The real reputation of Taylor Swift

We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them they have chosen to show us. — Taylor Swift

The first song I’ve ever heard by Taylor Swift was back in 2007. I was in the back of the car watching the rain on the window, and “Teardrops on My Guitar” was playing on the radio. I couldn’t understand what she was talking about in the song because I was only fifteen at the time. But as I listened carefully to the lyrics, and pictured how she laughed and held her breath the way she described it, somehow, I understood what she felt.

Twelve years and six albums later, I still listen to her songs the way a devout parishioner would sing their hymns every Sunday. I definitely identify as a Swiftie, and yes I know at least 98% of her songs by heart, so don’t question my superfan license.

I am not a stranger to what her critics are saying about her, and I admit that it’s part of what makes her so interesting. Because you can see how her environment and her celebrity status affects her process and ultimately, her music. However, being there with her in the open arena of social media, and in the stadiums of the tours I have attended, I can tell that there is a huge part of her persona that a lot of her naysayers are not seeing.

There was one article I read the other day that really got to me. It pointed out that Swift has mastered faux-intimacy, and is an expert in addressing millions of strangers as if they were close. This was hurtful. Not because it isn’t true, but because it is misguided.

Yes, Taylor exudes an aura that is overtly friendly, but that is part of her performance. Her particular brand had always leaned on the theatrical, where her winks, seductive smug, fake laughs, and even her sincere dialogues are all part of the act. What blurs that line are the candidness in her tone, the traces of sincerity, and the depth in her message.

I understand that some children may have a hard time telling the difference, but that is where parental guidance plays a key role not just in Taylor’s case, but in all forms of entertainment. The rest of us adults are not as dumb and delusional as what the critics and haters seem to think.

So if she’s not a manipulative fake bestie and psycho ex-girlfriend, then who is Taylor Swift to her fans?

Taylor Swift in the rain — ANZ Stadium, Sydney, November 2018

 

Music is widely varying, especially in today’s world where anyone who can splice coherent noises can post their work online and call it a song. But where Taylor is distinguished as an artist is that at the centre of her music are her lyrics that are grounded in real love, and real pain.

Some of those lyrics are almost autobiographical, filled with vivid images of love stories and wildest dreams, but also of treacherous heartbreaks and bad blood between former friends. And that is why her songs are popular because they speak from personal experiences that make them relatable.

And you understand now why they lost their minds and fought the wars. And why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words.
— “You Are In Love”, 1989 Album, Taylor Swift

Apart from her music, she also doesn’t shy away from getting real with her fans. I attended her 1989 World Tour in Sydney back in 2015, and there was a moment where Taylor addressed the crowd as part of her transition to the next song. She talked about societal standards and the pressures of fitting in; about criticism and how they echo in your mind and become a part of how you see yourself. And then she said in the unmistakable tone of someone who has been thoroughly bruised, “that the moment you realise that you are not the opinion of someone who don’t know you or care about you, is the moment you feel clean.”

Those words — uttered by design but not without care, struck a chord with many of us in the crowd that night. Her openness about her struggles became the platform from which her fans could process their own, embellishing her image into their personal lives. This is the profound effect of empathy, and how Taylor Swift transcended from being relatable to being relevant.

Subsequently, and true to her form, she opened yet another vein in the Reputation Tour when she talked about how we all love the feeling of finding something real. She talked about gossip, and our fear of the things that can threaten the prospect of genuine relationships. “Having a bad reputation in our mind could get in the way of you finding real friendship, real love, real acceptance” said Taylor Swift in her sequinned rainbow dress. And yet again, we are incredibly moved.

Why is that? Well, never before has a generation been so susceptible to criticism than we do now in the age of social media. According to a survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health, social media sites often inspire feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and self-loathing among young people who frequently use the top five platforms.

Whether it be from self-comparison to other profiles, public disagreement, or outright bullying, many people, especially millennials, are now at risk of facing a similar dilemma as Taylor did. And while that may vary in scale by a lightyear, the anger and shame injures our mental health in the same way.

