I have been recently hearing newly Swiftie converts say they like 1989 because Taylor Swift “has matured.” I think this is partly because Taylor Swift did change, pushing her penchant for pop into its inevitable conclusion, and because some people needed an excuse to like Swift because you know, she’s kinda cool now–maybe?
There’s a bit of hesitation in these converts, who really haven’t had the time yet to backtrack her highness’ wisdom and awesomeness who can dish out lines so profound and catchy like “Life makes love look hard” (“Ours” Speak Now 2010). And it’s okay, I understand them. For a long time, I was worse than how the newly converts were–I was one of the many Taylor Swift haters. I thought she was sexist and fake and all her songs sound the same. That was before I realized that I was the one being sexist, wanting to box her up in a harmful stereotypical WHAT A CELEBRITY WOMAN SHOULD BE and was putting her songs on a high pedestal of quality criteria that I wasn’t putting on other pop artists. Plus, I was brainwashed by this Jezebel article, which eventually, I would realize was just a tabloid-y site and harmful to the feminist movement (this one was easier to realize than finally declaring my love for Swift though and I’m thankful for posts like this).
Taylor Swift has always been a mature person. One of the basic Swiftie knowledge is how assertive and passionate she is about music that she hauled her whole family from their hometown to pursue a career in that field (okay, I said mature, not exactly poor). She has always maintained a success in the industry by playing the game to her own advantage without having to resort to the usual options opened to young women pop artists like her (i.e. skimpy clothes, not that she would make other girls wore more clothes she said). This. Girl. Knows. Her. Shit. And like I’ve said in a blog post almost two years ago, she has always been able to take back her celebrity tabloid image narrative to promote her music and sell her records–a move that she didn’t stop doing, hence, her satirical take with “Blank Space.” She knows when to fan the flames, and she knows when to throw cold water at it. “Blank Space” has been a long time coming, like how she has long been mature. Yes, she “has matured” but not because she wasn’t before, but because she has become more awesome.
With that said, here are my 5 all-time favorite Taylor Swift songs. My classmate asked me about this, and I just needed so much time to think about it that I had to wait for the semester to be over so I can decide. It’s like making me choose between butter and cheese T_T. And since it’s that hard, I decided to pick only one song from each of her 5 studio albums to be able to come up with this list. Huhu, I’m sorry other songs~
5. Our Song (Album: Taylor Swift)
This one is my first favorite Swift song. Even though I was a Swift hater, I do listen to her music before like I would listen to all other pop artists that I hated/still hate. That’s just how I roll. I can hate your work but not hate you and vice versa. I’ve always found Swift’s vocals palatable. I would listen to “You Belong With Me” because that competitive girl shit is damn funny and it’s so fucking 90’s teen movie material, but it was just some song to pass the tedious office hours back in those days, along with whatever random pop hit at that time.
That was until I heard “Our Song” (as my Grooveshark randomly played it for me). That was the first time I saw Swift in a better light and started to question my motives for hating her. It was another 90’s teen movie material, but this time, more fluffy sugary that is better suited for Asian pop (mainly k-pop) but surprisingly actually existed in the West. This drew me in. The song was heavier on vivid happy images and lesser on complaints than the other few songs I know from Swift.
My favorite part was the subtle sexual element of the whole song. The song is about lovers talking late on the phone “real slow” for Chrissakes. LOL. It’s so wholesome yet so forbidden “’cause it’s late and your mama don’t know.” I would also like to think this part is the biggest hint of the whole subtle sexual element of the song: “He’s got a one-hand feel on the steering wheel, the other on my…. heeeaaaart!” On her heart, my ass. Nobody can tell me that the pause between those words wasn’t intentional.
4. Forever and Always (Album: Fearless)
I was torn between “The Way I Loved You” and this song in choosing the one to represent this album. I liked the first one because it’s so goddamn dramatic and I obviously have a soft spot for drama. But I chose the latter for this album because, one, the verses are hell of fun to sing as they roll off your tongue, and two, this is kinda her big FUCK YOU song to Joe Jonas (which the poor boy tried to give back but he doesn’t quite have the talent that Swift has). The latter is very important, because as Swift has already complained in her recent interviews about her highly scrutinized dating life, men get away for being jerks and women are expected to take it so gracefully, meaning keeping mum about it, meaning letting the men get away for being jerks.
