Taylor Swift released her latest album titled Midnights last night to great fanfare. The album sounded a lot like her last few and nothing at all like her work in the era I call “pre-woke” meaning before she took up the progressive political banner. Her awakening as an insufferably uneducated and casually self-righteous liberal activist came at the same time as she changed production teams and musical styles. The events are probably totally unrelated but the eras are clearly defined.
Her new album is of this new era and I hate it. All of my friends of the same age and same political affiliations as me love it. My hatred of the album is not because I wanted to hate it. I wanted to love it, actually. If I hated all art from every mega-lib I would barely have access to any art from film to music to fashion. There was a time when Taylor Swift was the soundtrack to my life just as she was to basically everyone else my age. But not anymore.
It occurred to me today, as I stewed in the melancholy of losing the music I once loved, that there is a parallel here. The self-described miss-Americana really is who she says. As Swift changed, so did America. The first album Swift released post-woke was in 2019 which included “Calm Down” which she intended as a hate anthem to “anti-gay MAGA Republicans” (what an analysis of reality). She subsequently released Evermore and Folklore in 2020 and 2021 and they both sounded indistinguishably breathless and dry and I hated them both. Of course, during this time, America faced a question of its very identity. As the COVID-19 pandemic (manufactured or otherwise) gripped us by the throats I watched as Americans handed liberty over to a tyrannical movement not only with joy but with purpose. Even people I considered allies and who have come back around to be allies today sided with the lockdowns at first. And they didn’t only want them, they wanted them with the pulpy self-righteousness of moral authority. They felt placed on this earth to oppress their neighbors. It wasn’t enough to reluctantly agree, you must also cheer as they locked you up. It was for safety after all. Much like Swift’s music, the country had become one-noted, self-important and fundamentally lacking in spirit.
The 2020 elections which occurred during this time need no further editorial because we all know what they were. And with these events of the last few years, occurring step by step to the disappointment of Swift albums I couldn’t love, I live today in the rubble of my belief systems, understanding what America has become or perhaps, in my darkest moments, suspecting what it has always been.
I miss Taylor Swift. I miss the Taylor Swift of my youth with all the melody, struggle, and emotional connectivity of adolescence. The hallmarks of spirit. I miss being able to put on her newest song and feel it speak immediately to the troubles of my weary little insignificant soul. And I miss America. I miss believing in the greatest country on earth. Believing in liberty. Fighting for it with real enthusiasm. I miss its melody. My belief in the America I loved was so core to who I am it’s as though I am missing myself. It is a coming of age I never could have anticipated.
But there may be hope yet. Taylor Swift’s latest album had a special edition release with bonus tracks. And they were great. All seven of the bonus tracks were better than the base album and two of the tracks I loved outright.
As we approach the first election since my faith was lost, my belief cannot be restored. What was lost in weeks cannot be rebuilt in the results of one voter mandate even if it’s the one I wanted. But there’s something there. There is a glimmer of something like hope.