Swift needs to grow up


In 2008 when I was in the eighth grade, a song from an artist whom I’d never heard before came on the radio: a story about a girl infatuated with a boy who didn’t love her back. Soon every time I heard the sobering melody and light, airy voice, I had it on full blast—in the car, singing along in my room—while managing to ignore a few conspicuous stares from my parents. It struck a chord in me that I felt related to everything I could relate to at 13: boys and the heartbreak I thought they could bring.

But I’m not 13 anymore and neither are the thoughts and feelings that once swarmed through my head at such an awkward age. The sad part is though, that neither is the 16-year-old girl whose songs progressively were my anthems for four years.

Taylor Swift is 22 now and as the years of her career have progressed, so has the age and maturity of her fans. Swift, however, has not seemed to do the same.

I’m not saying that I didn’t originally like the seemingly magical world she managed to create—a bubble of fairytale-esque stories and experiences she surrounded herself with in her songs, in pictures, on tour, and even with her wardrobe. Around me, I felt fellow teenage girls mimicking her in the way that she dressed—those all too familiar cowboy boots paired with a stylish sundress—and even, the way that she talked…especially when it came to guys.

I don’t think there was a single open mic or show that I’d go to where some girl wouldn’t be singing about a boy or mentioning something about how he’d given her “teardrops” on her “guitar.” Soon it just became common knowledge that if a girl was having a problem with a boy in her life, then a posting of one of Swift’s songs would appear somewhere on FaceBook or Twitter. The birth of Taylor Swift’s career practically sparked the birth of every teenage girl’s sudden need to buy a guitar—a sparkly guitar—and start their dream of writing songs, hoping to make it just the way their idol did barely out of puberty.

Like I said, though; I didn’t mind it at first. It was almost empowering in a way, for Swift almost gave us a voice, especially when it came to relationships or heartache.

But to many these days, the singer-songwriter may be hitting the wrong notes and nerves. Taylor Swift: a 22-year-old living in a 12-year-old’s world with an average voice, who hates her ex-boyfriends? What exactly did make her so famous in the first place?

The answer lies in her songs and the messages she used to convey to a million teenage girls trying to find their way in the world. What used to be songs with relatable lyrics and a country feel has progressed into teeny-bopper anthems by which substance hardly seems to matter. It’s as if Taylor Swift somehow thinks that she can just crank out hit after hit and have it work every time just for her career to stay alive.

In the world of music, this just doesn’t seem to work after a while.

Swift has always seemed to write songs that may have been too mature for her and the experiences of her life—such as when she was 13 writing about falling in love and getting married—but now Swift has seemed to focus on songs not mature enough for her age.

If you don’t agree with me, then take her latest single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” After listening to it after anticipating its release over the summer, something seemed to deflate within me: almost as if what had me going for Taylor Swift, song by song, concert after concert, was now dead.

What used to be a planned, well-thought story narrated by Swift’s songs somehow turned into a pointless four minutes of her jumping around her apartment with her friends and bandmates dressed as animals. While I know it was meant to be “cute,” the storytelling that Swift prides herself on was completely missing and honestly, the whole thing made me feel like I’d just wasted four minutes of precious time.

I remember sitting at my computer after the song’s four minute duration, going, “What the heck is she doing? Does she want to ruin her career?” over and over again before it dawned on me: how much can you write about when you were sixteen when you left high school, never went to college, and are practically living in a life of seclusion from the realities of the world?

What can you write about when boys are pretty much all you really know and you think “love” is the only thing you can really understand? Yes, Taylor Swift is a celebrity, but why does that have to be all that she knows?

It’s time for Swift to take some time off to really experience the world—and I mean really experience the world, such as go to a small, four-year liberal arts college and surround herself with new experiences that, I feel, will enrich the depth of her music. When she travels, she shouldn’t be going to four-star hotels and barely walking the streets, but experiencing life as an early twenty year old should.

Of course I know Taylor Swift will never lead a “normal” life, but there have been celebrities and musicians who have gone to college and have proved to have much more richer experiences to write about; Alicia Keys went to Juilliard, Emma Watson to Brown and Oxford, Ashley Judd went back to school at Harvard, and so did Tyra Banks for a business degree.

I  just don’t want Swift to lose the audience she has already worked so hard to earn. She doesn’t need to go backwards to keep her fans, she needs to keep moving forward.

The one glimmer of hope I had for her new album to debut in late October, Red, is the song “Ronan” that she co-wrote with a mother who lost her four year old son to cancer. It debuted at the telethon event Stand Up the Cancer and from the start was everything that we’d been missing from Swift in the past few years: deep, heartfelt lyrics and a beautiful melody. The song, I have to say, had me in tears by the end.

So I feel like Red could end up going either way: the album could turn out to be a collection of songs that speaks to many of Swift’s eager listeners or a disappointment with only one or two good songs. So far, at least, we know the score is even 1-1.