You may be through with Taylor Swift, but she isn’t through with you.
Or so say the charts. When Swift dropped “Look What You Made Me Do” on Aug. 24, fans played the aggressive new single over eight million times on Spotify, a streaming splurge surpassing any other song’s success on the day of its release.
The subsequent music video broke YouTube’s one-day streaming record with 28 million views, beating out Adele’s “Hello.” And the official lyric video received 19 million views on its first day, more than double that of the previous record-holder, “Something Like This” by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay. Taylor’s Sept. 3 single, “…Ready For It” is also stirring a buzz.
So Swift has the country’s attention. No surprises there. Like most successful pop artists, she wields the ability to tap into her listeners’ emotions by writing songs just specific enough to seem personal, but just vague enough to fit many disparate moments all at once.
Listening to or talking about her music with large groups of people reminds me of that scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 movie “Magnolia” when all the main characters start singing along to Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” in unison, even though they find themselves facing wildly different situations in varied modes of life. All they really have in common is their humanity with its constant desires and misgivings. Provide the right song, and they express divergent emotions with the same words.
Taylor produces a similar effect in her listeners, even if she isn’t as great as P.T.A. or Aimee Mann. Looking back on my own life — short as it is — I’ve noticed her music manipulating my course.
I first heard Taylor Swift on a car ride home from school in third grade. That day, I went swimming in a sewer pit during lunch and ruined my tie. In the afternoon, my teacher taught the class that wisdom is better than wit, and in the long run wisdom will certainly have the laugh on her side. I think he was onto something; I never swam in my dress clothes again and always laughed at those who did.
The year “Fearless” came out, I played a satyr in a school adaption of The Tempest. The director thought “Nothing But Flowers” by Talking Heads worked well as background music for the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella. The audience’s frowns on opening night seemed to disagree. In an effort to save the play, the guy playing Ferdinand suggested replacing David Byrne’s apocalyptic vision of daisy-covered Pizza Huts with Taylor’s “Love Story.” A noble effort, but unfortunately the wrong Shakespeare play.
My eighth grade ancient history teacher claimed to have dated Taylor while he was an undergrad at Notre Dame. The story seemed plausible. After all, Taylor’s brother was studying there at the same time as him. So when “Red” came out in 2013, my class bought our teacher the deluxe edition and hosted a listening party for him during a study hall. It was then that we learned that his past romance had been a pious fib — an ill-conceived attempt to earn pubescent respect.
I have no significant memories of “1989” except that I bought the CD (complete with fake polaroids) for my younger sister as a consolation for her having to be homeschooled in seventh grade. She subscribed to Apple Music and most likely never popped the album in the ol’ Discman.
Until last week, I thought I could finally say goodbye to Taylor. I mean, she’s just a pop singer, right?
But I know her new work will eventually squirrel its way into the miscellaneous rooms of my mind palace. I haven’t blown through enough Lucky Strikes to know how yet.
Ten years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw eight random people on the metro singing along to “Look What you Made Me Do.” Taylor is speaking to them as a group and as individuals. This is something that happens. That’s just the nature of a catchy pop song.