My reputation’s never been worse so, you must like me for me.
Loving Taylor Swift is easy. The girl next to me loves her, tells me about it without words in a language only we understand — a slanted, sweet glance of pain, that one lyric she sings forcefully, a little louder than she should — and that she’s there alone, too. But tonight, even solitary we’re not alone, none of us are, as there are another 60,000 people surrounding us and they all love her. When I look up, the entire stadium is glowing, twinkling with white light, then blue, then yellow via the soft, translucent gel LED wristbands we’re all wearing.
If this symbolic, clean band of light didn’t unite us, then a knowledge of the Swiftian canon would; only the rare men in our section maintained their composure as tracks off Reputation, Red, 1989 and beyond filled the University Of Phoenix Stadium on the opening night of Taylor Swift’s magnificent, no-holds-barred 2018 tour. The drought was the very worst, but Taylor is back in a big way — and nothing is off limits. It was time to address all the things she’d been running from, and who better to walk her through the first night publicly confronting her demons than a congregation of adoring fans?
Let the games begin.
I’ve loved Taylor Swift for exactly twelve years. I’m thirty now, so that’s the majority of my adult life. When she makes mistakes, I cringe along with her, remembering my similar missteps and recalling similar wounds. A year apart, both of us navigating very public fields for work, I sometimes analyze our strengths and weaknesses by drawing lines between our respective backgrounds: both raised in conservative, middle-class America, formative years spent idolizing the mythology of a Love Story arc, both writers, music-lovers, country music aficionados — both competitive as hell. I’m not the only fan to draw a parallel storyline with their favorite musician, but the public backlash Taylor faced from 2016 and beyond felt too resonant with my own experience to ignore, too.
Taylor Swift is my culture. Surely, I already knew that to some degree, but I never realized it more than when Reputation dropped late last fall. Unexpectedly in Norway that weekend, I was covering a small European music festival — or, I was supposed to be covering it. Friday morning, attendees kept attempting to communicate with me while I sat ensconced in puffy, pink Beats headphones I couldn’t bring myself to remove, wrapped up in the world of Reptuation.
Puzzled, strangers would eventually give up on the hope of a conversation and fade back into the crowd. Eventually, I too gave up on even pretending to be present and headed down toward the water to listen uninterrupted. After Taylor’s extended break from the spotlight, listening felt like spending time with a friend who’d gone missing and returned with stories to tell.
Nursing myself through a particularly dark patch in my own life, I walked along the shore of this small coastal town, losing myself inside a new slice of Taylor’s universe. I listened to “End Game” while a minor gray tempest swirled around me, sheets of rain barely deflected by my cheap umbrella, watched clouds dance across the lake as “Delicate” coaxed tremulous, golden desire, and ducked into a side alley paved with cobblestones for my mini freakout over the key change in “Getaway Car.” I was an ocean away, drinking in the record like a potion, basking in the glow of her songwriting, a warmth I’ve returned to for solace, strength, and joy for over a decade.