Evolution of a 30-Something Swiftie

27 Oct

Happy One Year Release Anniversary of T-Swift’s album 1989! The internet told me so.

It’s a long and winding road to get to where I am today, an unabashedly fervent fan of Taylor Swift. I had the thought for this post after a mildly hectic morning braving the elements of nature here in Texas – this weekend Mother Nature bestowed on us a crap ton of rain. We had inflammatory graphics from forecasters like this one:


It turned out to be more like 6 inches, but I didn’t know that as I was driving to our workshop in San Antonio on Saturday morning. It was early, it was raining a lot, I am a New Mexican so we are used to like 6 inches of rain a YEAR, not in a day. I’m not a fan of 1) hydroplaning 2) not seeing the car in front of me or 3) “fine mist” as a thing in general, so I was in driver’s hell on I-35. It turned out well, but having low self-esteem over driving in rain caused thoughts like:

“If I hit this barricade right now, the last song I will have ever heard will be “Wonderland” by Taylor Swift.”


and “Well this got morbid real fast.”

Everything was fine, I lived to blog another day, obviously. But that thought amused me. I’ve had a T-Swift mix in my car for the last few weeks (say hello to my Mustang with no aux port…it’s all mix CDs 90’s style in here with titles like “September” and “Rawk” and “Autummmmn” – ugh). I have always considered myself a music snob, and a sentimental one at that. This explains my thought process leading to “What will be the last song I hear before I die?” Since I was old enough to make note (so let’s say…13), I have always made sure that the first song I play every new year is a Mary Chapin Carpenter song. I feel like it gives me good mojo as a writer and a human…I have to set the year off right. When I’m on a plane I carefully craft the most emo playlist I can make with songs about leaving and big cities and big dreams so I can daydream from the window seat. It’s how I roll.

I latched on to great songwriters at an early age…great by my standards but also by general consensus in music criticism standards. The first song I learned to play on guitar at age 11 was “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” by the aforementioned Mary Chapin, so I was well versed in things like divorce and middle aged women working in the typing pool. I looked up the word “Shibboleth” at age 12 because it’s in a Shawn Colvin song. I was covering Lucy Kaplansky songs at high school guitar recitals. I had high standards and no time for the 2000’s pop bubble of Britney and NSYNC. I was a connoisseur.

I was a dismissive folk fan with no time for teenagers and their feelings. Then I did stuff like move to Austin and get more serious about my seriousness. This is how I missed the Taylor Swift boat.

Round about 2012, Taylor released her album Red, which was a bit of a testing-the-waters “I’m still country but there’s some pop stuff on here guys DON’T PANIC” album. The opening track “State of Grace” has some fantastic U2 type guitar on it, which is the thing that made my ears perk up and go, “I can listen to this.” Of course the ubiquitous singles “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together” had permeated America’s brain by then, and I found myself liking pop music more (I was deep into Gaga) and liking Taylor. Casually. You know, if it’s on, I’ll listen to it.

Fast forward to 2014 and I am really just a pop music evangelist at this point. My playlists feature more Rihanna and Kesha than Tift Merritt at times, and while I have never forsaken the folk, sometimes I just want a smart lyric delivered to me with a wall of synth behind it, ok? Ok. Taylor announces her first “THIS IS A POP ALBUM DEALWITHIT” pop album…1989. I get it the day it comes out. It proceeds to take the world by storm. It proceeds to take my playlists by storm. All of the storms are happening here.

The album is great. I can play it all the way through and NOT SKIP ANYTHING (truly a feat for me). Imogen Heap produced a song called Clean that is absolutely my favorite. You can read about their studio session here on Imogen’s blog and it’s worth it.

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Dammit. It’s true.

Ms. Swift’s album launch was executed perfectly with laser-like focus but with heart. Those things CAN go together, and 1989‘s press tornado proved it. I even wrote a blog post about all the things her social media got right. We were barraged all year with one good story after another from seemingly all angles. Taylor starts a conversation about streaming music rights and Spotify. Taylor is the reason GoFundMe’s donation cap goes up. She writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about the future of music. It was a barrage of “Go Taylor!” and astoundingly, even the deniers couldn’t deny this 24-year-old was a different breed of pop star.

