Sunday, 8 December 2013

(She Knows Me) All Too Well: Why I Am A Taylor Swift Apologist

Perhaps the most fitting way to end a year of highlights occurred last night when I finally got to see the wonderful Taylor Swift in concert. When I wrote here about discovering her a few years back it was met by faint echoes of derison. 'She writes for 12 year old girls' some said. Those voices grew louder as the years progressed, particularly as she became a walking tabloid headline due to high profile romantic missteps. Granted, her confessional songwriting style isn't for everyone. After all its not cool to like pop anymore (unless you're a fifteen year old Kiwi who claims to be 'original' but is in fact highly derivative). Though last night the median age of spectators at Suncorp Stadium was young enough to be my daughter, I am a Taylor Swift apologist of the highest order, a huge fan, and she is probably my second favourite artist behind the irreplacible Tegan and Sara.

To me, Taylor Swift is the greatest romantic poet of her generation. Notice how I didn't bother saying the words 'musician' or 'songwriter'? While there are some great musical arrangements on the majority of songs, such notions are purely subjective. Her skills as a writer of romantic prose are however beyond doubt.

The qualities that set Taylor apart from her contemporaries in this genre, most of whom I am ambivalent about, remain her trademark contradictory assets: the ability to make the universal seem personal and the personal seem universal. To her the song may be about Jake Gyllenhaal, but when I'm listening to it, that point is irrelevent. It is about me.

The song that best demonstrates this is All Too Well off of her latest album Red. The song heightens these qualities to great affect, and invites listeners to interpret the story in their own mind. I know each time I do, the same story from my past comes up in my mind, particularly because of a series of lyrics in the middle of the song:

And I know it's long gone
And there was nothing else I could do
And I forget about you long enough
To forget why I needed to...

'Cause there we are again in the middle of the night.
We dance around the kitchen in the refrigerator light
Down the stairs, I was there, I remember it all too well, yeah.

Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much,

But maybe this thing was a masterpiece 'til you tore it all up?
Running scared, I was there, I remember it all too well.

And you call me up again just to break me like a promise.
So casually cruel in the name of being honest.
I'm a crumpled up piece of paper lying here
'Cause I remember it all, all, all... too well.

Superficially these lyrics may seem simple, but behind that first look lies an unmatched specificity and a simile that is particularly devastating: You call me up again just to break me like a promise. So casually cruel in the name of being honest.

This resonates because we have all been here, but have never been able to express such emotions as eloquently. The 12 year old girls going to their first concert, the 30 year old cripple who has been desperately unlucky in love, and the group of 50 year old women cheering to my left for two straight hours have all felt like a crumpled up piece of paper in their darkest moments.

Taylor knows this too, prolouging the set at the beginning of the night by declaring that the audience were going to hear two hours of love songs. You were either one of the 40,000 who attended last night and bought into that entirely, or you dismiss her as another teen pop starlet at your peril. You may not like the romance, but I revelled in her poetry. Despite the million dollar set up, the cherography, the dancers, and the fireworks I could have (and wanted to) listened to her for another two hours just to hear more stories of how I gave my heart away, how it was restored, and then how I gave it away again.

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