taylor swift

This is What it’s Like to Listen to a Taylor Swift Album for the First Time

In August of 2017, my sister and I leaned into one another, a headphone in each of our ears.

We were sitting in a high section of the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA, waiting for Dierks Bentley to go on stage. The room was echoing with people going to and from their seats.

The clock hit 9:00pm. It was a Thursday. Spotify unveiled their new releases of the week. But we only cared about one.

It had been almost three years since Taylor Swift released 1989, and we were desperate for new music. And now, the first single off of the upcoming reputation had finally been released.

“Look What You Made Me Do” came in firing. We bounced our feet around, listening to every word. We gasped, we shrieked, we opened our eyes wide and let out an “OH MY GOSH.”

A few months later, at 9:00pm (midnight for the east coast) on another Thursday, we sat in our favorite chairs in the living room and streamed the entire album.

Unable to fully understand each lyric the first time it hit us, we listened to the attitude, we bobbed to the beat, we sighed, we laughed, we clapped, we screamed.

In a matter of weeks, we knew the whole album by heart.

For some reason, this is the first Taylor Swift album I remember listening to for the first time. Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, Red and 1989 all had their first listens, and I now know every word to every song, but for some reason it’s the reputation release that sticks out. Maybe it’s because it’s the first album she released after my sister and I moved out of our parents’ house and into a place of our own. It was the first album we could play at full volume and stay up late talking about without having to worry about keeping anyone else up.

After reputation, it became our tradition to listen to the albums together. To experience them for the first time, together. 

In August of 2019, we heard Lover for the first time.

In July of 2020, as “stay at home” orders remained in effect, folklore became our biggest and brightest calendar event. And in December of 2020, evermore sent similar shockwaves throughout our very abnormal world.

In April and November of 2021, we sat in a new living room in a new apartment, listening to the new recording of the Fearless and Red albums, singing along to songs we already knew and learning the ones we didn’t.

On this past Thursday, my cousin Taryn and I stood in the audience of a concert in West Hollywood. My sister, now married and living with her husband, was unfortunately home with the flu. The concert started an hour late. By the end, even though the show had been great and the artist even more talented than we thought, we were tapping our toes, anxious to get out of the venue, into the car, and into the world of Midnights.

It was 10:30pm. We were an hour and a half behind the rest of the world who had stayed up to listen. We still had no idea what to expect. For half of our drive downtown we had theorized. Had tried to pick our favorite songs based solely on their names. We tried to know the album before it introduced itself, because we were desperate for the familiarity it would bring once it did.

Once I got on the freeway, we hit play. It was pitch black outside, with only spurts of traffic to brighten the road. “Lavender Haze” started playing through the speakers.

We swayed and then we flung our hands around. I smacked the steering wheel over and over, my excitement needing to escape somewhere.  We drove home, listening to the album in sequential order, one after the other, making only occasional comments, often just sounds. When we got back to my apartment, we hustled in and took our spots on the couch and recliner, and then played the rest of the album.

All 20 songs.

I listened the way I always do, in the same shape. I melted into the couch, my legs tucked under me, and I sat still. I listened, still. I let the album pour over the top of my head like water, absorbing each song in its entirety.

At the end, I couldn’t pick a favorite, couldn’t say much of anything. I was just shocked, quiet, and contemplative.

It felt like the day after Christmas. The end of a book or a movie.

The tension and anticipation, that thing that pulled you through each waiting day, the moment you had been waiting for, had passed. But it was not over. Because now it was time to look.

The first listen of the album lays down the pieces of the puzzle, and in every listen after you search for yourself. For the words that make things make sense. Because that’s why you’re here, that’s why you showed up. To see if she wrote a song that gives you language you didn’t have before. To see if she found a way to speak a feeling you’d only been able to hold.  

It might not be a feeling unique to a Taylor Swift album. I think it’s more a feeling consistent with art. But over the years, for those who listen, Taylor Swift’s music has become a reliable source of discovery. Of validation. Of the truth. And not just the capital “tea” truth that allegedly spills the secrets of this celebrity or that, but the truth about the feelings we all carry around with us. The truths about life we don’t always have the ability to talk about.

When I listen to a Taylor Swift album, I find, more often than anywhere else, the urge to point and say, “that. I feel like that.” And she makes talking about those feelings feel good, feel normal, feel uniting where it was previously isolating.

After I listen to a new Taylor Swift album, I often lie awake wondering if I could do that. Create. Be honest. Write something that makes people say, “that!” And knowing I’m not the only one that feels that way, listening to a new Taylor Swift album gives me hope that there are people all around the world starting the projects that will make it better.

