Tavi Gevinson

Just Kidding, Love Sucks

Notes on Taylor Swift

The general public has managed to make Taylor Swift’s greatest strength seem like her greatest weakness, and it makes me feel sad and angry and like people are really missing out on something great. By “general public” I mean email-hosting sites and sometimes Fancier Publications, and by her “greatest strength” I mean Taylor’s unique ability to focus in on one detail or exchange and magnify it completely in this way that makes it feel at once universal and deeply personal. I don’t want to devote too much of this holy ink and paper to haterz, but I do want to free your mind from any reservations about the Swift Power in order to fully prepare you for a MAGIC-CARPET ROLLER-COASTER RIDE across this CANDY LAND BOARD of a DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE from BRITAIN(= NOT LIKING TAYLOR SWIFT).

Swifties see the characteristic at hand for what it is: writing. Her songs are her point of view, making it her job to blow up the most minor event into something that more accurately represents the way she experienced it. As Tay quoted Neruda in her Red liner notes, “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” This is basic Nabokov shit, right? Everything hits harder in memory. Everything changes color. Her first album will tell you she is a natural crusher, daydreamer, hopeless romantic. Obsessing over the briefest of encounters is what we do. She was just born to translate it for millions of people. And I don’t think her commercial responsibilities detract from her genuine passion for her craft. Have you ever watched her in interviews when she gets asked about her actual songwriting? She becomes that kid who’s really into the science fair. Her hands go crazy and she explains all the different categories she breaks emotions into and how they all have their own individual sounds. Then the interviewer totally doesn’t get it because it’s 60 Minutes and they were hoping for a pleasant little soundbite instead of, like, an Andrew Kuo–style verbalization of the human psyche. And Taylor smiles, perfectly aware she just weirded them out, perfectly aware it’s the same weirdness from which she pulls all these beautiful songs.

So the fact that people think they’re, like, Nancy Drew for claiming that none of her relationships have lasted long enough for her to be able to write a song about them really proves only that she has this uncanny talent for dressing up an experience until what happened matches how it felt. I don’t care that her relationships aren’t long-term—she’s a little busy running a goddamn empire! I don’t care if she only dates guys to write songs about them, like people say—she dates people, she writes songs about her life, naturally many of these songs are about people she’s dated, and many of them aren’t, as well. Mostly, basically: I DON’T CARE, I LOVE IT.

These are some of my favorites, severely edited down for word count. I almost didn’t want to publish it, because her music is so close to my heart, but I also really wanted to publish it because her music is so close to my heart. Please handle with care.

Album: Taylor Swift

“Our Song”

Somewhere in the dark depths of deleted YouTube videos is a circa-sixth-grade recording of my childhood best friend and me singing this while I play guitar. Taylor’s one of the reasons I learned guitar (along with some vague image I had of ROCK STARS and PEOPLE IN COOL HATS), and I was very serious about imitating her country twang. While Taylor is not technically an exceptional vocalist on this first album, she knows exactly how to make each word sound on an emotional level. Her instincts are just right, her cadence is so her. Like, it’s not just that her lyrics perfectly match up with the music and together they accurately capture a certain emotion—you can also just hear it when she’s smiling, or looking up, or thinking. This, I would argue, is more important than technically good vocals, and it’s also very rare.

“Picture to Burn”

So much sass! Pickup trucks! Dads who are gonna beat up ex-boyfriends! I’LL TAKE IT.

“Stay Beautiful”

This song KILLS me because I only ever listened to it a few times way back when, which means rediscovering it was like seeing someone you didn’t even know you missed but you’re suddenly so grateful they’re in your life. The lyrics totally apply to young Taylor: “Don’t you know, you’re really gonna be someone. / Ask anyone.” UGHHH. I think I get so emotional listening to her first album because it’s just so heartening to think about where she was when she wrote these songs (lonely, bullied, awkward phase, bad at boys, country-music nerd) and where she is now (BFF to PLANET EARTH). She’s a prime example of how you can turn a middle-school-rooted inferiority complex into beautiful, relatable art. She’s like Chris Ware, except not, except totally.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

Tavi Gevinson is a writer and the founding editor in chief of Rookie, a website for teenage girls putting out its second print edition in October with Drawn & Quarterly.

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