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Teenage Girls are Tastemakers: On Taylor Swift’s Red Rerelease

Taylor Swift: country-turned-pop sensation, America’s sweetheart, diva, man-eater, Kanye West-anti, liar, snake, serial monogamist. For years, Swift has been known for and by her relationships with men and her songs about heartbreak and romance. In light of the re-release of her 2012 album, Red, on 12 November, I think it is high time we recognise the genius of both her songwriting and business sense.

Why, why would anyone choose to rerelease exact copies of their old songs? The answer: justice. Fans made peace with the idea of never listening to Swift’s old albums again after the master recordings of her first six albums were sold to Ithaca Holdings, a big company founded by mogul Scooter Braun. Braun cyberbullies Swift and has supported her known nemesis, Kanye West. For years, Swift had been pleading with the owner of Big Machine, the original owner of her albums, Scott Borchetta, to let her buy back her master recordings, and his sudden sale of them to another big company, and especially one that does not value her as a creator, was an understandable blow to Swift. She announced her quest two months later: to rerelease all of her old albums under her own ownership, with original vocals, so that her fans would not have to feel the guilt of putting money into Ithaca Holdings’ pocket with every listen.

This was an extremely bold business manoeuvre. Accordingly, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) was released this year, and, despite trepidation, the nostalgia that her first Album of the Year-winner provided for the entire millennial generation (as well as the generations that followed) brought many fans back to her base, and made everyone very excited for the other re-releases. The unreleased songs “from the vault” contributed to this, too. Older fans could picture what it would have felt like to listen to these tracks when the original album came out and were transported back to that time in their lives; fans who especially like Swift’s first albums were given new content from that era of her career.

I recently came to the conclusion that my only aversion to Swift’s more recent music (her old albums can be justified by their obvious nostalgic properties) was the reaction of others when someone else mentioned they enjoyed it. Having many peers and friends in the cult of indie rock bands and many who are wont to establish their social status by knowing more obscure bands and artists than others, I wished to avoid the ostensible embarrassment of becoming a full-blown, confessed Swiftie.

After coming to the next conclusion (I make a habit of coming to at least two conclusions a month) that I only disliked her only because it would make my Spotify Wrapped statistics too embarrassing and thus that I was letting the opinions of others influence my music taste, I decided to attempt to make my way through Swift’s entire discography. The idea I am trying to carve out here is that I dismissed Swift because her music is often associated with young girls, and thus gives one the connotation of having poor taste if they confess to enjoying it. So, I was embarrassed to admit to exploring my growing appreciation for Swift’s music due to a fear of receiving the same mockery and disdain as Swift herself and her teenage girl fanbase do.

The fact is, most of the common gripes against Swift are rooted in misogyny. In 2015, the influential music publication Pitchfork declined to review Swift’s then-new album 1989, as it had the rest of her albums at the time. It did, however, review Ryan Adams’, an American country- rock singer, track-by-track cover of the album. This choice highlights how derisively people view her music just because her audience is mostly teenage, and former, girls. Finding myself, a proud feminist, guilty of this shook me and lead me to desire to give her music another chance. And boy, did I uncover a treasure trove.

If you are someone who, like me, enjoys music more lyrically than melodically, you cannot deny Swift’s story-telling abilities and expert use of pathos. There is, in my mind, a perfect Taylor Swift song for everyone. If you do not have one immediately come to mind then it is only because you have yet to find it.

Things today are, admittedly, better for Swift in the world of music publications. Rolling Stone just dropped an updated ranking of all 199 of her songs last month, which is very complimentary of her impact on the music industry as a whole. It names “All Too Well” off of her Red album as her number one song, and I have to agree. Everyone should look out for the formerly unreleased, ten minute version coming out of the vault. Red was the beginning of a new era for Taylor Swift’s music. Before that album, her songs were mostly straight country ballads. In Red, they were still country, but more pop-influenced. 2012 radio was overflowing with the everlasting impact of “22” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” The aforementioned “All Too Well” defined heartbreak songs for generations of girls. Fans can look forward to not only the Red classics coming into the 2020s, but also 11 new “from the vault” tracks, featuring bonus artists such as Phoebe Bridgers, Chris Stapleton, and Ed Sheeran.

The average age of Taylor Swift fans is between 18 and 34 years old, and she has reached number one artist in over 21 countries, as well as having sold 200 million records worldwide. Over half of her fans, though, are female. Women, young women especially, however, have always had era-defining taste. Harry Styles, in a recent interview, bowed graciously to the demographic who gave him his stardom and acknowledged how teenage girls’ tastes have always been seen as superior only in retrospect.

The Beatles are another classic example of this. When Beatlemania (a movement consisting mostly of teenage girls) was at its height, newscasters, parents, and politicians alike were condemning the band. Can you imagine a time when liking the Beatles was uncool? It was back when their main fan base was made up of young women. Now, decades later, we acknowledge their talent. Before the Beatles, there was the female cult of Frank Sinatra, who was put down, too, by adults in the wake of his all-woman fan base. If you want to look even further back for examples, science-fiction writing and Gothic novels were both popularised by women and consequently condemned by men in their society.

All of these mediums and styles which became so prolific because of women’s engagement with them, were later canonised by men as valuable and impressive forms of art and entertainment. Face it: young women created entertainment as we know it today and will continue to do so despite the denigration they receive for any new interest. It would be ahistorical to continue to view Swift as less-than just because her supporters are mostly teenage girls. In ten or twenty years, we could be hailing her as the greatest musician of the early 21st century—I certainly would have no problem affording her that title.

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1 Comment

Excellent, beautifully written analysis.

Doreen J. Crawford

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