At the beginning of the year I wrote a list comprising four things that I was most looking forward to in 2014. The items weren’t ordered by most hotly anticipated – the order really was interchangeable.
The list included:
+ Interview with Elizabeth Gilbert (Cancelled at the last minute. Instead offered and accepted interviewing Elizabeth’s good friend and author/musician/wild thing Rayya Elias)
+ Release of the English translation of Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.
Strangely enough, I can’t remember the third thing so it either didn’t eventuate and my dismay wasn’t strong enough to have left an impression, or it did eventuate and wasn’t that great so didn’t leave an impression. But the fourth thing that I was really, really looking forward to this year was the release of Taylor Swift’s fifth studio album.
I’m a big enough Swifty to have had the key knowledge area of ‘Taylor Swift’ added next to my name in an email that my colleague sent around identifying the strengths the members of our trivia table will bring to the upcoming work trivia night. But I’m not the sort of fan who has memorised every detail about Taylor, even ones as basic as her birthdate, to be able to properly contribute. So I’ll probably let everyone down should in the unlikely situation that a question about her is asked – sorry team.
My fandom doesn’t actually go back that far. While someone who works in my building who doesn’t even like Taylor claims to have been to one of her very first Australian concerts (an intimate affair; he described her as sounding ‘whiny’), I was only barely aware of her existence until late 2012, when I went to the US for the first time.
I stayed with a friend in New York who was a fan of hers. Over the days that I spent at his apartment we played songs off Spotify, and I just happened to enquire about Taylor because her songs were strewn through his favourites list. Though I can’t remember now which songs of hers I listened to, with that experience the dye was cast.
By the time I arrived in Phoenix, Arizona, a week and a bit later, I had plucked Taylor Swift’s Red from the shelf at Walmart. In addition to snagging a pint of Ben & Jerry’s couch potato, I needed some tunes to get me through the long drive to the Grand Canyon and onwards to Las Vegas – I’d heard that the only thing there is to listen to on the radio driving long-distance across Arizona and Nevada was a steady stream of Evangelist radio. So to serve as my entertainment I decided to give Red a go as well as purchasing a double-album set of John Mayer’s (it was on special).
One of those two Mayer albums was a bust – Heavier Things. But I found I was able to listen to Red on repeat. The story I told at least half a dozen people when I returned from my trip is that I listened to Red five times straight – and after the fifth time, I really began to like it. True story.
Taylor Swift. It was like the windows had been flung open. An articulate twentysomething whose favourite thing to write about was love. Someone who has lots of feelings and owns that characteristic of hers. Funny, dorktacular, always striving to give everything 100%. Can’t-tear-your-eyes-away kind of performer.
Of course, I didn’t know all that then. What I knew was that “Holy Ground” perfectly captured how I felt in New York, swept up in a whirlwind romance full of dancing on subway platforms, talking in Southern American accents through Times Square and as we paid for our ice cream at DuaneReade, being pumped with adrenalin and caffeine, and everything just falling into place at lightning speed. The rush of it all. And then I left and it was over.
Once the album had sunken deep into me, for the rest of my trip and then some, every time I heard “Holy Ground” I found myself crying at the permanent loss of something so good.
Apart from its moments of bittersweet reminiscence, the album was also fun, cheeky, carefree. It had been a while since I’d been 22, but I still remembered how that felt. And it was nice to be reminded of it whenever I turned on “22”. Even now I flash the V twice with my fingers as I’m singing along, usually in traffic.
In looking up Red now, I’ve noticed that it was, incidentally, released on my birthday. That’s gotta be a sign, right?
In arriving at the Taylor party late, I’d missed experiencing in real time her various incarnations. I had to catch up on her evolution from corkscrew-curled country neophyte to straight-haired worldwide smash. I charted her dating history through her music, across all her A-list ex-loves, marvelling at how she went from writing songs about boys who she liked but didn’t like her back to snagging a Kennedy. I pondered how I might make the black boot-dress combo work for me.
I liked all the Taylors she’d been and the Red Taylor she had become. Across those four albums and bonus tracks, there was nary a song that disagreed with my musical constitution. I loved that she’d given me the ‘I hate you, jerk!’ song I didn’t realise I needed, even if she came to distance herself from it as the years elapsed.
Because of all this, watching her new video for “Shake it off” last Tuesday was a huge shock.
The video resembled so much of the contemporary music that I’ve shunned. The look, the dancing. I’ve hit that ‘waving her fist at those damn kids on her lawn’ phase when it comes to music, and it was an unpleasant surprise to find Taylor among those ruffians. That song. It was so… trendy. So unlike the Taylor I knew and loved. She was showing in the video that she’s still not one of the cool kids, but I was having trouble buying it.
If this was to be an exemplar of her upcoming album, I wasn’t sure that I was looking forward to its release anymore.
But despite myself, that evening I went online to look for her Yahoo livestream, in which she announced the release date for her new album, its name and cover image, and unveiled its first single. I watched with some relief her be the Taylor I recognised, albeit in her new summer style of super, super short skirts and heels. I listened to her new single again… and I didn’t hate it.
Since then, there hasn’t been a day that has passed where I haven’t played that song. I watched her amazing VMA performance twice on Monday (after first blanching at that awful onesie). On Wednesday I listened to “Shake it off” three times – by no means setting any kind of record among Swifties and non-Swifties around the world.
I had greeted the news of the new direction Taylor has taken with 1989 with disappointment – pop-heavy, a turning away from love and more to the joys of friendship and singledom; basically a reflection of her two years of “pilgrimage”. Then I remembered that I’ve been a pilgrim right there with her (minus all the celebrity female friends, of course). And I thought that I might as a result still find much to relate to on her new album.
And so I realise, I may not agree with or like all of Taylor’s decisions (/shudder – that awful onesie), but that’s okay. I am pretty sure that I will love her new album.
With that said, I think it’ll be safe to keep 1989 on my list of things I’m (still) looking forward to this year. Go team Taylor.
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