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A collection begins.

I was happy in my 1989 bubble with occasional forays back to Red, but as the year has passed the fangirling has only grown. Weirdly, Ryan Adams decided to cover 1989 in its entirety (weird), an album less than a year old (weird), and he did a great job (expected) and so we had the confluence of both versions of 1989 being on the charts at the same time (weird). Suddenly, in case we needed it (and maybe I did), we had a really respected, established alt-folk-whatever artist validate this album.

I wish I was cooler and say it didn’t affect me at all, but quotes from Ryan like “Those songs are fragile and vulnerable at their core. They’re constructed from such an honest place. Those are the kind of songs…I don’t think they’re overshares. But they’re all completely giving, to the point that they move people to tears,” – quotes like that made me feel a little smug. Like my folk snobbery and my pop love could co-exist (thanks, Ryan).

Lately Taylor gives interviews where she says stuff like “When other kids were watching normal shows, I’d watch Behind the Music. And I would see these bands that were doing so well, and I’d wonder what went wrong. I thought about this a lot. And what I established in my brain was that a lack of self-awareness was always the downfall. That was always the catalyst for the loss of relevance and the loss of ambition and the loss of great art. So self-awareness has been such a huge part of what I try to achieve on a daily basis. It’s less about reputation management and strategy and vanity than it is about trying to desperately preserve self-awareness, since that seems to be the first thing to go out the door when people find success.” I believe it, and I appreciate that she can verbalize these thoughts. It knocks the tired media frenzy of “she dates to write new songs about breakups” narrative that ruled her for a while. Not only is 1989 great music, but it allowed her to create an almost unheard of shift in PR narrative for a super famous musician.

So lately, it’s off to the races with my Swift studies, and dang. Her body of work as a songwriter is really impressive. Rewind past Red and you have Speak Now, a more firmly country album but with hints of the pop sensibility busting through. Songs like “Mine” and “Sparks Fly” and “Back to December” and “Enchanted” and…well, yeah, it’s just good.

Rewind past THAT and we are on Fearless, an album Taylor made when she was all of 20 years old. As I was Youtubing around (like you do), I found this interview piece about Colbie Callait singing on the track they wrote together called “Breathe,” and you really do get a sense for how poised and visionary Taylor is in the studio. She’s not only a great writer, she’s a full on producer too. Watch this video and try and argue she’s anything but involved in every aspect of her art. The “machine” behind her work is…her own brain.

I’m still rewinding…truth be told I haven’t gone back to the very first album yet but at this point I trust it’s full of smart lyrics by a really down-to-earth and self-aware 17 year old…a songwriting savant who has managed to tap a vein of relevancy not just once like many artists are lucky to do, but consistently over a 9 year career.

Quotes like this are why I imagine I will remain a Swiftie for the long haul: “You can be accidentally successful for three or four years. Accidents happen. But careers take hard work.” It’s proven when you watch her trajectory…in the fact that she has gotten so much better. Nothing irks me more than when a fan of someone will say, “Wow, you’re so much better than you were when I saw you 5 years ago.” Yeah. Because when do you something all the time, you get better at it, and I’m not sure I know of any musician who popped out of the womb an amazing artist. Some have to get better while being watched on live Grammy broadcasts and the like; Taylor had the task of maturing in the really bright light of pop culture criticism. She’s like the Chelsea Clinton of music…everyone’s kind of shocked she made it through the awkward teenage years of her career but of COURSE she made it through, and now it’s all grace and poise from here on out.

I’m grateful for 1989 and Taylor for helping me to embracing a genre of music I now love, and for making me shake loose some of those dismissive predilections that ultimately serve to keep art out of my life rather than let it in by any means necessary. If it’s good, if it “gets” you…listen to it. I’m off to spin Shake It Off again.

Happy 1989-iversary, T-Swift.

I will not spill anything on this shirt just for you today.

1 Response to Evolution of a 30-Something Swiftie


» Great Albums 2015 Jana Pochop

December 27th, 2015 at 9:01 pm

[…] didn’t think you’d get a list from me without some hardcore pop music, right? While 1989 basically stayed in heavy rotation all year, I did make room for some new pop glory. This album is […]

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