So you’ll always find me on that couch, on a Thursday, at 9:00pm or quickly after. I will always show up to listen to a new album, because I always have more to say. And Taylor helps me say it.

Songs Taylor Swift Wrote About Me (And You)

In light of her performance in Austin this past weekend, and the 10-year anniversary of her first album marked yesterday, it has been widely speculated that Taylor Swift will drop a Beyoncé-esque surprise album to celebrate. And while I’m not one to dig through statements made and necklaces worn to try and find clues for when/if new music is on its way, all this talk has been putting me in the mood to listen to the T-Swift discography (for the umpteenth time).

Over the years, the subjects of her songs have been widely speculated, yet never completely figured out, because let’s face it, no matter how hard journalists try, T-Sweezy’s lyrics will forever be the Gretchen Wieners hair of music.

hair

In fact, one thing I’m sure no one has ever noticed about a number of Taylor Swift songs is that they are completely and totally about me.

And you.

And everyone, really.

See, for so long people have focused on who she’s singing her song about, instead of taking advantage of the song she’s given you to sing to yourself.

For no matter how many relationships we find ourselves in, the most important will always be the one we have with ourselves. And that relationship more than any other needs love and attention and the occasional emotional ballad or sassy clap back anthem.

Lucky for us, T-Swizz provides both. Here are a few of my favorites:

.

The Moment I Knew

Anxiety is a bitch, as is fear, and there have been situations and experiences in my life in which I’ve completely set myself up for failure, simply because I could not be removed from the fear I created regarding the outcome. In this song, Taylor Swift sings about someone who never shows up, leading her to realize the relationship is not right. When I sing this song, I envision that “person” to be a version of myself that would have been fearless (zing). Someone that would have jumped out of their comfort zone and tried new things. And I relate “the moment” to when I realize that I’ve let the fear win and it has cost me a wonderful experience. This is both a hard and important discovery to make, because while it admits to fear, it also kick-starts our journey to overcome it.

.

Mean

Taylor openly admitted she wrote this song about a critic who wanted nothing more than to tear her down, but for me, I need look no further than my own mind to find a similarly harmful voice set on doing the same thing to myself. What I love about this song is that T-Swift isn’t pretending that the voice isn’t there. She’s not denying that she has critics, or haters (whom we would later learn will just continue to hate hate hate hate hate), she’s calling them out and firing back with a banjo led monologue about self-confidence.

I take this song with me almost everywhere I go, because like Taylor’s critics, my negative self will always be there running its mouth where it’s not supposed to. But at the end of the day, when I’m feeling beautiful and alive and ready to conquer the world, I’ll be big enough so it can’t hit me, because all it’s ever gonna be is mean.

Quick PSA: I’m not sorry for all these cheesy Sweezy puns. Or for calling them that.

.

Bad Blood

The other day I was getting ready to go out to dinner and was having one of those nights where nothing in my closet fit right. This top was too big, that one was too small, I was too fat, I was too short, etc. etc. After a while, I was on the verge of tears, convinced I shouldn’t even go out because I would offend people with my unsightly appearance. But as I sat on the floor, still looking at myself in the mirror and attempting to find every little detail of myself that I hated, I paused.

Why was I doing this? I had been so excited to get dressed up, so why had I ruined it by focusing so hard on the superficial? If something in my mind didn’t shift, we were going to have problems and we wouldn’t be able to solve ‘em. We’re talking some Band-Aid vs. bullet hole situations.

So, with another scan of my closet, I reached for an outfit that I knew I felt good in. And although it wasn’t made out of leather, and I didn’t walk down the street in slow motion with explosions happening behind me, I decided right then and there to wear the hell out of that outfit, just to spite that negative person that kept saying “no”.

.

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

*phone call*

Me: We’re going to have a great day!

Negative Mind: No you’re not.

Me: You’re Right.

Me a few seconds later: No, you know what, I’M GOING TO HAVE A GREAT DAY.

Negative mind: But—

Me: NOPE.

Negative mind: But—

Me: Why do I even listen to you? I really shouldn’t….like ever.

.

At the end of the day we could all stand to sing a few more breakup songs to that negative voice that tries to bring us down. After all it’s a just a hater, and it’s just gonna hate hate hate hate hate, and we’re the only ones who can truly shake shake shake shake shake it off.

shake

Birthdays.

When I was little, birthdays were all about the birthday presents. Well, to be more accurate, birthdays were all about the birthday cards atop the presents. I took great pride in opening the cards, sure that everyone needed to hear what each one said. In fact, I felt it was my civic duty to ensure that all birthday cards were read and appreciated, even if they weren’t mine.

