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Back in Time, to the Beginning: A Tribute to Taylor Swift and a New Age

By Xiao da Cunha

Xiao da Cunha writes a creative essay and tribute to Taylor Swift, her re-recording of 1989 (and others), and her presence in girlhoods around the world.

Taylor Swift 1989 Album cover
Photo: 1989 (Taylor's Version) / Republic Records and Universal Music Group, Taylor Swift, Beth Garrabrant

Taylor Swift's appeal is unparalleled. No, really.

For Swifties, she is everything: an inspiration, a tap on the shoulder, a push in the back, and a patient girlfriend. Born in the early 90s, Taylor and I (and about every other girl back then) took place in every step of each others lives; I watched inher music career skyrocket and in turn, her music got me through school, graduation, our first jobs, and as I entered my first serious relationships. Before long, Taylor Swift became a not-so-secret language shared by every girl who chose to dream, fight, speak up, and come out of the dark with unique charms.

I remember sneaking my CD player into class to listen to 1989 because Chinese schools didn't allow electronics. My best friend and I would lay our heads on our arms, pretending we were napping between class periods. The boys were fooling around in the back, dragging chairs across concrete floors or bumping into tables. Someone rustled down the hallway, chased by the Dean. "No running in the hall, you little bastards!" screamed the bald, middle-aged man, but all we could hear was music in the cheap supermarket earbuds, accompanied by the lyric book carefully propped up in our desk drawer.

"He's so tall, handsome as hell. He's so bad, but he does it so well."

We whispered the lyrics, looked at each other with rosy cheeks, and giggled. Nothing else mattered.

1989 (original) vinyl on a record player, cover sleeve on the side
Photo: Taylor Nyx via Unsplash

Each Taylor Swift album was a phase: Fearless was the kid ready to take on a big, crowded world, trembling with glimmering eyes. Speak Now was a young girl and her unfiltered truth: hidden anger, unspoken ambition, belated apologies, and endless gratitudes. Red was the first heartbreak drenched in confused tears, hating our guts and innocence. 1989 was standing back up after we pieced together our broken hearts, dreaming louder and wilder than ever. Reputation was a transition point from adolescence to adulthood, followed by a more mature interpretation of relationships with Lover.

Fast forward to today, Taylor and many of us are embracing the dreadful, overwhelming 30s. And in our 30s, we do two things: pivoting to find a breakthrough from the stagnant mundane, and retracing through time to revisit our roots. So, on the one hand, she released three albums (Foklore, Evermore, Midnights) back to back, all demonstrating significant transitions in style, technique, and concepts. On the other hand, she returned to her earliest music and began releasing Taylor's version albums.

Meanwhile, as Taylor breaks records and releases new, groundbreaking music, a quick Google search on Swift haters will give you eloquent, well-written essays criticizing the superstar from all angles. A Reddit thread titled "Why Taylor Swift is everything wrong with modern culture" under r/Music went viral not so long ago. I've seen comments calling her "a pretty pop superstar who sings pretty pop songs", others call her "the most overrated darling of modern music is kind of a mediocre songwriter." Finally, someone went to the extreme and claimed, "Swift's lyrics are vapid and narcissistic." Many called Swifties gullible, and simply regarded the Taylor's Version* albums as yet another exploiting money-making gimmick in the pop music industry. So, perhaps the appeal doesn't apply to everyone.

When I lived in Chicago alone, I'd put on the Taylor Swift Complete Collection on Spotify to help me get through the heavy transit days. I wouldn't care about passers-by and would sing my heart out waiting at the bus stop or running to catch a transfer. However, when Eras was in Kansas City, I saw a car from Oklahoma with "Honk for Taylor Swift '' driving through the plaza. Nobody honked, including myself, because I was told it would be "embarrassing." But you know, people in that car didn't give two shits.

I find this contrast between Swifties' utmost comfort about our fandom and the haters' extensive analysis to prove their point phenomenal. And after a pastor bashed a Barbie Dreamhouse into scraps with a Bible-wrapped baseball bat, I think we all have an idea or two about what's going on with the anti-Swifts: Somehow, a bunch of girls (and boys) simply having a good time with a star they grew up with pisses people off. Somehow, not caring about outside opinions and being ourselves is offensive, and somehow, a superstar having open and honest conversations with herself makes people uncomfortable. Or perhaps it was how Taylor encouraged her fans to reconnect with their core selves that intimidated a toxic culture that forbids so?

Ultimately, these revamped albums gently remind us to look back at the people we once were while moving forward, to make peace with ourselves while stirring up new waves from settled turmoils. They invite us to sing the same old tunes and notice the difference in our voices and feelings, to add new tracks like how we further develop our lives' existing narratives:

Return to the frustrated little girl who didn't love herself more or the arrogant child who should have shown more respect at times. Revisit rushed decisions and past mistakes, and forgive ourselves for not knowing better or being smarter.

They say: go ahead — make mistakes, fall, and climb back up. Laugh at the top of your lungs, and bawl your eyes out. Be frustrated, be lost. Be scared, be confused. Everything is accepted, and all is not lost. To quote Lord Tennyson: "Regret is dead, but love is more/ Than in the summers that are flown,/ For I myself with these have grown/ To something greater than before."

Maybe it was never about making the most prestigious music or becoming the most sophisticated songwriter, and similarily, maybe being a Swiftie is just about celebrating who we are and having fun. Perhaps 1989 (Taylor's Version) is nothing more than a private letter from Taylor to her Swiftie family to share the Wild Dreams she possesses nowadays, the Places she has been to, what Style she still wears in pride, and what surprises she brings as she walks Out Of The Woods.

Liking Taylor Swift is simple and fun. And this world needs that.

*Taylor's Version

Taylor's Version refers to Taylor Swift's re-recordings of her own albums after her masters were sold to someone else. Fans often call the original versions the "stolen version" because many feel like the right to own her own music was stolen from her.

So far, she has re-recorded:

  • Fearless

  • Speak Now

  • Red

And 1989 (Taylor's Version) is out October 27th 2023, leaving Reputation and Taylor Swift (debut). Swift owns Lover, Folklore, Evermore and Midnights.


About the Writer:

Xiao Faria da Cunha is a practicing visual artist and an independent journalist covering what's happening in the Midwest belt. Her visual art practice includes mixed-media illustration on paper, printmaking, and mixed-media collage. Xiao has written for Urban Matter, BRIDGE Chicago, BELT Magazine, and The Pitch KC, and KCUR. She also runs an independent art critic column on Medium while contributing to a few publications there. She believes all her practices, art and writing alike, are essentially journalism practices to speak on behalf of those who haven't been heard and shed light on what hasn't been seen, whether it's emotional, cultural, or societal.


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