Showing Up to The Party: My Journey to Becoming a Taylor Swift Fan
As I write this, I can count one one hand the number of days until I see Taylor Swift at the Eras Tour in Arlington.
My entire school year has been leading up to this concert. Honestly, most of my life has been leading up to this concert, but not in the way you might imagine. Let me explain.
Taylor dropped Midnights on a Thursday night. Leading up to the release, I filmed my friends in passing conversation about the album: what would it sound like? What will be our favorite song? When the anticipated evening crept up on us, we sat on my bed, frantically searching for the album on Spotify when the clock struck eleven. (Nope, not midnight, thanks CST.) All snacks and wrappers were tossed aside, we all looked at each other, and pressed play. Long story short, I loved the album. I’ll always remember hearing the “You’re On Your Own Kid” bridge for the first time, surrounded by people who I would make friendship bracelets for in an instant.
Six years ago, this devotion to Taylor and her music was far from my reality. I was thirteen, awkward, hairy, and my favorite artists were literally Pentatonix and the Hamilton cast. I wish I was kidding.
One day, though, it may have been a rainy Saturday morning with nothing on the agenda, I was sitting in my living room on my iPhone 6, scrolling on Instagram. My mom had just let me download it for my 13th birthday in September, and I found myself knee deep in the explore page most nights until a ripe 10:30 PM.
As I scrolled mindlessly, all of a sudden I saw a video of Taylor Swift. I don’t remember what it was, but I thought to myself, I should follow her because I followed every other A-list celebrity and commented on their posts. Don’t ask.
When I went to Taylor’s page there were no posts to comment on. She had deleted all of them in preparation to release reputation, the album that would mark the definitive beginning of my committed devotion to her.
I didn’t stay up for the album release, my mom wouldn’t let me, but as seventh grade me listened to songs like “…Ready For It?” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” for the first time, something changed in me. I became more confident, I became more comfortable being myself, and when the gossip and middle school drama would get to me, I always heard Taylor in the back of my mind saying that there’s wisdom and power to be found after I dry my tears.
I still say reputation is one of my favorite Taylor albums, not only because of the music, but because it was one of the first times I actually found something I liked and that spoke to me through lyrics and sound.
Of course, I continued on to be the fan I am today, fighting for tickets and tuning in to livestreams, claiming tracks and doodling lyric tattoos, but as I sit here reflecting, I realize that Taylor’s been a part of my life for longer than I thought
Swifties often say they grew up with Taylor. While I was not a Swiftie as a child, I, too, would say the same.
Taylor was always there. In the background on the radio on the way home from school, at the nail salon with my mom and sister, on the news or lingering in small talk before class with acquaintances.
She’s the star of some of my fondest childhood memories, and I never really gave her the time of day until I grew up and realized she’d been there for me this whole time.
Whenever I hear Taylor’s voice floating through the speaker in my dorm, I am not nineteen and away from home. I’m younger and freer, I’m innocent but not naïeve. I’m living in my sweetest memories.
I’m six, on the way back from our field trip to the bowling alley, Circle B. Our class was so small that we couldn’t fill a bus, so we carpooled with parents. I shoved into the back of someone’s mini van, tiny feet sore from too-small bowling shoes, delirious off of Pepsi and Skittles and greasy pizza. The air was heavy and teasing at a perfect summer. I’m in heaven. Amber, my best friend at the time, screams, “PLAY ROMEO AND JULIET!” and by that she means, “PLAY LOVE STORY!” We all scream with excitement as her mom reluctantly turns on the radio and tells us she can’t just make it play, we have to wait. So we do. As one song ends, our mumbling stops and we wait for the next to start, and believe it or not, after a few agonizing minutes, we hear the strings play an unforgettable melody and we all just go ballistic. I scream every word at the top of my lungs not from a place of understanding, but a place of passion. I just loved this song. My second grade self viewed Taylor as an actual princess, singing songs she just knew I would like. She was a girl’s girl, and I sometimes would daydream about a sleepover with her: talking about our like-likes, (that’s what I called crushes) painting our nails, and singing her songs. To this day I want nothing more.