There’s a home video I found a while back of my cousin Spenser’s 7th birthday party. Everyone is sitting in a nice blob on the living room carpet of my aunt and uncle’s house, anxiously awaiting the first rip of wrapping paper. Spenser reaches for his first gift, rips the card off the blue paper and I proceed to rip the card right out of his hand. I unseal the envelope, take out the card and start to read it, only to find the birthday boy in tears. You can read the shock all over my face. What could he possibly be upset about when I’m doing my job? Doesn’t he know that there is no one better to read this card to him but me? My mom politely approaches me and the puddle of a birthday boy that I created and explains to me that as hard as it is to believe, this birthday was not about me, but rather about Spenser, and he was allowed to do whatever he wanted with his birthday cards. (He saw resolution, I saw anarchy.)

When I look at old pictures now, the presents still stick out to me the most. Every party shows a consistent flow of smiles and cake, family and friends. They show the birthday on its surface. The presents, however, go much deeper than that. They essentially showcase that year of my childhood. What I was interested in and what I was sure I couldn’t go on living without. Like the black fedora from JC Penney that I had seen in passing on a shopping trip with my Grammie. I was POSTIVE I couldn’t start school without it. (I wore it a total of 2 times after the party)  One year I got both the new Britney Spears and the new NSYNC*albums. The smile on my face in the picture is alarmingly large. I remember being completely convinced that having those CDs would both teach me to dance like Britney, and give me a chance with Lance Bass. (As you can imagine, both dreams worked out totally great.)  There was also one year when I received, by fervent request, a Password Journal and a set of denim kerchiefs.  (Yes, I know I was a cool kid, let’s not harp on it.)

When I started high school I started to think of birthdays as a kind of 2nd New Year’s Eve for the body and mind. I had started to find that any resolutions I might have made amongst the fireworks and confetti  at the beginning of the year, would catch up to me once my biological clock ticked its reminder tock on the eve of my existence. So, I started thinking of birthdays as an inspiration reminder.  A little alarm that said, “are you making the most of this year or are you still watching the Notebook every night before you go to bed?”

Last year I turned 23.

I remember sitting on my couch wondering, what exactly is there to be excited about in turning 23? I was about to graduate college and was heading into the “real world.” It was supposed to be exciting, but all I felt was anxiety and nausea.  I felt like I was having a midlife crisis; like I should go out and buy a car and name it Donna, or start stocking up on fairy sweat to prevent wrinkles. I then went off on a daydreaming tangent where I decided to blame all of my qualms on the media.

The media, I thought to myself, plays a big part in building up our expectations for many aspects of our lives, including birthdays. It all starts when you turn 16. Sweet Sixteen, they say. That’s when you become a woman/man. (Or at least you think you do) It’s when you have your big “coming out party” and your body starts attacking you with the hormones and narcolepsy. It’s when you’re supposed to have your “big moment” with that guy or that girl or that spotlight. You’re supposed to take chances and fall hard and then eat ice cream with your friends at midnight.

Then comes 18. The day when the rest of the world recognizes you as the adult you’ve been emulating for two years. The rest of the world of course being: politicians seeking votes, TV infomercials looking for suckers, and strippers looking for dolla dolla bills. You receive an endless stream of “you’re an adult now” and “welcome to the real world” comments, which you try to ignore, but you end up spending your birthday in a transitional state of confident terror as you try to figure out what your new place in the world means. Then you’re supposed to have that moment with that guy or that girl or that spotlight. You’re supposed to take chances and fall hard and eat ice cream with your friends at midnight.

Then comes 21. The year of all years. The “BEST. BIRTHDAY. EVER.” It’s a birthday that comes back to you in waves of regret over the years, but you smile nonetheless. It’s the eve before one of the worst hangovers of your life, but your survival of the night becomes your right of passage into the “Yeah dude, remember my 21st ….WHAT A NIGHT”, reminisce club. You wake up with an unclear amount of puke on yourself and your belongings and you end up walking down the main street of your hometown contemplating the decisions you made yesterday, all the while trying to avoid the decisions you have to make tomorrow.  Then, once you’ve sobered up and let reality sink in, you’ll get a rush of adrenaline and suddenly have to the courage to go have that moment with that guy or that girl or that spotlight. You’ll take chances and fall hard and eat ice cream with your friends until midnight.

For many generations before mine, 21 was the last year to look forward to until 30 or 40 or 50, in terms of milestones. Taylor Swift blew that pirate ship out of the water in 2011. Who in their right mind doesn’t want to sing the song 22 when they turn 22? NO ONE. Put up as many fronts as you want. Talk as much trash as you want. But if you have not turned 22 yet, you are secretly excited that the day is coming when that song will be about you and you can jam your face off.  Even if it’s just once. Don’t worry, I get you. I won’t tell anyone. I’ve been a passenger of the T-Swift 22 Express and let me tell you it was quite a ride.

