Thursday, 18 October 2012

An Open Letter to Taylor Swift...

Hello Friends.

The weird thing is, I don't think I've listened to the radio in years. I've heard podcasts and all day music channels and other people's iTunes at parties and things, but I can't say I've made a conscious effort to listen to the radio proper. Even in the car, Dr. Jon just uses his small booklet of CDs that he calls Travelling Music, which is cute. Anyway, all of this is to say that I really shouldn't know who Taylor Swift (one of the most frequently played performers on commercial radio) is, but of course I do.

According to Wikipedia, Taylor Swift has sold 22 million records and is the recipient of over 50 million digital downloads. She's won Academy of Country Music Awards, Bilboard Music Awards, Grammy Awards, and induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She's appeared on CSI, as host and musical guest of Saturday Night Live, and on the cover of Vogue. She has released only four albums. This year she will turn just twenty-three years old. She's got a lot going for her, to be sure, but an enormous weight on her shoulders. I can't imagine what kind of pressure she's under, but I do know what it's like to turn twenty-three. I've been doing it myself for almost seven years.

Dream: Get a letter to Taylor Swift.

Goal: Achievable. I used to work in an office building who's seventh floor was taken up by Sony Music Canada. This guy who worked there presented himself to me as a real mover-and-shaker with the company. Every time he'd see me in the lobby or cafe in the building, he'd say, "Hey, James! Wanna get snacks together?" I never occasioned to take him up on his offer, but when I mentioned my desire to contact Taylor Swift, he told me he could get some fan mail directly to her. I was ectastic and handed off my letter, but then was shocked to find out that Taylor Swift wasn't even on the Sony Music label. I wrote my friend an angry note, telling him I had wasted my time.

So he calls me up and he's like, "I misled you" and I'm like, I'm just... This is exhausting, you know, like, we are never getting snacks together. Like ever.

Plan: Post this letter on my blog anyway, and hope she gets it. Here goes.

Dear Taylor Swift,

How are you? Like how are you really? Because I have to tell you, it doesn't sound like you're having a whole lot of fun. Admittedly, I'm not familiar with your entire canon, as it were. I don't know all of your songs, but I know the big hit singles. Now I'm no expert in psychology or relationships, but it sounds like you invest a lot of time and energy into boys who don't treat you very well. Or rather, turns out they don't know to treat you, and you end up hurt. Drag-race, Taylor Swift! But you're a young girl who's only been with young guys and guess what? Young guys don't know shit! You released your first album of heartbreak songs when you were fifteen! You know what I remember about my contemporaries when I was fifteen? Dudes lighting their farts. My point is, you've got to keep things in perspective. Look at all you have! Look at the audience of young, young girls just waiting to hear what you have to say! I'm not saying you shouldn't sing about your crushes and your relationships, but why not a song about how awesome it is to be healthy, happy, and never have to wait in line for a table at Swiss Chalet because they're all, "Right this way, Miss Swift?" Enjoy yourself, because this fame won't last forever, something for which you should be grateful! If your fame lasted forever, what would become of your life?

I know it's not an apt comparison, really, but you make me think of Michael Jackson, and not just because of your girlish laugh and lilly-white skin. You are both obscenely famous, to the point where it must be impossible for you to go to the grocery store, ride a bus somewhere, or puke on the play structure of your elementary school late one night because your friend snuck some wine coolers out of his parents' fridge. As I have only a cursory familiarity with your music, the same is true for me and MJ. I know the singles, I even had a cassette of his once, but I can't say I'm the huge superfan like other people. And yet, since his death, I've been so fascinated by his life in an anthropological sort of way. I definitely have lost many a night to YouTube documentaries about the bizarre, isolated, megalomaniacal style of his final years. Here was a guy so famous for his whole fucking life that he never learned how to really live. There's no doubt that fame translates to power, even if the most powerful people aren't neccesarily famous, but that must mean that there's no one around to tell you no. As in, no, in light of the charge that you molested children, I wouldn't advise that you turn your backyard into a free amusement park. No, I won't administer emergency room calibur sedatives to you every night to help you fall asleep. No, I can't recommend that you bleach your skin and hack your face to such an altered and frightening state that you are virtually unrecognizable from your former self. There's something classically tragic about the Jackson downfall, he's like King Lear with a sequined glove, and I'm sure it's a long way off for you, Taylor Swift. All the same, though, I hope you don't have an ever expanding circle of friends and family in your direct employ. I hope there's no authority figure standing over you demanding that you practice again and again until you get it right because otherwise your family will starve. I hope your support system is truly supportive and that the people closest to you find you every so often and say, "You know you can stop if you want to."

If I could write just one paragraph to you, Swifty, it would be this one. You need to try to wean yourself off of the validation of recognition and awards. I read recently that you were "completely blown away!" by your nominations to something called the MTV Europe Music Awards. "I was jumping up and down and screaming!" you told one publication. Were you? Why? You've won everything, you confound 2012 expectations of the music industry because you are so universally likeable and marketable, you have fragrances and cosmetic contracts and tribute albums and sold out tours, what could be gleaned from another trophy? If it's disingenuous, that's obnoxious, T. If you're not actually psyched to get an MTV Europe Music Award but you lied and said you jumped up and down and screamed, you're not fooling anyone. But if you did jump up and down and scream, that makes me feel sad, new Friend. I want you to jump up and down and scream because your friend got that promotion at work and now she can finally afford to get her own apartment and you can have sleepovers! I want you to jump up and down and scream because Jesse's Girl is playing at the dance and it's absolutely your favourite song right now. Or you find an outfit at a store that fits perfectly and it's on sale! Or you beat your personal best on your morning run by a full minute! Or you beat a longtime rival at chess, finally! Or just as your telling a friend about this new tv show you just started watching, you idly flip channels and find a marathon! Of that show! The one you were just talking about! AAAAAH!!!

I don't know why it's so important that I write you. I don't think you're a bad role model at all, I love how you write your own songs and play guitar and you don't dress trampy. And I hope it's not sexist on my part to want to counsel you over, say, Justin Bieber, who is in roughly the same position in terms of fame and influence. Maybe it's because he will be allowed more indescretions in his personal life than you will because he's a dude. Or maybe because he can sell records with a catchy tune, but you've become known for your songwriting and so must always produce a compelling lyric. Or maybe it's because JB's stock and trade is in swagger, and yours is vulnerability. So often you seem heartbroken over a boy, or giddy over an award, and I want to you to be a strong, kick-ass woman who takes praise, criticism, even a break-up in stride. Be a goddamn rockstar, Taylor Swift, and change the world. You've caught our collective ear. Make us listen.

Your friend,

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