The best things we [Red] this week.
I am a secret Swiftie.
My Taylor Swift fascination started with her bold defiance of Apple and Spotify, when I recognized her generous efforts to protect artists less powerful than herself. My affection grew when Swift sued DJ David Mueller for assaulting her, asking only $1 in damages – because the money wasn’t the point.
I first fell in love with her patient, ruthless, long-game strategies. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with her music, too.
Swift explores the tiny, sticky moments that form a person’s sense of self. She blows them up into stadium ballads, then pipes them into our hearts through our ears. She braids her intimate personal experiences into universal themes, weaving moments unique to her experience into songs that listeners receive as personal, intimate, and unique to each of them.
It’s musical alchemy, and I love everything about it all.
This week, I was curious about all things Red.
Taylor Swift’s insistence on maintaining artistic and financial control of her work is deeply inspiring. This is a great short history of the controversy around her masters – a story relevant to all artists.
“Countless fans have a parasocial relationship — an emotional attachment to a person who does not know them — with Swift.”
Whether artists like it or not, their fans develop parasocial attachments to them. Licensing is a way to monetize those draining/sustaining connections, and Swift is giving us all a masterclass in how to do it.
Spencer Kornhaber perfectly describes Swift’s songs as providing a “telescoping, time-travel feeling.”
Re-recording her work just to drain profits from the men who sold and bought her masters is enough justification to revisit prior recordings. Yet, Swift is doing something much more extraordinary than flipping off the suits. She’s playing with time, compressing it, stretching it, looping it. It happens for her, but for her listeners, too.
“All Too Well” is also, quite poignantly, about a young woman’s attempt to find retroactive equilibrium in a relationship that was based on a power imbalance that she was not at first able to perceive.”
We can think of Red (Taylor’s Version) as an extended and multivalent correction of power imbalances – with her ex-lovers, ex-label, ex-friends, the whole music industry, and goodness knows what else.
Listening to the album with that perspective is an electrifying experience.
Speaking of time…
What would happen if we stopped focusing on the why and whom of Taylor Swift’s past?
What would happen if we focused on how the songs affect us in the present?
What if we turn the biographical inquiry onto ourselves?
What if we value our interpretation of her music the way she values the interpretation of her experience?
I’ll go first.
Every serious Swift fan seems to have a song they’ve thoroughly personalized. I didn’t have that experience of her work – until “I Bet You Think About Me.”
For many years, I was in a relationship with a golden boy from a Very Important Family. He went to Very Fancy Schools, listened to Very Serious Music, and read Very Difficult Books. He disdained the things I loved most, constantly reminding me that I wasn’t really “good enough” for him. At least, not until I was gone. I’d leave him, he’d chase me down and win me back, then I’d leave again. Yet, I never truly left him behind because his sticky disdain continued to shape my sense of self.
Until “I Bet You Think About Me.”
This 4-minute song provided a kind of catharsis that 400 hours of therapy could not. How? Well, that’s the mystery and magic of art. That’s Swift’s special alchemy.