A Defense(?) of Taylor Swift and Also Car-Singers Everywhere

Ok to be totally honest, T. Swift and I are not on the best terms of late. She recently gave an interview (or several) in which, in an unfortunate act of cowardice, she shunned the label Feminist and refused to take ownership of the empowerment her iconic status seems to have for a certain generation of teens. Why would you not own this? You are inspiring people, darn it! But, I also found myself reading a positive review of Red, her latest album (disclosure: I already know it by heart), on one of my go-to girl-positive parenting blogs, Reel Girl, and my first reaction was …really? You’re going to defend this person who only sings about her relationships? And then I scolded myself. Here is the written version of that scolding (and I promise you will understand why this warrants space on Fair Play).

First, some background. Taylor Swift has not always been relateable for me. When she was 15 and singing about adult-sounding heartbreak and I was not much older than 15 and first experiencing extremely teenage heartbreak, I thought “You’re 15! What do you know about the world?!” But quickly, I gave in. What exactly did I give in to? I gave in to her catchy lyrics and the way her music inspired me to belt her songs to my steering wheel. I confess, I’m a car singer. You might not know that about me unless we’re really close because I do try to tone that down among company, but it’s true. I sing a lot. It’s empowering, and it makes me happy. It clears my mind, liberates my anger, and gets me pumped up.

Now, I don’t discriminate in my car singing. I sing along to almost anything, although I try to avoid especially abhorrent lyrics. This is why I’ve never been comfortable trying to mumble along with Psy’s Gangnam Style – what is he saying? (Oh. Here’s a translation.) Some artists are especially belt-able. Gloria Gaynor has gotten me through every breakup, personal or professional disappointment, and bad day of my life. Adele and Corinne Bailey Rae join T. Swift and Gloria in being easy to sing, the louder the better. But what do these ladies sing about? Relationships. And…my first instinct is to criticize that. You’re powerful, intelligent women! What else in this world riles you up?! You should hear me get going on big agriculture, or power-based personal violence, or…, or…!

So here’s my personal scolding: Number one, Fair Play Emily, the most important thing in your life is the people you care about. Sometimes they thrill you, sometimes they tick you off (more often the former than the latter, members of Fair Play Life). But perhaps more importantly, number two, sometimes a song is just a song. Sometimes, the liberation of singing something crazy loud to your steering wheel when you’re completely alone transcends the fact that the person you’re singing along with sort-of-only-always sings about breaking up with men. A song that makes you sing until you feel better or more powerful has accomplished something great. See above reminder about Gloria Gaynor. Go and sing some Gloria Gaynor on repeat until this sticks. Other drivers can’t see me right? Who cares.

Taylor isn’t only for teens (+ me/other 20-somethings + Fair Play Little Brother + Fair Play Boyfriend sometimes – wide appeal!). It turns out that Taylor also appeals to the younger set. In the way I sang the Cranberries to be just like my big sister, younger children these days sing along to Taylor because she’s cool, and singing loudly like Cool Person Taylor is fun. Indeed, Taylor and her mostly wholesome videos saved me in a college babysitting gig when my small charge demanded either T. Swift or Lady Gaga videos on YouTube constantly, and would call them up quickly if I did not. Thank you so, so much, dear Ms. Swift. Gaga may warrant a post in herself – I think she’s mostly great, but her videos are not six-year-old material and I have some reservations about their content myself.

Here’s where I land on all of this, Fair Play message-wise: Do you have a teen in your life who would love some new music this holiday season? I recommend something easy to sing along to, something that will make them sing along on repeat until they feel stronger about whatever it was that had them down. Taylor Swift is doing that for a set of teens right now. If you have a smaller person in your life looking for more grown-up music this Christmas, T. Swift is perhaps also your gal. Singable, and watchable. I will reiterate how much I love Gloria Gaynor, though. She was part of an Oldies but Goodies album I listened to on the way to hockey practice Saturday mornings with my dad. Timeless. I personally recommend making an individualized mix of all your most inspiring artists for the girl/teen/young lady/frankly, anyone in your life. Who makes you sing loudly (maybe loudly in your head, if you’re the quiet type) until everything is better?

You can find CDs by all of these artists in Fair Play’s Amazon store.

3 thoughts on “A Defense(?) of Taylor Swift and Also Car-Singers Everywhere

  1. I liked the post. I was thinking of my favorite Taylor songs and realized most of them don’t fit the model of “whiny girl complaining about her ex-boyfriends” that people seem to attribute to her without closer analysis of actual lyrics. “Our Song, “Mine,” “Sparks Fly,” “You Belong With Me,” “Story of Us” are great, but topically pretty generic love songs, not really removed from a whole pop tradition that obsesses over love and relationships in sacrifice of politics, religion, and other elements of identity. I guess I’m not really sure if that is self-effacing or even gendered (pop has a pretty wide spectrum of lovesick boys and girls), but it does seem dangerous in excess, i.e. a young girl relating solely to Taylor Swift will be overexposed to this way of thinking, the best a parent can do is probably to expose their child to a variety of art with a variety of focus.

  2. Pingback: Songs, stories, and silliness: All things Jessie Modic | Fair Play

What do you think? Leave a comment!