Monday, May 23, 2011

Taylor Swift: A Voice for Nerds and Lonely Hearts

It's hard not to like a pretty girl with a pretty voice.  But when she starts to say the things you used to say, to speak the things you only whispered to yourself in your adolescent turmoil, well, the affection becomes a little deeper.

Taylor Swift is probably pretty close to what I daydreamed about when I was a kid: an attractive girl who spent an unfortunate amount of time in a state best described as "frumpy."  Of course, a lot of what we see of her is probably Hollywood styling, chances are good that the young lady is not, in fact, frumpy and has never been.  But in her music videos the image they show is big glasses, shapeless sweatshirts, and a somewhat frustrated air.

Did you sing in your room, all alone?  I sure did.  Write endless and ultimately unsent love letters to that One True Love, the one person who just had to be your soulmate?  That one I didn't do, but I made mixtapes and left them in her mailbox.

Turns out, I may have been a bit of a stalker in my youth.  Moving on!

So now Ms. Swift has a new tune, "Mean."  In it, she declares her goals for the future, and in the meantime asks, "why do you have to be so mean?"  Speaking to everyone who ever beat anybody down, tripped the class klutz, stole lunch money: why do you have to be so mean?

When I met up with kids like that, what I really wanted to do was to vaporize them.  I wanted to be able to crush them flat, to utterly destroy them.  Damned lucky thing I never had super powers.  But when anyone ever asks why I live where I live, I tell them I like the small town flavor and the mountains, and of course I got married and had kids here.  But why did I come here in the first place: why do you have to be so mean.  I live here so I could get away from them, to leave them far, far away.  I go back once in a while to visit my folks, but do I look anyone up from the "good old days?"

Hell, no.  Those days, they weren't that good.  The past can have them.

Why do you have to be so mean.  A plaintive cry for an explanation - not even begging for the hatefulness to stop, just for the author of all that agony to make it make sense.  Maybe if you can justify it, I can take it, if that's what you need out of life.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Taylor Swift's got a history of making good by being good.  When Kanye West made a complete and utter ass of himself at an awards show, embarrassing himself and frankly startling and confusing Ms. Swift as she prepared to receive her first big industry award, she went on to quietly accept his apology and has since drawn from that experience in her songwriting.  Do I think that is reflected in this song, "Mean?"  Not really.  But maybe there's a shadow of it, somewhere in the margins.

Hmm.  "Teardrops on my guitar," a lonely girl pining for a guy who just can't seem to figure out there's a perfectly nice young lady waiting to be noticed.  "Fifteen," cautioning other girls not to fall in love too quickly.  "You Belong With Me," a lonely girl pining for a guy...wait a...hmm.

Well.  Anyway.  What can I say, Swift resonates with me.  I'm a 40+ year old man, and I like to sing the girl parts.  There, I said it.  But of course since puberty and a few more decades, I can't hit those high notes anymore.  Shoot, I can barely see them from here.  But all of that said, the messages of the music still speak to me.  And I guess when you're writing a song, that's the whole idea in the first place, isn't it?

I was a nerd.  I remember how it felt to want to be noticed.  And with a stack of awards under her belt, Ms. Taylor has certainly been noticed.

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