Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ And The Joys of Watching Your Problematic Fave Grow

My name is Farishte, and I’m a ‘Swiftie’.

It’s not an addiction I’m particularly looking to kick, but it is one that I’ve taken a while to come to terms with. I was 14 when I first heard Taylor Swift telling me a ‘Love Story’ that made Romeo and Juliet so much more memorable (sorry, Shakespeare).

Like the rest of the world, I was instantly drawn in. ‘Teardrops On My Guitar‘ documented every bit of pain I felt when I saw my crush hold another girl’s hand. I sent ‘Fifteen‘ to my best friend after we fought over whose tiffin was better.

Taylor Swift, I had decided, was my angsty teenage diary.

Until I found out that liking Taylor Swift made me just like every other, screaming, crying, teenage girl who spent her time painting her nails pink and chasing boys. In a world that pitted women against women, 16-year-old me needed the hottie on the football field to tell her that she was special. That she was better than every other girl. So, I painted my nails black, tried to forget the lyrics of ‘Love Story’ and played Eminem on blast. Nine years later, I still don’t know the chorus of ‘Lose Yourself‘.

Fast forward three years, and Woke™ culture has taken over the internet. ‘Not being like other girls’ was no longer a much-awaited rite of passage. Hating on femininity had been cancelled, and taking pride in being like other girls was feminism 101. With the help of a few viral posts and a lot of introspective quizzes that told me what my Patronus would be, I had actually grown. I was finally ‘Fearless’ enough (every terrible pun intended) to sing ‘You belong with me (eeeee)’ at karaoke bars.

Also read: Taylor Swift: What it Means to be a Woman in Music

Except, my newly-minted feminist lens could not ignore the fact that one of my favourite songs very blatantly played into the virgin-whore archetype. The more I explored the idea of Taylor Swift, the more I realised that all of it didn’t align with the person I was growing into.

However, as she began her downfall in a world that loves to call everyone out, she also took her place in it by doing something very few pop stars have been able to do – she called out the big guys. With only her fandom and her legacy to back her up, Swift successfully demanded that streaming services like Apple and Spotify pay artists more.

Of course, her critics argued that with all her wealth, Swift didn’t need the money. Which perhaps, is the point – she didn’t need the money. In the public eye at least, Taylor Swift was now the big artist selflessly fighting for other artists trying to make it.

But unlike Taylor’s early love songs, real life is rarely black and white. Her merits of the era will always be overshadowed by her #GirlSquad of Victoria’s Secret models, the romantic colonialism of ‘Wildest Dreams’, exhausting celebrity feuds, and feminism that belonged in a Fair Glow and Lovely ad. ‘1989‘ will always go down as the record that catapulted Swift’s pop career, before cancelling her public image. So, I hid her deep into my YouTube suggestions and selfishly hoped that she’d release a new album before the internet WokeGirls™ (aka, yours truly) eventually decided to cancel her into oblivion.

And she did get cancelled into oblivion. Well, the old Taylor did, anyway. Reputation saw her writing fairy tales once again – except this time, she was the bad guy. Swift traded her sparkly country boots and perfectly inoffensive answers for a darker, more raw aesthetic. The message was clear: Taylor Swift was back, and like so many women in a #MeToo world, the singer had finally found her voice.

While the old Taylor would have stuck to pretty smiles and prettier lyrics, the new Taylor spoke up against her molester and countersued him $1. Reputation made it clear that like the fandom she had so carefully cultivated, Swift too was quite simply, learning to be better.

As I listened to her brashly sing about her feuds, failed love, and many affairs, I realised that maybe I no longer had to feel guilty about my guilty pleasure.

I’m not going to talk about how listening to ‘Lover‘ felt like catching up with an old friend who had finally found happiness. Or about how watching her struggle to do the right thing in Miss Americana reminded me to be kinder on the internet.

I am, however, going to talk about Folklore – the surprise lockdown album she dropped last week with zero marketing, Easter Eggs or feuds. While Swift has undoubtedly made history with this album, she also made music that revealed her flaws like never before.

Songs like ‘this is me trying’, ‘mirrorball’ and my personal favourite, ‘illicit affairs’ explore classic Swift themes with a newfound maturity and self-awareness. ‘my tears ricochet’ is perhaps the only song that actually hinted at a feud – most likely her very public ongoing battle with Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta. However, unlike ‘This is why we can’t have nice things’ in ‘Reputation’, where her bitterness overpowers her talent, ‘my tears ricochet’ is expertly crafted with wistful lyrics and a haunting melody.

Her music it seems, will no longer be sacrificed at the shrine of her feuds. One could argue that with production that borrows from her country music, and lyrics that remind die-hard fans of ‘Red‘, Swift has been working towards this album her entire career.

But this Swiftie would like to think that she’s used every heartbreak and scandal to reveal a pop star who never needed the glitz and glamour of pop. Her maturity mirrors that of her fandom, giving them a newer, more human definition of love.

Growing up feeling like you intimately know someone who doesn’t even know you exist sounds like the beginning of a true-crime documentary. But watching them grow alongside you fills you with pride, and on a good day, inspiration. Swift’s ‘Folklore’ may well be the push I need to yell at the next guy who offers to ‘improve’ my taste in music by introducing me to the Arctic Monkeys.

Or maybe it’ll just push me to stop hiding behind snarky comments, memes and cancel culture. One thing is for certain – in an era of masks, Taylor Swift inspires us to (figuratively) take off ours.

Farishte Irani loves cats, cheap alcohol, and good poetry. She can be found oversharing on her Instagram, @runawaybookworm.

Featured image credit: Universal Music