One Swiftie Speaks Now On Taylor's Victory Lap
Dissecting the disappointment of an artistic departure and unobtainable tour tickets.
When the headlines started rolling in last fall — “Taylor Swift’s Midnights Breaks Spotify’s Record of Most Streams in a Single Day," “Taylor Swift First Ever to Occupy All 10 Spots On Billboard Hot 100," “Taylor Swift Has 7 Albums in the Top 40," "Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour on Track to Become Highest Grossing Tour of all time,” — I was smug. I double-tapped, screenshotting each new facet of her record-breaking success, sending it to my hipster friends attached to a vainglorious, “I told you so!” Other big names in the music industry started to praise Taylor in a way that they hadn’t before. Mayors of various U.S. cities began showering Taylor with offerings as she brought her tour, and an incredibly large herd of tourists, to town. The commotion, the praise, and the broken records all relayed and cemented what I already knew: Taylor Swift is awesome.
When you listen to her songs, you’re reading her diary. Her lyrics are unapologetically soft, detailing her most intimate feelings about her own experiences that explode into cathartic bridges against the backdrop of a tune catchy enough to chart. When I was 16, I was wide-eyed and sentimental, finding my place in the world. So was Taylor in her first three albums. When I was 18, I was navigating growing up. I had conditional friendships, tumultuous relationships and was moving into my first apartment ever in New York City. So was Taylor in Red and 1989. When I was 20, I was exiled from a group of friends, and everyone had something negative to say about me. I met the love of my life around then, too. I would take the train to his apartment listening to reputation and Lover. It was as if they were the soundtrack to my movie. This phenomenon wasn’t specific to me.
But then, the high I got from my favorite pop star being praised in a never-ending stream after being dubbed, “for teenage white girls,” faded. All I could do was continue to stream Midnights and hope to sell a kidney on the black market to trade for concert tickets. When Red (Taylor’s Version) was released, I stayed up all night listening. It wasn’t my favorite project, but it was nostalgic and had some cool new features that Red didn’t. With Midnights, I tried listening for maybe 10 minutes, and then turned it off. My first impression was enough to confirm what I deep down already knew: Despite the success, Taylor has suffered a sharp decline in the quality of artistry over the years.
I had been anticipating Taylor’s 10th studio album since Evermore surprise dropped in 2020. Churning out three albums in three years and vowing to re-record her first 6 studio albums after the masters were unfavorably purchased — there’s nothing she can't do. What else did she have up her sleeve? When Midnights was finally released, I was completely underwhelmed and disheartened. I’ve come to terms with the fact that as Taylor adds to her discography, her lyrics have gotten less and less striking. But “Stay Beautiful,” a simple, catchy track that Taylor wrote at 15, completely surpasses the best of Midnights (which, for some reason are all Bonus Tracks). At 20 songs total, quantity trumps quality, and each track is totally forgettable.
I’m not saying that the reason behind her decline in quality is crossing into mainstream pop. Pop Taylor‘s silliest lyrics can be eclipsed by the intimacy in her words. Reputation, regarded as a least favorite by fans, was a massive commercial success. Despite not totally loving all aspects of the album, I stream it because I love the point in Taylor's life that it reflects, her reputation era. We’ve all been there.
Midnights is Taylor’s most impersonal album. Many of the songs are autobiographical, but there’s a lot of emotional shorthand going on. Compare track five on Midnights, to track five on any of her other albums (for non-Swifties, track five is typically the most emotive song on her albums). “You're On Your Own, Kid” falls flat. It tells a story of the narrator longing for love and eventually learning that she’s okay alone, but honestly, I had no idea what it was about until I read Genius Lyrics. I was even more disappointed when I knew that the subject of the song was, after all, relatable. It’s just that Taylor didn’t take the time to evoke her actual feelings about it.
She’s singing about what she sang about three years ago on Folklore/Evermore, with not much new ground covered. With multiple songs recounting her very public brawl with Scooter Braun after he bought her masters without consent, she remains a victimized underdog. She remains an ingenue, recounting limited, idealized narration of her longest (and recently dissipated) relationship with Joe Alwyn. Alwyn is very private, so I suspect she’s holding back lyricizing all the intimate details of their partnership (alas, "You're Losing Me" gives us something now), which results in half-hearted, half-baked babbling. There are no breakthroughs, catharsis, no “aha!” moments for Taylor or for listeners. She touches on more mature themes, fears, grief, doubts, but she doesn’t sit with the emotional beats of those adult experiences.
Taylor is very in tune with what people are saying about her. So much so that “Anti-Hero” feels more like sloppily disguised PR than a confessional ballad. “Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism/ Like some kind of congressman?” Internet buzzwords and phrases are frequented in this album more than her signature literary devices and classic literature references, reading as cheugy and at the very best nebulous. “Draw the cat eye sharp enough to kill a man?” Taylor, get an editor!
As for storytelling, it’s shockingly lazy, especially given that Midnights is “a concept album.” Taylor’s knack for writing from the perspective of other characters and inventing short stories for escapist tracks like “Betty” and “Speak Now” isn’t at all evident. There’s not much of a beginning, middle, or end to the record.
On top of that, It’s become hard for me to ignore that Taylor puts much more emphasis on male collaborations. The only featured collab on Midnights is Lana Del Rey’s muddled, sparse background vocals, which honestly pissed me off. Haim, The Chicks, and Lana have all been glorified back up singers for Taylor in recent albums, while collaborations with men (Ed Sheeran, Bon Iver) are duets for all intents and purposes.
All this is inflamed by the blandness of production. When Taylor started working with producer Jack Antonof, on 1989, it was a creative symbiosis. Since then, Antonof has taken the crown of “producer of the year” for the last two Grammys, and expanded into producing for a handful of other major artists (Lana, Lorde, Kevin Abstract, Clairo, 1975, etc, etc,). As a consequence, Taylor's music has started to sound the same as everything else.
Don’t get me wrong though, none of this stopped me from trying to obtain those tour tickets. I tried selling the best things I have in my closet (which, as a college student, is admittedly not worth very much.) My boyfriend religiously enters me in every raffle he can find. As time passed, the cost of a single ticket spiked from $700 to $1200. In a moment I’m not proud of, I cried. I know that people are starving, and there are more important things than a concert, but Taylor means so much to me. I thought about how many other people, who were also “Taylor Swift's biggest fan,” couldn't afford tickets. How could the same artist who used to stalk Twitter and Tumblr for fans in need of generous donations suddenly turn a blind eye to thousands of fans, most of whom are young women and even littler girls? When she did briefly speak on it, she blamed Ticketmaster.
When your favorite musician is set to have the highest grossing world tour of all time and makes a spectacle out of her business endeavors, it's a slap in the face to pretend she has no agency. Taylor’s unprecedented demand is the root cause of ongoing torment of Swifties scrambling for tickets. She’s only playing huge stadiums, so, for example, Swifties from New York City, Long Island, and the surrounding tri-state area will sardine themselves into MetLife, creating a huge demand for a limited amount of shows. The responsibility of managing that demand is Taylor’s. What would it take to accept accountability? What would it take to address the class division in her fanbase?
I don’t subscribe to the idea that a female musician must always reinvent herself to hold our attention. I don’t want that for Taylor or her music. But they’re calling this tour a victory lap. She prances around in a shimmering leotard weekend after weekend. International tour dates are only a matter of time. With her charm as an artist greatly diminished by lazy songwriting and so many turned away from seeing her live, is it the victory she worked for?