Taylor Swift is the embodiment of a generation that is constantly berated. Therefore, it is no surprise that we are responding to her music the way we do, because this is the life we all live now.

The Reputation Tour closed at $345.7 million, a considerable leap from her previous 1989 World Tour in 2015, which made $250.7 million according to Billboard. And many of her critics have since changed their minds about her, like this one:

In the end, her enduring devotion to her work is what brought her back to life. She poured herself into every song, and every performance; and I know this because I was there with her under the heavy downpour in Sydney, and it was one of the best times of my life.

The album, the tour, the people who supported it, and its unprecedented success were Taylor Swift’s real reputation. Proving to everyone that no amount of condemnation, fabricated news, and receipts will ever be stronger than a sincere act of human connection.

 

Featured Image Source: studybreaks.com

My Manifesto: Be vulnerable.

I sometimes stare at the blank page, and think of writing as wringing the mind and spilling its contents on the paper; or more accurately (as I find my handwriting atrocious), letting it flow through my fingers, and onto the keys of my old MacBook Pro. I allow them to leak, word by word, like droplets from a loosely shut valve.

I discovered, while fully immersed in this process, that the blank page is not really on the screen before me; not a canvass that I hack with a paint-loaded brush or a cup where I let the pulp and juice from an orange ooze into. No, the screen is not where the blank page lies.

The blank page is a space so empty, that neither light nor darkness exists in it, but where both can be brought into very easily when willed. It is a space where everything is welcome; colours, music, emotions, words. It is a sanctum where my world is conceived, and its address is in my head.

Whenever I write, there is a strange phenomenon that occurs in my consciousness. It doesn’t quite say the words, or show it, as these are merely the symptoms of what is going on in my brain. It feels more like carving, where the chiselled scar is the thought, shaping itself the more I tap into it and becoming its own realised copy of what is otherwise an obscure and formless breath of air. It rings in my head like electricity running wild in a vast network of copper, messages sent from nowhere, glorious bolts of lightning in the sky. This is a phenomenon that I have become so obsessed with exploring, experiencing, and mastering — and this is why I have decided to become a Writer.

Yesterday, I think it was, or whatever day that is now, I wrote an odd piece. I printed it, folded it twice, not knowing what to do with it, and is now laid out in front of me, finally discovering its purpose as I share it here:

“There’s something about my fear of being vulnerable that makes me question if I’m really cut out to be human. I just don’t want to do it, you know. Show my face in public when I have a big cystic acne on my face. Talk to people in the morning. Talk to people. Share my thoughts on social media. Co-exist with another living and breathing judgment-capable being. I just can’t anymore with human interaction, and yet my depravity of it is the cause of my misery, the same misery that makes me so afraid to live my life. So whatever I choose to do now, either way, I am well and truly fucked.

But the thing is, whether I’m cut out for it or not, I am human. And the many things I rationalise, wrestle with, and hate about myself, are precisely the things that make me a human being. So there is no reason to fight it or to run away from it. I don’t even need to accept it if I don’t feel like it. Because in the end, being human is only built around two options: to live, or to die. And if you haven’t already learned by now, I don’t care to share which one I choose.”

Now I don’t know whether it’s my profound and chronic lack of sleep or the fact that I wrote this in the morning, at work, being miserable in a career that I spent six years mindlessly slogging away to please other people and to earn a decent living. But this piece of paper is a sad piece of work, and yet it struck me so hard to realise that it is mine. I am this self-loathing person. This lonely, anxious, and angry person. So I share this work now despite its flaws, its raw and contradicting persona, and its intended incompleteness; because it is honest, and I need to start telling the truth more often.

It is true that I am anxious about sharing my own thoughts. It is true that this is making me stressed and depressed and be filled with existential dread. What is not true is the lack of reason to fight it. Because yielding to depravity, and misery, and self-deprecation, builds the case to choose the second option.