Swift did what scorned women and bitter exes have the *right* to do, release all those feelings through whatever art form, and better yet, make money off of it (kind of like what men have been doing for a long time). Swift basically threw Jonas under the bus when she told Ellen how they broke up, and made sure that he stayed under that bus with “Better than Revenge” in her next album. Dealing with questions about boys being afraid to date her because she might write mean songs about them (pft, as if boys would stop running after her), she says that if boys won’t do anything asshole-y, then they should have no reason to be afraid. This pretend interview clip in one of her concerts to defend her right to bitch about assholes, because she fucking can.
That aside, the play of words in these lines are so cute: “Once upon a time, I believe it was a Tuesday when I caught your eye, and we caught onto something.” Add another one of her insightful observations so familiar in relationships that didn’t work out: “Was I out of line? Did I say something way too honest? Made you run and hide like a scared little boy? I looked into your eyes, thought I knew you for a minute, now I’m not so sure.”
Runners-up for this album are: “Jump then Fall” (another sugary fluffy favorite) and “Untouchable” (Swift’s earliest sexy song!).
3. Last Kiss (Album: Speak Now)
Okay, this is the point where it gets harder and harder to choose. Sigh. The only songs that probably haven’t grown on me yet are “Mine,” “If This Was A Movie,” and “Superman.” The rest of this album is just pure lyrical perfection, I want to cry. Each song has their own unique feel, but since I have to choose just one, I have to go with… “Last Kiss.”
This song is not as lyrically loaded as the other songs in this album such as the upbeat but sad story of “The Story of Us” or the Kanye West-inspired “Innocent” (which was really blown out of proportion by her haters since the song talked about not being too hard on yourself more than about West really), but “Last Kiss” has just the right amount of vivid images for storytelling while having the right amount of lines to punch where it hurts. You feel that you are her as his face “lit through the darkness at 1:58” and the beat of his heart jumps through his shirt. And what about this awesome characterization?
“I do remember the swing of your step
The life of the party, you’re showing off again
And I roll my eyes and then
You pull me in
I’m not much for dancing
But for you I did
Because I love your handshake, meeting my father
I love how you walk with your hands in your pockets
How you kissed me when I was in the middle of saying something
There’s not a day I don’t miss those rude interruptions”
Here’s the right amount of show-don’t-tell creative writing slogan. And please, this may be a standard cocky cutie male trope, but not everybody can write it well, much less write one for a six-minute song. Much less these lines that are able to visualize what missing someone is like:
“You can plan for a change in weather and time
But I never planned on you changing your mind”
“So I’ll go sit on the floor
Wearing your clothes
All that I know is
I don’t know how to be something you miss”
“So I’ll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep
And I feel you forget me like I used to feel you breathe”
It is borderline pathetic, creepy, sad, helpless, and just plain real.
Again, songs that I almost chose are: “Dear John” (Swift perfecting her throwing-shade-at-exes craft) and “Long Live” (the first song that made me realize this girl won’t likely be going away from the music industry for a long, long time, for this girl has ambition executed with a clear vision).
2. Blank Space (Album: 1989)
Yes, I went out of order in terms of album release, because though I will kill for this song, it ranks second on my All-Time Taylor Swift songs, for there’s that one song that will forever hold the throne in my heart. But let’s talk about that later.
1989 has been garnering fans left and right, mostly because of what I’ve already said above, and mostly because, well, it’s full-blown pop now. It’s called pop for a reason. Add that to the fact that she made it all vintage-y which has been quite a thing these past years, add that to the fact that she actually knows how to make music, add that to the fact that she has more edge in lyrics than her contemporaries, she basically got this genre eating from the palm of her hand.
The album shows how Swift’s attention to details shifted from lyrics to music, but she made sure the spare lyrics still don’t get lost on the listeners. The lyrics still did what they had to do: either punch people in the gut again or merge with the music to give birth to a song that presents a visual/audial embodiment of the song’s theme. “Clean” sounded like raindrops; “Style” invoked late-night city lights while driving; “This Love” sounded like the ocean; “Wildest Dreams” invoked echoes; and so on and so forth.
“Blank Space” stands out from the rest of these songs, however, for it carries all the good points of the present album (such as the vintage-y goal with its early 2000 track feel), the past album (flirty and fun that you kinda want to hop while singing it and lyrically loaded with lines that are probably already plagiarized on some cutesy Asian novelty shop’s notebook), and Swift’s playful wit in taking back nasty narratives the press paints her with.
