Taylor Swift gets a bad rap. Hayley G Hoover posted this article earlier in the year about how the frequent attacks on Taylor Swift are anti-woman in nature. She makes the point well, so read the whole article, but this is the main idea:
I’m sick of seeing male confessional songwriters– everyone from Bob Dylan to Eminem– get praised for their openness and honesty while their female counterparts are continually accused of being overly dramatic man-haters. Most of Taylor’s songs that deal with breakups are either silly and light-hearted (nobody’s crying themselves to sleep over “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”), or they’re accounts of problematic or even abusive relationships. (Full article here)
I bought Taylor Swift’s album Red a couple of months ago and I have played it almost constantly since then. I know this is an old person thing to say, but I really love buying and listening to whole albums. There is an art form to album formation. So even though I listen to the hits, such as “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “Red” over and over, buying the album introduced me to lesser known songs such “Stay Stay Stay” and “The Lucky One”. And just listening to the album as a whole, from start to finish, is an experience that doesn’t compare to cherry-picking single tracks.
Because I love Red so much, I am doing an album analysis of it here. This is a way of supporting Taylor Swift as a fellow female creative, in a positive reaction to all the flak she cops. The amount of comments I have for each song will vary wildly. But that’s okay.
- State of Grace
I know it’s kind of obvious, but I like all the colours in this song. And they ring true to my experience.
“Memorising him was as easy as knowing all the words to your old favourite song”
I have never heard of this, “memorising” someone, but it’s something Swift also mentions in a later song. The meaning is intuitively easy to understand. It’s a cool turn of phrase. And I like that “memorising him” isn’t like memorising information for a text; you learn everything about that person really easily just because you love them.
“Regretting him was like wishing you’d never found out that love could be that strong”
I think this is the truth on the other side of that old saying, which sometimes sounds like a lie: “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.
“Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you never met”
This line has thrown me. I still can’t figure it out. I guess she is saying that the similarity is that both are impossible. But it’s strange to me that forgetting him is going from a lot of knowledge, to nothing at all, and “trying to know somebody you’ve never met” is the opposite of that.
“Put your lips close to mine/as long as they don’t touch/out of focus eye to eye/til the gravity’s too much”
This is the best description of an almost kiss I have ever heard.
“I’d be smart to walk away, but you’re quicksand”
“Forever going with the flow, but you’re friction”
These two lines fit into the same mould, but the images seem opposite. In the first instance, she is getting sucked in. In the second, she is getting caught up instead of slipping. I mean, they denote the same thing but get there in opposite ways. I can’t work out whether that is clever or a clunky mixed metaphor.
When I first listened to this song, I was like, Why? If it’s treacherous, and you know it, why are you doing it? Why do you like it? But I think I am starting to understand.
“Two headlines shine through the sleepless night”
I don’t really know what this means but I like it.
- I Knew You Were Trouble
For me, this song is inexorably linked to Lydia Bennet and her story arc of abuse, which is the most accurate and heart-breaking depiction of abuse I have ever seen. This song, too, plays like an artistic rendition of a book I’m reading at the moment, Why Does He Do That?.
“A few mistakes ago”
I find this a funny way of measuring time, because it makes me think she is saying “a few boyfriends ago”, in which case all of her exes are mistakes. I don’t know if that’s an accurate interpretation, but it’s how I hear it and it makes me laugh.
“The blame is on me”
It’s not, but I can understand you would feel that way. This song is poignant because it speaks to the self-blame that I think a lot of women experience when they come out of bad relationships.
“Flew me to places I’d never been, til you put me down”
I don’t think this is what the line is about, but it reminds me of how being in an unhealthy relationship makes you into someone you’re not, so as well as being wrecked and devastated by his treatment, you have lost your own centre, your identity.
“You got me alone”
This is a classic abuse technique. And it plays out in Lydia’s arc.
“When I fell apart, you took a step back without me”
Also happens to Lydia.
“Now I see/He was long gone when he met me”
This line is a point of wisdom many people don’t reach in relation to these things. This becomes further elucidated later on:
“The saddest fear comes creeping in that you never loved me or her or anyone or anything”. It puts the focus back on the man. It’s not that she wasn’t good enough; it’s that he wasn’t capable of love.
- All Too Well
“You talked about your past thinking your future was me”
This is a sweet line. I like the synchronicity of it.
I like this song, because it’s regretful without it having been a bad relationship. And it’s cool because evidentally it was a long time ago, but her memory of it is fresh. And I like the image of her scarf that he keeps which is throughout the song.
One of my biggest regrets in life is being older than Taylor Swift, so when “22” came out, I was already too old to sing it at the top of my lungs with the same amount of vigour as my younger friends. I still sing it loudly, but it has never been true.
“Make fun of our exes”
This line feels like tongue-in-cheek a hat-tip to the haters who pay her out for singing about all her exes.
“You look like bad news, I gotta have you”
I just feel like she hasn’t learned from two tracks ago. If he looks like bad news, or “trouble” even, run away!
- I Almost Do
“I bet sometimes you wonder about me”
I find this song really powerful. Wanting to be recognised for NOT doing the wrong thing when you want to, but knowing that you can never get credit for that, for the mere fact that no-one can see you NOT doing something. I think we have all been in that situation when you wonder about what someone’s up to, but you no longer have the right to know.
“I bet you think I either moved on or hate you/Cause each time you reach out, there’s no reply/I bet it never ever occurred to you/That I can’t say hello to you and risk another goodbye”
This is the meta level, where you start thinking about what he thinks about what you’re doing. That way madness lies.
“I hope sometimes you wonder about me.”
I like that this song goes from “bet” to “hope” because in a way it means she is less tied up in it.
- We Are Never Getting Back Together.
This song reminds me of both of my sisters. The Chaplain doesn’t like it because the fact that Swift is making such a big deal about Never Ever Getting Back Together means they probably will get back together. Like “the lady doth protesteth too much”.
TLO likes it because it reminds her of one of her guy friends, who (when drunk) is a rabid Taylor Swift fan, and gets angry at parties when girls sing the lyrics “You go talk to your friends talk to my friends talk to me” inaccurately.
So that’s Side A (talking in tape terms really does make me sound like an old person). I think Side A has more of the turbulent relationships, whereas Side B mellows out somewhat. But you will have to wait until next week for my review of Side B!