I remember the exact moment I stopped listening to Taylor Swift. I was in middle school and listening to whatever sexist mainstream pop was currently admired, and my mom asked me why I had to listen to music like that—why couldn’t I just listen to Taylor Swift again like I used to?
Feeling defensive, I said Swift had a song where she said a girl was “better known for what she does on the mattress,” so she was just as guilty as all the other pop stars singing about sex.
At 13, I was quoting “Better than Revenge,” Swift’s song off her 2010 album “Speak Now.” I’m sure a part of me did want to stay a Swiftie, but I cared much more about fitting in at the time, so I assimilated, and like others—I am guilty of the internalized misogyny of the 2000s and dropped her.
When “Fearless” debuted in 2008, I wore it out on my CD player. I watched the “You Belong with Me” music video on the family computer thinking that at 10, I understood love. The person you wanted never really wanted you back, and if they did, it was complicated.
At a young age I romanticized love itself, which isn’t a bad thing aside from turning me into a hopeless romantic with unrealistic expectations. But as I got older, a part of me couldn’t relate anymore. I hadn’t fallen in love, or truly had my heart broken.
I played scenarios in my head to “Love Story” and who my Romeo would be. A part of me wanted to fall in love and then out of it, just to feel the heartbreak that she wrote about.
When “Red” came out, I was in my first year of high school and still assimilating. I listened to it, but like most of my misogynistic peers and the tabloids, I agreed Swift dated too much, and my love affair with her continued to fade.
There were so many things I didn’t let myself enjoy because as a teenager, the boys around me didn’t, so I accepted their sexist jokes and stood by as Swift became one of them.
Now, here is where I want to note that you can love a creator and critique them. I was frustrated Swift wasn’t more vocal about politics, I really don’t like “ME!” or the music video, and many times, her feminism isn’t as intersectional as it needs to be.
But her music is a movement and one that speaks only the rhythm of young teen girls’ hearts.
The thing about being a teen girl is that the whole time you are one, you want nothing more than to be in your 20s—and then you are—and you’re listening to “Red (Taylor’s Version),” and you’ve had your heart broken and fallen in and out of love, and you want nothing more than to be a teen girl again.
Once it was deemed “cool” to like Swift again—and by that I mean I stopped caring about what my friends on Spotify could see I was listening to—I was back.
So, years later, when I found out “Red” was being rerecorded, I was ready to experience what I missed out on the first time. I soon realized it wasn’t going to be about what was new in my life, but the past 10 years, all the way from standing in my kitchen arguing with my mom at 13, to 23.
“Taylor’s Version” itself stands as a move of empowerment, but “Red (Taylor’s Version)” reminded so many of us how lucky we are to feel all of the things she sings about, even if they are the experiences that hurt the most.
I was so afraid to have my heart broken, while I knew I would relate to every sad love song more, I was terrified of the emptiness. Nothing can prepare you for it, not even Taylor Swift.
As it seemed to be unavoidable, I went through heartbreak, small ones, big ones, ones that took days to get over, and ones I am still getting over. But something that remained through each one: the songs that I never fully understood, until I completely did, and couldn’t escape their haunting words.
So, while I watched the “All Too Well” short film at 23, in a healthy, loving relationship, I couldn’t help but again feel the pain of relationships, situation-ships, crushes and the undefined in-betweens from years past, because while “Red” debuted a decade ago, heartache is timeless.
And like many young women, we understood “Red” on a different level because of the #metoo movement. I was always “mature for my age,” which when older boys would say that, translated to: It’s OK you’re younger than me and can’t drive.
I wanted so badly to be taken seriously that I saw it as a compliment, rather than a defense. The almost ten-year age difference depicted in “Red” isn’t uncommon, it’s a trope we fall into because we are taught our worth correlates with our age.
It’s so easy for the world to make fun of teen girls, but as a former teen girl, I can vouch that we’re wise beyond our years. Not necessarily because we want to be, but because we have to.
We grow up so quickly and learn to bind our hearts up tightly because any shred of vulnerability equates to weakness. I stopped liking Swift because I didn’t want to be seen that way. But now, embracing my sad-girl-witch era, I’m honored to be a nostalgic sappy feminist who wears their heart on their sleeve.
And that’s what “Red (Taylor’s Version)” is, all the feelings you couldn’t define and experiences you thought were unique to you—it’s empowerment in its richest form.
So, this is your warning, listen to “Red (Taylor’s Version)” if you’re ready to reanalyze every moment of your life, and even if you aren’t, know it will be waiting for you when you can’t find the right words.
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