Like, I’ve already said, “Blank Space” is a long time song coming. I’ve read some say that it shows Swift finally having self-awareness, but I disagree. She’s long been self-aware, not just because she mocks herself in songs like “Who’s Taylor Swift anyway?” line in “22” or “listening to some indie record that’s much cooler than mine,” but because of how she showered “clues” all over her album’s inlay in previous album Red to all the famous exes she has dated. She knows the public feeds on her dating life for breakfast, might as well use that knowledge to make them more hungry, right? Lure them in with rumors and make them listen and attached and discussing her songs. For all the statements she said in 1989 about how she didn’t want her dating life to be national news anymore, it might be because, now, it doesn’t benefit her anymore. She has been playing that game before and she’s probably cunning enough now to know that people may get bored with the same trick, and she would less likely get her coveted top spot of the music industry with that. Or, maybe she really is exhausted with how her country is watching her every step. Either way, she found another way to get people’s attention.
But the intelligence behind this song is not the only reason why I would kill for it. This song is–I know this word has been overused so forgive me but–fucking empowering. No matter how much and how many times Swift assert that this is a satirical song, I believe that deep down, it’s a song about her fear, a fear many women who have not been lucky in one too many lovers probably share. Swift is obviously a strong, grounded person, but the circumstances of her dating life plus the constant berating of the media of who she is must have cut her one or two times at least. Even the sanest person can have doubts and the protagonist of “Blank Space” is that doubt made flesh. But Swift, the strong, grounded person she is, made sure to defend that protagonist.
The power of female agency was handed onto this protagonist. She actually has a choice, aware of her choice, and she still chooses her definition of love that others may frown upon:
“So hey, let’s be friends
I’m dying to see how this one ends
Grab your passport and my hand
I can make the bad guys good for a weekend”
“You can tell me when it’s over
If the high was worth the pain”
Better yet, the song even actually helps the characterization of men-jerks too. Instead of a flat standee of a chauvinist pig, Swift was able to show how men-jerks actually do have feelings too–they may be handling it in a stupid way, but these are still feelings that validate the relationships that they too often try to dismiss as nothing for it was a relationship with a “crazy” girl. Swift didn’t write a chauvinist pig; she wrote a guy who makes choices because of this kind of love too.
“‘Cause we’re young and we’re reckless
We’ll take this way too far
It’ll leave you breathless
Or with a nasty scar”
“Rose garden filled with thorns
Keep you second guessing like
“Oh my God, who is she?”
I get drunk on jealousy
But you’ll come back each time you leave
‘Cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”
Runners-up: “Style” (just ’cause it’s so goddamn sexy), “New Romantics” (snarkier than “Blank Space” and posher), and “Wonderland” (perfecting her use of fantasy and fairytale tropes, whimsical and dark at the same time–which was what it was based on anyway).
1. All Too Well (Album: Red)
Ah, Red. Her best album of all fucking time. Yes, I don’t care how many people say 1989 is Swift’s best work. Red is still the best *keyboard smash!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!* This is where shit gets more than real, and this is when she produced the magical heartbreaking jewel that is “All Too Well.” “Our Song” was the song that made me take Swift seriously, but it was “All Too Well” that erased all the wrongs that she has ever done in her life.
“All Too Well” is Swift at her fervent songwriting peak. The music, the narrative, the lyrics, the theme, as if all the previous songs were merely her practicing to culminate to this undeniable climax of a perfection. Like “Blank Space,” it has set out and excellently executed its goal to carry the past and present album’s good points and Swift’s wit to lure in listeners with the image she has: in this song, that of her with a pretty little scarf around her neck and sharing a warm cup of coffee with Jake Gyllenhaal. Unlike “Blank Space,” however, which sometimes lean more on towards being smart, and well, a clean song, “All Too Well” carries rawness that represented the intensity of Red. She told a story of extreme high and extreme low. She let you ride a roller coaster of emotions: made you feel butterflies, made you feel like you need to lie down on the floor, made you ask the questions that are oh so familiar, and made you doubt your narratives, made you fearful of the memory’s validity but helping you answer that fear and assert the truthfulness of the past that haunts your present. She left behind sexual subtext altogether, but not to the point where sex was just a marker of her songs turning “mature;” she was able to sing about sex as an actually important part of the story, one of which is treasured but lost intimacy.
It’s a song that she said she wrote to forget, but it’s a song clearly praying for everyone to remember.
I’m gonna cheat on this one. My fangirling won’t do the song any justice. You have to listen to it for yourself. :] Just be sure you’re not heartbroken right now though. It’s not for the faint of heart. 😛