I choose to live, and I do care to share what I think. I choose to live in the company of people who believes in me, to spend my days reading great works of art, and to sit in a room with a keyboard and a pot of tea, writing fiercely. And I will share what I think, but only if my thoughts are honest, and mine. These are the only two premises I will allow my writing to build itself upon.

Be gone with you, wretched witch of criticism. Burn in hell you falsely-comforting blanket of depression. Fuck you, sleepless nights spent in the company of my fear of being vulnerable. I laugh maniacally as my fingers dig into the keys, and I cast away all my demons. You will not stop me from living the way I intend to, for alas, I have gone mad! I am free from you at last!

In their wake, I call upon my new and magnificent imaginary friends, born out of my love of their amazing work. Seneca, Albert Camus, George Orwell, Ludwig Wittgenstein you beautiful genius, Noriko Ogiwara, Haruki Murakami, Lois Lowry, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Anne Dillard, Elizabeth Gilbert, Robert Greene, Ryan Holiday, James Clear, Viktor E. Frankl, and to countless others that drink my tea and save me from the perils of my former friends. In my mind, you whisper to me, your voices kind and mellifluous, words you have written which give my life meaning. I thank you for sharing your lives, and with gratitude, I now share mine.

Although my private portfolio is merely a bunch of journal entries, uneven short stories, and unfinished novels, I will fix them, and finish them, and share them on this page, along with my poems which wouldn’t mind their company. Whether or not they are read or appreciated, they will learn to sit in this place, and I will make a home for them here.

I shy away from calling myself a Writer because I feel society expects so much from that title. But having written things over the years, and held them close to my chest, or tossed them into the garbage can, I have learned that being a writer is not about being published, it is not even about sharing. At least for me, it is merely about the act of writing, and doing it over, and over, and over again.

So why share them now? Why bother going through the gut-wrenching act of writing a manifesto, and flinging myself so boldly into the doorstep of other people’s free time? Well, I love writing. And whether I’m good at it or not doesn’t matter to me now, that stuff will sort itself out the more I do it. I love writing. And I believe that when you love something so purely and wholeheartedly, you must share it. Because the ultimate purpose of love is to be shared.

I am terrified. That is still true. But this fear in me has taken on a new form, a faint innocent cry, like the wailing of a newborn child jolted by the sensation of breathing for the first time. My skin is crawling, my insides are turning, and I feel like being sick at the thought of posting this online. Maybe I will throw up after I send this out into the world, but I know it will feel like purging the poison in my system, from a long night of drinking and wanting to be numb.

So here it is, world. Here I am. Do with my love as you please. Take it, hate it, pass it on, or give some of your love back in exchange. I am vulnerable at your feet.

Acid Dreams

Sometimes it’s about being left behind, by a bus that leaves for a field trip, or by the only plane that can take you home.

Sometimes it’s a crowd in a football stadium, frowning and pointing at you as you stand naked on the field.

Sometimes it’s about an accident, driving blindly in the dark, and running over a woman crossing the street.

Sometimes it’s everybody recognizing your face, knowing you’re the person who ran over the war hero, and mother of six.

Sometimes it’s a family reunion, relatives asking if you’re proud of yourself, eyes filling every inch of your vision.

Sometimes it’s the immortal woman in red, chasing you with a sinister smile and a long knife in her hand.

Sometimes it’s just yourself, floating in a cold and empty ocean. Screaming with no voice, breathing with no air.

You wake up at the ungodly hour, your stomach churning, your mind returning. It’s just another night. What a sad thing to get used to.

You try to go back to sleep, but you shuffle until the night is gone, and you wonder when you will ever feel safe again in the arms of a sweet surrender.

Shelter

I wonder why anyone
would ever want to leave,

this encasement for
the fragile system of beats.

The sheets wrap
around the tenuous winds,

a veil that hangs
to hold the smokescreen.

Hush now, and listen,
they are always on the prowl.

They step imperceptibly,
to pounce unannounced.

Soon the pieces
will find their fit.

Until then I pray,
for the hands to let me stay.