrong, when that whole thing went down, I was in Taylor’s corner — not because she was right (because she wasn’t), but because people seemed gleeful at her fall. They took pleasure in the fact that a successful woman was sinking, and I was not about that.
But that wasn’t the only dynamic at play in the Kanye West/Taylor Swift/Kim Kardashian showdown: race played a role. White women wrongfully accusing black men of misconduct is too common a pattern in American history. It’s one I wish that Taylor could have looked past her own pain to see, but the insular world view that allowed Taylor to see her teen heartbreak as all-encompassing has also blinded her from recognizing the ways that her behavior reinforces existing societal oppression.
Taylor has had a nasty history of reacting to political criticism as a personal affront (who can forget her visceral reaction to Nicki Minaj’s criticism of the lack of diversity in the MTV VMAs nominees). She was a girl who carried wounds that had never healed. She’d never gotten closure. She’d only gotten the revenge of becoming more and more famous.
While it is human to err, we also expect people to grow — and I don’t think Taylor has. While her feelings might have been hurt over her reputation last Summer, a lot has happened since then. The United States has elected a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, something I would hope would matter a great deal to Taylor, given her recent court case; it’s certainly important to me as a survivor of sexual assault. Donald Trump has also declared the media enemy number one, which is why it’s so deeply troubling to see that Taylor has declared the same war on the media with her new album, Reputation.
Critics have said that “Look What You Made Me Do” is a darker Taylor, but to me, she hasn’t gotten darker — her problems have just gotten smaller. She was unwilling to look outside of herself and think, “Hey, maybe as crushing as it is to me, my personal pain isn’t the biggest thing in the world at the moment. Maybe this one is for my journal.” But instead, she thought, “I’ll make them pay,” which, TBH, is a very 19-year-old way to think. And so it was in my bathtub as I listened to her new single (which seems to have taken the worst parts of “Shake It Off” and said, “Yeah, let’s run with that!”) that I finally had to admit that it’s time to leave Taylor behind the way I wish she had ditched the pettiness of her youth.
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