Here are my initial reactions to Taylor’s September 2014 interview in Rolling Stone Magazine.
I liked the song material, as far as it was discussed. I have been saying for a long time that I doubted Taylor’s relationship with Harry ever became negative. I always felt the songs on this album would show she still cared for him a lot. How much remains to be seen, but I would not be surprised to hear Taylor imply that she still loves Harry and would still be open to getting back together with him under the right conditions. Harry is simply a very nice guy, albeit one who has too many women chasing him at an age where that temptation is irresistible. Taylor has not dated many nice guys, so I am sure Harry’s basic disposition must stand out for her. I think Taylor is remarkably intelligent and deserves a much smarter guy, but I am not her relationship coach.
Taylor’s song about Katy Perry will be a key song to hear. The blogosphere went crazy about this song today, with fans from both sides throwing flames at each other. I already blogged about this song in more detail earlier today:
The only comment I can add here is that Taylor normally is very restrained in interviews when talking about the details of her songs. I think she forgot to observe this protocol in her discussion of the “Bad Blood” song. In retrospect, Taylor should have observed her own protocol more strictly, and the gossip and cheap criticism would be much less. I guess that is just another lesson learned.
I really liked that Taylor thought carefully about the positioning of her music as pop, and once she made the decision to go pop she enforced that decision on Scott Borchetta. To me this shows that Taylor is starting to take control of her career, including key strategic decisions that maybe up until now she was only comfortable making together with other people. This gives me hope that she can ultimately control the outcome of her life in other areas where the solution is not as clear today.
While I loved Taylor’s openness and honesty, I could not help but feel her sense of isolation. You could see this isolation manifested in a few different ways:
First, there are now so many fans around her that she loses almost any ability to identify and interact with individuals in more than a quick and superficial way. I look at the crowds of people who follow her around, and they have all become effectively just a background noise in her life. She came out of a period in her life in middle-school where she had no friends, and her art was a way to connect to people. The irony of her current situation is that she has now connected to so many people that she has lost the ability connect deeply to individuals outside of her celebrity universe. I’m not sure she planned on this outcome. Is it better to be invisible, or is it better to drown in an ocean of affection? It really is not clear to me.
Second, the press and fan preoccupation with every aspect of her life leaves Taylor feeling like she is living in a bubble, being observed by others. This goes so far that she ponders whether a speaker system could have been rewired to capture sounds. There is a paranoia – quite justified! – about her privacy that so constrains her ability to act freely that I wonder if someone could be truly happy that way. You start to imagine that every private conversation you have might be getting taped, and that affects how you speak and act even to those you trust. Whatever it is, this is not freedom.
Her own dancers claiming that Taylor is “untouchable” testifies to the extent of the bubble she lives in. Even those who have close professional ties to her are largely kept away from her, potentially furthering her sense of isolation.
For me the saddest part of the interview was Taylor’s frustration about dating. She says:
"I feel like watching my dating life has become a bit of a national pastime…And I’m just not comfortable providing that kind of entertainment anymore. I don’t like seeing slide shows of guys I’ve apparently dated. I don’t like giving comedians the opportunity to make jokes about me at awards shows. I don’t like it when headlines read ‘Careful, Bro, She’ll Write a Song About You,’ because it trivializes my work. And most of all, I don’t like how all these factors add up to build the pressure so high in a new relationship that it gets snuffed out before it even has a chance to start. And so…I just don’t date."
I hear anger in that quote, and her refusal to date almost feels like a political statement as much as a simple practical reality.
Taylor is someone who can only date other very-famous people, because the practical reality is that only those people can even reach her. But in effect she has become so incredibly famous that even dating ultra-famous people has become nearly impossible. Very few people would want to live in the vortex of the media storm that surrounds Taylor Swift 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She needs to guard against the possibility that a famous guy might want to use her for her fame. And a non-famous guy gets all of the downside of her fame without taking any of the upside. There is something incredibly sad here. I empathize with this predicament, but I am not sure she really wants to hear the solution to it, since it might mean tuning her career down a notch.
So Taylor has retreated to a group of friends who are – like her – famous. Of course you cannot help but observe that famous people often have multiple reasons to be with other even-more-famous people, not the least of which is that it helps to build their own fame. What kind of paranoia does that lead to, when some of your friends may be people who have ulterior motives to want to be around you?
Taylor is a deep and thoughtful woman, but you have to wonder if she is starting to have second thoughts about the life she has built for herself. On one hand, Taylor is a race horse who wants to win the Triple Crown, and every instinct she has commercially is to sell more records, bring in bigger audiences, increase her exposure, and make her brand as massive as possible. But the remedy for her living in a bubble is to make herself less commercial. She is in a Catch 22 between her competitive instinct and her common sense that her life in its current form may not lead to a sustainable happy place. Oh, wouldn’t you love to be Taylor’s friend, helping her to think through such amazing life choices?
In Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken he talks about taking the road less traveled by. After the 1989 album tour ends, will Taylor stay on the road she is on now (i.e., high profile, ultra-famous, at the peak of commercial success), or will she take a road less traveled, lowering her commercial profile and maybe trying to find a more ideal life? I hope she finds happiness with either choice.
"I'll rent a house on the beach or something, bring my girlfriends."