Words: Elise Kennedy
Illustrations: Emma Lammie
To quote Taylor Swift, “a coming of age has come and gone.”
Taylor Swift’s career plays out like one of the greatest rom coms that would have been a box office smash. From the fame, the friendships, the love and the scandal, it plays out like a movie that most people would binge on Netflix. The opening sequence shows Taylor Swift falling in love with singing and songwriting, her writing her first songs like “Lucky You”, learning how to play the guitar, her family moving to Nashville and her trying to secure a record deal. This opening sequence would end with her signing her record deal with Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Records, for reasons that would later be explained.
“Love Story” was the first song from Swift that gained international attention, it was her first step in what would turn into her very successful pop career. Although she had good success in the country chart with her debut album with her singles “Tim McGraw” & “Our Song” it was “Fearless” that put her on the map. This was when she started gaining a public platform, and the criticism that goes with it. This is where her love life became the most talked about thing about her career. Whether it was about her break up with Joe Jonas or dating Taylor Lautner, that almost became more interesting than her music itself.
Yet, the biggest scandal would start to unravel here- one we are all familiar with. At the 2009 VMA Awards Taylor Swift won Best Female Video for “You Belong With Me” and Kanye West stormed the stage and said that Beyonce should have won the award. This was the start of what would turn into one of the biggest feuds in recent music history.
Following the VMA Awards Taylor Swift didn’t comment on the incident until the following year when she performed “Innocent” at the award show, where she showed that she had forgiven him regarding the incident. The song would later appear on “Speak Now”.
“Speak Now” continued in a similar trend to “Fearless” but at this point, Taylor had already started to gain a loyal following, after selling over a million copies of her album in its first week. She still got slandered for “dating too much” and only ever writing love and break up songs. Yet with her strong fan base that at least for the moment was zoning out some of the criticism.
“Red” is Taylor Swift’s only pure breakup album, which allegedly is about Jake Gyllenhaal. It was seen as a “not musically cohesive” album, but that misses the point of what the album encapsulates. Breakups are messy, you don’t have “cohesive” feelings when you’re heartbroken, you break up, you cry, you get mad, you have fun with your friends, then you feel sad again like five months later. This in itself is a coming of age story. “Red” manages to encapsulate what it truly feels like to be going through a breakup in your early twenties.
“1989” is the part of the movie, where Taylor realises that New York is the place to be and to surround herself with her friends right after a bad break up, and where she also decides that pop music is the way forward. “1989” in a sense is the peak of Taylor Swift, from an outside perspective. She’s living the dream in a bright New York, seen going to bars and concerts with her “squad”, bringing out countless celebrities on tour. But no one knew the suffering that she was going through at this time, it would later be revealed during her “Miss Americana” documentary at this point Taylor was struggling with an eating disorder and struggling with media attention.
For Taylor, the end of the 1989 era is where one thing after another started to crumble. It is what caused her to go into hiding. It started in early 2016 after Kanye West released his music video “Famous” which showed a naked Taylor Swift, along with other female stars that were previous connected in some way to West. The song included the infamous line “I feel like I and Taylor might still have sex Why? I made that bitch famous,” just before she won Album of the Year at the Grammys. But a few months later led to Kim Kardashian, West’s then-wife, dropping a leaked edited video of Taylor appearing to agree to the lyrics (in 2020 the full version of this video was released which shows that Taylor never did consent to those lyrics). Her relationship with Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston both came to an end. By the summer of 2016, she was branded as a snake, a liar, and a slut.
She went into hiding that year. Nothing was heard about Taylor, from then right up until her reputation announcement. Her relationship with Joe Alwyn which was also rumoured to have started during this time was kept quiet for months at this time, hidden away from prying public eyes.
“reputation” was a cultural reset moment. Taylor had wiped all of her social media and the first thing she posted was a video of a snake. She released “Look What You Made Me Do” which called out all the unjust criticism that had faced including the infamous “I heart TS” top that Tom Hiddleston had worn, the slut-shaming of the “squad”, her being money-hungry over Apple Music not paying artists. She included all of this and basically gave everyone the middle finger.
On a surface level “reputation” is an angry album, a big f*** you to everyone who has wronged her, from boyfriends, to ex-friends, and to her label. But it’s not about that, it truly is about finding someone who likes you when your world is falling around you even though her reputation had never been worse. “reputation” really symbolises the end of her good-girl aesthetic. During this era, she had no interviews, attended no award shows and simply let her album speak for itself. Still, during this time she was rarely seen in public other than her tour. There would be the occasional photo with Joe Alwyn or her friends but that was really it.
It was after she finished that tour, she ended her contract with Big Machine Records, and joined Universal Music Group. From the public standpoint, this is not a dramatic event. This is something that happens quite frequently in the music industry. Not long after this was announced Big Machine Records was bought by Scooter Braun, who had previously been Kanye West’s manager, and someone who had publicly slut-shamed her. It was also revealed that Swift didn’t own her recording that they were now owned by Braun and that she never had the opportunity to buy the rights to her music. This was a turning point for Taylor Swift as this brought light to a part of the music industry that is not known about. It was also then that she said she would re-record the albums as soon as she was permitted to.
After this, Taylor Swift loses the remaining “good girl” reputation. She spoke about politics, denouncing President Trump, she advocated for LGBT rights. This was a turning point for Taylor, as in a sense she’s finally getting what she deserves, the slut-shaming discourse had come to an end and she would own all her music going forward.
“Lover” in a sense is the happy ending of the movie, she’s found love, she’s happy and she now owns her music. It’s the picture-perfect ending in a sense, although it’s not the true end of the story.
“Folklore” and “Evermore” is the post-credit scene of the movie. She’s found peace and is now writing songs about fictional people and friends. Her music is no longer long autobiographic. She’s removed herself (to some degree) from the public eye and is clearly focusing on her friends and family.
It has been argued if this the new albums that Taylor will put out. Whether it is or isn’t, it can’t really be argued that this isn’t the end of a large era itself. “Fearless” to “Evermore” covers Taylor’s formative years as a singer-songwriter. We’ve seen her grow up both literally and musically since 2008 to the artist she is now. With the beginning to trickle out, it really is the final chapter. Her career right now has gone full circle, and it will be interesting to see what happens next.
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