Changing Attitudes, Not Genres: a Look At Taylor Swift’s "1989"

Taylor Swift’s shift from country music to pop has been the subject of much discussion. What has been neglected in most reviews, however, is the shift ...

Dec 13, 2014

Taylor Swift’s shift from country music to pop has been the subject of much discussion. What has been neglected in most reviews, however, is the shift in the messages she is sending about herself, and most importantly, about one of her most prominent subjects: love.
Swift’s “1989,” released this October, has already become the best-selling album released in 2014. Her influence in pop culture is undeniable; to claim what she has to say does not matter would be a lie.
A shift I’ve noticed is the move away from fairy-tale notions of love. What she wants is no longer love “Forever and Always,” and for a prince with a white horse to catch her, but instead frames love as a game that is “[..] gonna be forever/ Or it’s gonna go down in flames.” There is doubt in love; she embraces the ups and downs, "This love is good, this love is bad," rather than romanticising the process. Notions of insanity were also prominent in her last album, and surprisingly, she’s OK with that and “wouldn’t change anything”.
Power dynamics in the relationships she describes in her songs have become more equal. The glorification of male figures no longer echoes through her songs like they did in “Stay Beautiful,” “Superstar,” “Superman” and “Untouchable.” Not that I believe there is something inherently wrong with crushing over someone, but I am glad she is moving away from addressing guys as perfect, while making her sound imperfect in comparison; invisible, naive and stupid come to mind from her songs, which further emphasizes their demigod status.
Furthermore, the idea of needing a guy to be with her, “I’m only me when I’m with you,” while compromising her ideals is gone, replaced by light mocking of changing for a guy in “Blank Space.” Imperfections, now, are more equal and genuine across genders and what she writes about herself is more personal.
In “Shake It Off” and “Blank Space” she acknowledges “she [goes] on too many dates” and that she “love[s] the players”. She mocks the fact that people criticize her for her personal life by snapping back with a it’s-my-life type of narrative.
In her most recent break-up songs, like “All You Had To Do Was Stay,” she makes it clear that “people like me are gone forever when you say goodbye,” and that she will no longer want a guy back, even if the guy wants her back once he rejected her. Unless of course he sincerely apologises, like in “How To Get A Girl”.
It’s “too late” Swift claims, letting her audience know that she deserves to be respected. And when she longs for a man in “I Wish You Would,” she does so because she was the one who made the decision to end ties.
Her lyrics no longer read like that of a 15-year-old girl who would do anything to reach what she thought of as love even if it means being in an abusive relationship, “wondering which version of [him she] might get on the phone tonight”.
Instead, she is aware of the choices she has and the respect she deserves. Her new song “Clean,” for example, emphasizes the importance of breaking free, comparing herself to a substance addict in the process of recovery.
She acknowledges her control and consciously makes, or doesn’t make, her own decisions: “I should just tell you to leave cause I / know exactly where it leads but I / watch us go round and round each time”.
While, admittedly, I’ve always been a fan of Swift’s music, I’m pleased with her new more empowering and self-aware lyrics. I’ve shaped my ideals around love and my own self-worth from my early high school days and I’m glad someone of such great influence voices something very similar to what I would want to say.
Melinda Szekeres is deputy news editor. Email her at
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