Dear Taylor Swift,
As I prepare to graduate from high school, I would like to take a moment to say a sincere and infinitely grateful, "Thank you."
As a social justice activist, I have heard plenty of critiques of your music. You slut-shame other girls in your song "Better Than Revenge." You promote the virgin-whore dichotomy in your music video for "You Belong With Me." You write about boys too much for someone who professes to be independent and pure. I will be the first to admit that much of this criticism has a point.
However, my connection with your music goes much, much deeper. You were the soundtrack to my bildungsroman. You empathized with me when no one else did. You inspired me to grow and to share.
I'll never forget first watching your "Teardrops on My Guitar" music video when I was 11 or 12, in 7th grade, and had my very first crush. I didn't understand why he didn't like me just because he was a football player and I was a nerd. I didn't understand why he ended up dating a popular girl who hung out with the skaters. But Taylor Swift, you understood. You sang it, "He's the reason for the teardrops on my guitar/the only thing that keeps me wishing on a wishing star." And so my 12-year-old self wished on stars for that one blonde, blue-eyed football player to return my affections.
As embarrassing as it is to admit now, I felt it. I felt the unrequited crush heavy on my adolescent shoulders. I can't deny those feelings. I can't deny the sadness, the pain that my 12-year-old self felt. Taylor Swift sang those feelings, and I sat at my computer mooning over some popular middle school crush and wondering at life's unfairness. Do you remember those days? Taylor, thank you for being the soundtrack to my adolescence.
But it didn't end when I was twelve. There's this tendency in our society to disparage the very real feelings of teenage girls, writing them off as "hysterical" or "hormonal." Teenage girls are perhaps the most hated of all social groups -- the instant we love something, whether it's "Twilight" or "The Hunger Games," the value of that franchise decreases in the eyes of the majority of the population. We're portrayed as this hysterical mob as a collective, and as individuals, desired by hormonal teenage boys. It's such a paradox that in order to be considered "attractive," a teenage girl must never seek out the affections of a boy. The very act of desiring someone's affections -- that act of agency -- renders us pathetic and undesirable.
So Taylor, thank you for empathizing with my feelings, and more importantly, for showing me that it's okay to feel at all. There's nothing wrong with being a teen girl, and there's nothing wrong with the experience of being crazy and emotional when you're a teen girl. There's nothing shallow or insubstantial about the feelings you have when you're a teenager.
It's certainly important for girls to develop self-esteem and be able to have self-worth outside of boys, but that's a gradual process of self-discovery. As fans, we know that you're going through it as well. Whether the listener is male or female, love is a human need that all teenagers struggle with. I'm glad that you're sharing it with us.
No matter what critics say about the slut-shaming and male-objectifying of "You Belong with Me," the song's story spoke to my real experience. I have felt that I was not attractive enough or popular enough or cool enough to attain the object of my affection. When you're young, that's what you do. You don't imagine people in a complex way. I'm picturing myself at 14 and focused on the boy I have great conversations with who doesn't seem to be into me because he only goes for popular girls. I'm sitting in the afternoon sunlight streaming in the lobby windows as he talks about AP Bio. I'm thinking, "You belong with me."
I'm graduating from high school this year, but I don't foresee your influence on my life ending. As your music matures and grows more nuanced, and as I gain in life experiences to match, I'm starting to know what you mean by "I've found time can heal most anything, and you just might find who you're supposed to be," in the song "Fifteen." I'm starting to understand what you mean by, "And we know it's never simple, never easy/Never a clean break, no one here to save me," from "Breathe."
I'm 16 now, and sometimes at twilight, I ride the train, look out into the sunset and think about the boy that I sometimes still remember all too well. I play your song. "And I know it's long gone, and that magic's not here no more/it might be okay, but I'm not fine at all." And I look out the train window, and for a minute or two, it's okay to rip my heart open and let myself feel.
You've comforted me in the lowest of moments, which usually are boy-related, and you've celebrated with me in my moments of ecstasy. Critics say that you write too much about love and boyfriends, but let me tell you, so do I. To be honest, although I've devoted a large portion of my life to gender equality and social justice, and despite never having had a serious/real boyfriend, love causes the most immediate despair and the most exuberant happiness in my life. And Taylor, you've been there.
It's a part of me, and it's a part of all of us at this age to seek that ideal of romantic love and to be disappointed by that ideal. We also get back up and to chase it again. I think it's so courageous of you to share your growing process through your songs.
There's an instrumental after the three minute mark in your new song, "All Too Well," and a few poignant lines that strike a chord in me every time. "You called me up again just to break me like a promise/so casually cruel in the name of being honest/I'm a crumpled up piece of paper lying here/'Cause I remember it all too well." That's so vivid -- it tells your story. But it also tells mine. About teenage despair, about longing, about being alive and feeling so intensely both the ups and downs of love.
Thank you for being there. Thank you for sharing your stories. Thank you for helping me grow to a place where I can share mine.
Follow Eva Shang on Twitter: www.twitter.com/eva_shang