Taylor Swift: Vulnerability and Power

"folklore" got me through the pandemic and inspired me to write.

by Jaya Arellano

Courtney C. Faust

One of my first memories is watching Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” music video on MTV. I was 4 and my sister was 3. On the screen, a blonde girl wrote notes to her friend in her bedroom window and sang, “She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts…” 

 The reserved girl who doesn’t wear fancy clothes and isn’t popular reminded me of myself. I liked how the shy writer girl got the guy in the end. My sister and I learned the chorus and sang along. 

When I got my first phone, I used Taylor’s song “Blank Space” as my ringtone, because other girls did. When I found out that the same person made “Blank Space” and “You Belong With Me,” my 8-year-old self was impressed. The teenage girl who filmed a music video in a high school was, at age 24, an international pop star, making big budget music videos in castles. Her success made me think anything was possible. 

As I grew to admire Taylor’s songwriting, I noticed that people focused more on who her music was about than the music itself. I heard people on TV call her “the girl who writes songs about her exes.” Taylor pointed out that Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars weren’t criticized for writing songs about their romantic experiences.  

Around that same time, I went to the pharmacy with my mom and saw magazines with headlines like “Taylor Swift Pregnant! Who’s the Dad?” I started to learn about misogyny in the larger world, which lined up with some things at home: My dad told me that as a girl I had to dress nicely, do my hair, and watch my weight. The Taylor “scandals” revealed that women were shamed for things men weren’t (dating, going out, their looks). 

Back to Music

When Taylor took a break from music in 2014, I did too. I didn’t listen to Taylor, or any music, for about six years. When I was 12 and 13, I struggled with anxiety, and I found myself weirdly agitated by music, which sounded like strange voices in my head screaming at me. And sometimes when it was quiet, anxiety sounded like different songs overlapping in my head.

Then came the pandemic. I was alone in my room all the time, and my anxiety got even worse. Then, that first pandemic summer, I discovered Taylor’s album folklore.

I was in bed late at night scrolling through Instagram and clicked Taylor’s profile. There was a beautiful gray album cover.  I opened Spotify and pressed play. 

What I heard was calming and therapeutic. It was otherworldly. This wasn’t the country-turned-pop-star Taylor I knew. Instead of pop beats, I heard soft melodies and complex lyrics, stories turned into music. What was this?! I googled it and found the genre was “indie.” I loved the album, even though I thought I was into pop or rap, not indie rock. At 13, I thought I must be becoming more sophisticated, liking this “deeper” music. 

folklore came at a time when I felt isolated from everyone and everything. I was lonely, depressed and anxious. I needed an outlet for my feelings. folklore helped me escape my reality, but I also related to many songs. 

“this is me trying” (links provided only to songs/videos owned by Taylor out of respect for her!) is about a person trying to stay on the wagon after dealing with depression (which I was struggling with) and addiction. The line “fell behind all my classmates and I ended up here” cut deep as I struggled with learning virtually. I considered myself relatively smart, especially in math, but during remote learning I failed geometry tests. 

“seven” is about remembering your young and innocent years. It might sound weird for a 13-year-old to relate to that, but I felt forced to grow up fast. My parents divorced when I was 11, and I learned how cruel even family could be to each other. The song reminds me of when I was able to be just a kid, a feeling I was just starting to miss at age 13. It felt like Taylor knew exactly what I was going through and put it into art. 

 Listening to these songs painted a black and gray movie in my head. I felt sad that I could relate to so many of these heartbreaking lyrics, but I was also comforted by the fact that many others probably did as well. I wasn’t alone. From then on, I listened to her music every day. And I continue to find connections between her music and my life.

Inspired

Taylor also inspired me to start writing poetry and journaling. 

I was listening to folklore one day and pulled out my journal. I stared at the lined paper feeling angry and glum. Instead of crying, which felt like all I did at the time, I started writing the lyrics I heard, which turned into drawings, which turned into flooding thoughts. I felt horrible, like I was ruining everything in my life. I felt like it was my fault for struggling. I wrote down how I felt at that moment, and what came out was a depressing mess. I didn’t feel better, but there was power in the words I wrote, even if I’d be the only one to see them. 

I continued to write while listening to folklore (is it obvious it’s my favorite album?) and allowed my thoughts to flood onto the page. They were remorseful, angry, resentful. They were also thoughts I wasn’t comfortable sharing with anyone. I began to shape the words into something more structured, with more metaphor.  I wrote a poem after my mom called me a “spoiled brat.” I wrote about how guilty I felt hurting the people I love because of my depression. 

“They were a glass vase/ I’m the spoiled brat/ Who shattered them into pieces/ Cutting myself in the process.” 

I didn’t show these poems to anyone, but it felt nice to express myself in a way besides writing all my thoughts in my diary. Instead of just writing angry words down on paper, I thought about how I felt and tried to put it as “poetically” as I could. That made me think things through. 

I continued to write while listening to “folklore.” I began to shape the words into something more structured, with more metaphor.

It’s funny how a 33-year-old superstar with millions of fans and millions of dollars can be so relatable to an angsty and anxious 16-year-old girl, but she is. Sometimes I feel like I know her, like she’s my friend. “mirrorball” and “Nothing New” are songs about never feeling enough and being obsessed with what others think. I especially related to these two when I was struggling with an eating disorder. The fact that someone like her could seem to be feeling the same way I do and make it into poetry, made me feel seen and valued. In “mirrorball” she writes, “I can change everything about me to fit in.” I imagined Taylor, or whoever the narrator is, feeling like an outsider, just like me. 

Her life inspires me too. At the height of my bulimia, I watched her Netflix documentary Miss Americana. Taylor admitted that she too dealt with an eating disorder. I had read about it on social media, but hearing her talking about just how much she struggled was heartbreaking. She talked about the pressure to be skinny when the media is watching your every move. 

Her openness has made me feel less alone with my battle with an eating disorder. It made me feel brave enough to open up about it. If she could tell the entire world, I could, too. 

What I admire the most about Taylor is that she writes her own songs. I appreciate her for not only sharing her words, but for inspiring mine, too. My personal favorite songs are hoax; tolerate it; Lover; Timeless (Taylor’s Version); and Never Grow Up (Taylor’s Version).”

Taylor signed to Big Machine Records back in 2005 for a contract lasting 13 years and 6 albums. Big Machine Records owned the masters (original recordings) of these albums. In 2019, the masters were sold behind her back for about $330 million to a company owned by Scooter Braun, a manager for big acts like Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber. However, Taylor owns the publishing rights to her songs, so to retake ownership, she re-recorded the records from that contract. I think it’s empowering that she took back what was taken from her. 

Taylor has changed the way I think of music, writing and art. She’s opened my eyes to other artists such as Olivia Rodrigo, Phoebe Bridgers and Lana del Rey. I’m in awe of her talent and her taking control of her own life. And I’m grateful to her for leading me to writing.

Jaya is a senior at Academy of American Studies in Long Island City, Queens. She enjoys writing, reading and listening to music (especially Taylor Swift).

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