When I hear Taylor, I’m seven, crying on the way to school because of the way my father treats me, and the way my school friends talk about the clothes I wear. I’m wearing hand me downs and Goodwill finds before it got cool, and walking into class every morning was like the punchline showing up at the end of a joke. I was sick of all of it, but deep down I liked the clothes I wore and I liked who I was, I just didn’t like what other people had to say about it. My mom picks me up from my dad’s and I’m quiet. She turns on the radio and I hear “Mean” for the first time as we pass my aunt’s house and wave. I leaned my head on the window, letting the lyrics vibrate through my new bob haircut and into my little brain. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t know my princess Taylor could feel this way! I didn’t know people were so mean to her! Nevertheless, the song became an affirmation, a goal for me: to rise above the bullies big and small, because according to her, it will bring success.
Years went by and I let my princess go. I didn’t really care what she was doing and I had bigger fish to fry (the school spelling bee, reading, pretending to be interested in the piano lessons my father made me take). But I found her (and she, me) at our usual meeting spot on the radio every now and then.
Sometimes, when I hear Taylor, I’m in sixth grade at wyldlife camp. Throw whatever metaphors you want at that situation, but I’ll tell you straight up: I should not have been there. I was desperate for other friends and my church advertised it as fun with a side of Jesus, so I took the bait. They played Taylor before “club” and I felt like she speaking to me, saying Just dance and get lost in the song and you’ll be fine. Through songs like “Style” and “Shake it Off” no less, but it was a moment of comfort amongst a lot of the opposite.
After making the decision to become a Swiftie, I dragged my little cousin Grace into the fandom (she’s thirteen now, and she’s one of my favorite people ever). We watched the Lover tiny desk concert together, and when I could drive, I’d pick her up from school, blast Taylor, and we’d get Starbucks. We giggled through “I Forgot That You Existed” (the part at the end where she’s like “sooooo yeah” always got us cracking up) and bang on the dashboard to “Getaway Car”. I’m in heaven again.
It was always Taylor playing in the background when Grace would decide to tell me she’d miss me at college, or she was having some drama with friends, or that she was so glad we were cousins. I don’t know why that is, but sometimes a part of me believes Taylor puts magic into her music to bring out the best moments of my life.
And now, a small intermission to note that I left the computer for a few days to, in fact, go see Taylor Swift at the Eras Tour. I’m back now, and I am simply not who I once was.
For a moment, I was nervous that the Taylor I grew to love over the years would be replaced with a performance of love on stage, but I could not have been more wrong. Down to the fans around me, the entire stadium was full of love and excitement and acceptance.
My friend Matthew (the Heartbreak Prince to my Miss Americana) had informed me of all the traditions of the show beforehand, and as we filled the silence between the chorus and the first verse of Delicate, I knew I was a true Swiftie.
Before that, Taylor had introduced the audience to the Fearless era songs and I couldn’t hold back my tears. I was six again, screaming the words to a song I loved in a room full of people who loved my princess even more than I did. I can’t describe the feeling fully, but it just felt right.
Out of everything: the gorgeous costumes and vocals, callbacks to past eras, deafening screams, and iconic bridges, my fondest memory of the entire night was not even ten minutes into the show.
“The Archer begins”, and the namesake (Taylor, of course) draws her imaginary bow back to shoot an arrow. By this point, Matthew and I are inconsolable, our arms tangled together, tears streaming down our faces. This was one of my most anticipated tracks of the tour, not only because of a very screamable bridge, but because this song is a reflection of the thoughts that keep me up at night.
After we wail the bridge, I feel a tap on my shoulder.
A Swiftie wearing Taylor’s costume from the Red era of the show has extended her arm towards me. In her hand she holds a bracelet that says “The Archer”. She’d been watching, she knew this song was deeper for me. I sob, of course, and hug Matthew, and we continue dancing the night away.
This sounds dramatic, but I swear it’s true: it felt like everything in my adolescent life had lead to that moment. Taylor on stage, The Heartbreak Prince by my side, and my identity on my wrist in pink and blue beads.
In my mind, Taylor was the girl next door for the longest time. She bounced between conversations and she was a princess of an enigma. A distant role model. I grew to love her, and many will attest, she became like a big sister to me and millions of people. Our big sister Taylor made big siblings out of fans, who pass on the love to people like me.
They, and Taylor, showed me to make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it, because I really had no reason to be afraid. I wasn’t on my own, and thanks to Taylor, I never had been.