There we are again in the middle of the night
We’re dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light.
And just like that, Taylor Swift marries raw emotions to succinct poetic images that, to this day, have me enchanted. In “All Too Well” — the ballad to rule all ballads — Taylor succeeds in capturing an intimate remembrance of the past with all the bitterness and tragic what-ifs that accompany it. The song is a 2012 masterpiece that has wrapped around me with age, as if I am entangled in the old scarf Taylor left behind. Taylor’s ex-lover has kept that scarf, and it reminds them of “innocence.” It’s something that smells familiar, that can’t be gotten rid of, that lingers.
From the days of Red to the re-release of Fearless, Taylor’s music has grappled with the complexities of innocence, harkening back to a simpler All-American youth. She’s constantly remembering old times, whether that’s in the form of a past love or forgotten facets of her younger self. She’s lost that wide-eyed, bushy haired girl who first took the country music world by storm with “Tim McGraw.” Now, Taylor’s image is often closer to a crude wax figurine (courtesy of the USU) who has schemed her way to the top, and who desperately deserves to be toppled. But her music holds a reverence, a longing, a yearning for the simpler times, for clueless authenticity, for innocence. Yearning? Sappho, eat your heart out.
There is nothing quite like queer yearning: Long gazes, the crush of dancing bodies, a whirlwind friendship with your ex’s ex’s ex. And an adolescent girl realising she’s queer? It’s an awakening from innocence to understanding, often involving a not-so-pleasant realisation of exactly how much the world wants to knock you down. As she’s grown up, Taylor’s lyrics have opened into stories about other people, and the possibility of queer interpretation. I’m not saying the rumours that surround Taylor and a certain Victoria’s Secret Angel are true; to me, that matters far less than the ability for queer exploration to take place within some of Taylor’s best lyrics.
I see queer girls in songs that reflect a troubled nostalgia for youth. It is captured in “seven,” with its fairytale images of seven-year-old girls playing together. Taylor sings of the tenuous aspect of memory, where she “can’t recall” her friend’s face, though she still loves her. She then brings us directly into the mind of her imagined seven-year-old self, moving from past tense into the present to tell children’s stories of haunted houses and pirates. But it’s a haunting melody: there are monsters outside. Her friend’s dad is “always mad,” and they have to “hide in the closet.” Taylor imagines her friend into a space free from the monsters of reality, instead making a home in a folk song.
In Taylor’s remembrances of friendships past, the lines between friendship and love are often blurry. I find myself skimming between songs, scattering myself to the wind of Taylor’s lyrics in order to find the connections. If I pair “‘tis the damn season” and “dorothea” together, I see two girls singing to each other, one who made it big in L. A. and one who finds herself stuck in the same small town, fondly remembering her friend or crush, skipping prom and meeting under the bleachers. “‘tis the damn season” captures the specific kind of gloom which hangs around the festive season like boughs of holly: A homeward return from Los Angeles, wondering about what could have been, where two people “sleep in half the day just for old times’ sake.” The old times are found within one of Taylor’s most underrated songs, “It’s Nice To Have A Friend,” where the two friends/lovers “stay in bed the whole weekend.” The song has a sneaking delicacy to it — there is something gloriously tender about the lyrics “something gave you the nerve to touch my hand.” It’s a song with an innocent face that has so much more to say if you dig a little deeper; a song about teenage connection.
In Fearless (Taylor’s Version), we get to grasp at our memories of the original album and our lives surrounding it with the added wisdom of hindsight. In giving us room to be queer, Taylor also opens Fearless to re-interpretation and as I listen to “Fifteen”, I reflect on friendship, high-school innocence, and simply not knowing who you’re supposed to be. “Fifteen” ends with a classic Taylor move: finishing a song with the same lyrics as the first line, as though reflecting on the truth of her words, on times past, on the circularity of it all. With time, words and moments have changed their implications, and something impenetrably sweet is lost.
Take a deep breath as you walk through the doors.
God, I love Taylor Swift.