Op-ed: Taylor Swift is leading a new golden age of music

Jethro R. Lee, contributor

“I’m doing good, I’m on some new s***…”

Those were the first lyrics I heard when I became a dedicated fan of Taylor Swift. I had been a casual listener throughout my life until Swift surprise-released her album folklore in 2020 while we were cooped up in our homes during the pandemic. Swift is not your average songwriter. The lyrics she crafts come together in compelling ways that enrich her stories with vivid underlying themes. Some of her lyrics, especially her bridges, run through my head to provide me with a boost of mental energy to get me through the day. Swift’s lyricism is so impressive that I honestly think she could be an esteemed poet if music did not already consume so much of her life. Listening to folklore in 2020 made me realize that Swift is much more than a white girl with blonde hair singing about her fractured relationships. She is a lyrical genius. She is a storyteller. One might even say she is a mastermind. Swift has been blessing her fans by releasing an endless stream of music from 2020 to today. The immense number of tunes Swift has released in the past few years has initiated a new age in music. As a music minor reflecting on how much work Swift has done in the past few years, my expectations for artists have soared.

The numbers say it all. Six days after the Oct. 21 release of her new album Midnights, it became the third-most-streamed album ever. She also became the first artist ever to occupy all top 10 spots of the Billboard Hot 100. She’s the female artist with the most top-10 hits in the charts ever and the only artist to have five albums selling over 1 million copies in one week. 

Seeing the number of records Swift has broken with Midnights is so bewildering. It feels like I’m in a wonderland living in an era with a singer as revolutionary as her. Acknowledging the number of records she has broken throughout her career is enchanting. These are just a fraction of all the records Swift has broken in the music industry, which is a testament to the amount of effort Swift puts into her work. These statistics emphasize the sheer number of hearts Swift has touched with her music.

The fact that her music resonates with so many people shows how music is a unifying force drawing people closer together. Whether she gets Swifties to collectively push for a “Cruel Summer” music video or make wild theories about Swift’s future work by hunting and obsessing over her easter eggs, she has amassed a loyal fan base. Even I, a classical music enthusiast, am drawn in by the tales brought to life in Swift’s songs. Swift’s success is transformative, building bridges between individuals who can find something about her work that causes sparks to fly within.

Many artists have broken astounding records throughout their careers, but Swift’s unique accomplishments highlight how much creativity she exhibits in her works. Her album Red (Taylor’s Version), which was released Nov. 12, 2021, included a 10 minute version of one of her hits, “All Too Well.” The newer version thoroughly recounts the hardships Swift encountered in a past relationship. In the song, she uses the metaphor of a red scarf to symbolize the nature of her relationship, discusses her experience with her ex-boyfriend’s family, reflects on warning signs embedded in the relationship and even acknowledges that the relationship she had with her ex-boyfriend was genuine despite the deep heartbreak. She even wrote and directed a short film to provide a visual depiction of the emotions incorporated within the song to help make its story less cryptic for a casual listener. Furthermore, after her masters at Big Machine Records were sold in 2019 to music manager Scooter Braun in a $300 million deal, she used her frustration to motivate herself to re-record the music she lost and reclaim it as her own. In those re-recordings, she included various “from the vault” tracks, ones previously written or recorded while preparing an album that were ultimately not included. This strategy makes the newer versions of Swift’s albums worth extra attention. Swift could have just re-released her albums with the songs they originally contained, but since she can decide what songs to release without Big Machine Records’ restrictions, she can gift her fans with a taste of stories from the past that can finally breathe in the present. 

Swift is truly passionate about composing songs, especially considering the sheer number of albums that she has released in the past few years (Lover in 2019, folklore and evermore in 2020, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version) in 2021 and Midnights). As a bonus, she has displayed impressive flexibility with the genres she has mastered, from country to pop to everything in between. Her passion for music is why I am so drawn to her work: she puts so much thought and care into getting in touch with her emotions and describing what she feels through lyrics. Swift’s work feels relatable because she instills so much humanity in her compositions. Anyone can take the perspective of the songs’ narrators and nourish the ways the songs relate to stories of our own lives. Swift’s songs do not just tell her own tales. They are templates for us to spiritually connect with and reshape based on our own lives. Swift emphasized on social media that she felt compelled to engage in the re-recording process because “artists should own their own work for so many reasons, but the most screamingly obvious one is that the artist is the only one who really [knows] that body of work.” This sense of purpose provides Swift with a clear direction of how to make her hits meaningful and consequently so gorgeous.

For those who aren’t fans of Swift’s songs, you can at least acknowledge the amount of success she has acquired and that she rightfully deserves it. Don’t spread hate comments about a woman who is willing to be vulnerable about her life through the power of music. Swift’s career is characterized by amazing work that has filled blank spaces in many of our delicate hearts. People like me use Swift’s songs as a way to both heal our pain and celebrate our victories. Please don’t ridicule us for adoring someone who has helped us have a more fulfilling life. Because if you do, then you need to calm down. 

Jethro R. Lee is a second-year data science and psychology combined major. He can be reached at [email protected].