SPOILER ALERT: When you turn 23 and that song no longer applies to you, a little piece of your soul dies.

Just kidding (not kidding.)

The day before I turned 23 I decided that I would not become one of those people who mourned the passage of birthday milestones. I would simply have to make up my own, which in a way, I suppose I’ve always done.

For example, I never had a Sweet 16. I had a Sweet 17. Totally stuck it to the man with that one. I had a big bonfire at the beach that came with pizza, ice cream, and night tour of Hollywood in a big white van. I had never felt so cool.

I bragged about birthday #20 weeks before it happened. This was not merely another year in the books, this was the end of my SECOND DECADE OF LIFE.  Think about it.

“How old are you this year Kim?”

“2 decades.”

Now, for some of you, this may sound like you are dating yourself more than necessary, but hear me out on this. You are essentially letting that person know that in a world with disease, crime, murder and spiders, you have kept yourself alive for 2 DECADES. You don’t sound old, you sound like a damn champion.

My 21st birthday was about as far from the stereotype as one can take it. I was in Australia for a semester abroad and I spent my birthday completely sober—aside from the free drink I received from our waiter—stuffing my face with shrimp tempura and homemade chocolate cake. I did not wake up with a hangover, but I did have more cake for breakfast, and it was marvelous.

It only took 2 minutes past midnight for birthday #22 to be magnificent. Once the clock struck 12, my sister pushed play on her computer and took her place in the center of our bedroom. She then proceeded to perform Taylor Swift’s entire age appropriate anthem for me, complete with hair flips and hip swaangs. Then she struck up the idea to plan a party at our house. We made invitations, bought disposable cameras, set up the ping pong table for candy pong (an alternative to beer pong since there were minors attending) and coordinated a dessert pot luck. Was it a fewer levels tamer than an 82 year old’s birthday party might be? Maybe. But fun was had by all and no one got pregnant or threw up in my bathroom, so I counted it as a great success.

I already have big plans for birthday #25. Age 25 marks the first year in which you can rent a car without any additional “you’re young and immature” charges. So, on September 5th, 2015 I plan on parading my friends and family to the nearest Enterprise and renting a mini-van. As I am being rung up for the car, I will throw my ID down on the counter and say, “Those extra charges won’t be necessary, I’m 25 today bitch!” (Whether or not this is said aloud or in my head is still unclear.) I will then drive around in said mini-van, wherever I want, for the whole day. One required stop will be McDonalds. If you’ve been keeping up with my “make up your own milestones” philosophy, you might have realized that my 25th birthday will mark me at a quarter of a century old. That being said, my brother and I have agreed to go to McDonalds and order Quarter Pounders to commemorate the ass-kicking I put on the first quarter century of my life.

Last year though, thinking about 23, it was a tough one. Unlike many of my colleagues—who often don’t use the word colleagues—I’m not much of a partier and not a big drinker, so my Friday & Saturday nights often look a little different that one would expect from someone in their mid-20s. (Example: last Friday I took a two hour nap, made pancakes, and painted my toes cobalt blue. WE CAN’T STOP, amirightmiley?!) As a result, I wasn’t big on the idea of a drunken night out on the town.

So, instead of trying to conform with the norm and wind up at a bar being mocked for drinking dirty shirlies and wishing I was wearing sweatpants, I decided to make the milestone of birthday 23 the completion of a challenge I set for myself.

Challenge: Do things you normally wouldn’t do, things that you are afraid of, even if you hate to admit it.

It would be the year to kill fear.

Looking back at age 23, I think I did pretty good. There were a lot of times I found myself at a crossroads between submitted to fear or acting on bravery and I was able to choose the latter. The most obvious one being the decision to climb Mt. Whitney.

As I sit here thinking about 24, it’s relatively similar to where I sat last year. However, with a year of (at least attempted) courage until my belt, I feel like this year has the potential to hold a lot of victories.

So, to give myself some inspiration for age 24, I did some research to see how other people tackled it.

Here’s what I found:

Edgar Allen Poe won a $50 prize for the story “MS. Found in a Bottle.”

Nelly Bly made a solo trip around the world in less than 80 days.

Johannes Kepler defended the Copernican theory and described the structure of the solar system.

And someone named Helene got a high score of 170440 in the online game Robot Unicorn Attack.

So basically, I only have one direction to go, and that’s towards victory.

I know there’s a new challenge waiting for me somewhere, I just have to find it.