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讓我們談談泰勒·斯威夫特吧 On Taylor Swift: The Old and New

Taylor Swift is coming to Asia next month for her ‘Reputation’ tour.

 

Perhaps, the single most memorable quote from Taylor’s sixth album is the spoken telephone line ‘oh, [the old Taylor]’s dead’. Perhaps, it’s time for old and new fans alike to review who the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Taylors are and if they are in fact different people.

 

The ‘old’ Taylor conjures up the image of a curly blonde-haired girl next door who indulges in idyllic romantic adventures in southern United States, a region known for country music (indeed, Nashville’s country music museum holds several Taylor Swift-related exhibitions and even a new Taylor Swift Education Centre).

 

The ‘new’ Taylor, on the other hand, is a snakelike, dark, shrewd, all-grown-up businesswoman who reigns international pop music like a boss, and of course, apparently moves on to new boyfriends as quickly as she finds time to write about her numerous exes in her songs.

 

A visual depiction of the two Taylors is most striking in her old music video of the widely-widely-recognised song ‘You Belong With Me’, in which Taylor plays both the innocent, awkward girl next door and her evil doppelgänger. While the former wears pajamas, sneakers, and hides in the bleachers with nerdy glasses, the latter is the conventionally (by mainstream American standards) ’hot’ cheerleader with the attractive high school football star as her boyfriend, wearing short skirts and high heels. 

 

If we apply lyrics from ‘Mean’, another celebrated song from the old, country music-loving Taylor, we can connect the image of the victim with the girl next door and the bully with her evil doppelgänger. Notably, the protagonist of ‘Mine’ expresses her desire to ‘someday live in a big old city’—the opposite of the Tennessee small town-inspired setting for most of her earlier songs.

 

In certain ways, the Taylor we see today has become her evil doppelgänger. On the surface, this Taylor now often chooses high heels and miniskirts over princessy floral gowns she used to wear, while fully embracing the pop music she almost despised as a country music kid whom classmates mocked for her different taste in music. On a deeper level, she not only lives in a ‘big old city’ (or several big cities’ most expensive parts—though she still sees Nashville as her favorite home), but also is the centre of attention in many big cities. Phrases such as ‘I don’t like you’ and ‘your name is in red underlined’ in ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ eerily hark back to the bully-like figure that we see in ‘Mean’ and other songs from Taylor’s country music days.

 

Granted, some aspects about Taylor have not changed. For one, the girl next door still hangs out a lot with her fans (as she dutifully documents in her social media accounts), inviting fans over to enjoy the cookies she baked for them and showing up at fans’ weddings as a surprise, among other things. Critics, however, see this as one of her marketing strategies that she is merely using her old ‘girl next door’ reputation to manipulate fans.

 

As another constant in this transformation, the storytelling aspects are, in my view, still are a main reason that could justify the singer’s continued stardom. As Taylor admits herself, her voice is not the most unique and she may not be the best technical singer (just look at Beyonce’s ‘Halo’—Taylor’s voice range and singing skills just objectively can’t defeat Beyonce’s). Moreover, I personally found her old and new songs alike to be quite repetitive (lyrics and melody wise) and to circle back and forth between the same or almost-adjacent notes—this is partially why I found her songs to be relatively easy to sing and to remember compared to other singers’. 

 

However, the storytelling elements are overall quite strong. In very few words, Taylor has over the years quite consistently been able to convey easily relatable plots of romances (e.g. the fairytale version ‘Love Story’, the idyllic version ‘Tim McGraw’, the mundane version ‘Gorgeous’, and the intensely dramatic celebrity outsmarting paparazzi version ‘I Know Places’ that features a host of vultures, hunters, and foxes), breakups (e.g. ’Back to December’, ‘Red’, ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’, ’I Knew You Were Trouble’, ‘Blank Space’, and perhaps, ‘Clean’), revenge/anger (e.g. ‘Picture to Burn’, ’Bad Blood’ and ‘Look What You Made Me Do’), and other themes you could think of. Part of the impact derives from the colloquial nature of most lyrics, the sensory qualities, the universality of the emotions evolved, and the concreteness of images.

 

Love or hate the new Taylor Swift, it’s indisputable, despite all the criticism on the ‘new’ Taylor, that the 28-year-old singer has been incredibly and continuously successful since her teenage years, maintaining her impressive work ethics. At the end of the day, Taylor’s growth trajectory over the years has featured a stronger and bolder voice, literally and metaphorically. We may not like her pop music or her latest persona, but there are surely one lessons we could draw from her success.

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