Sometimes it scares me to think that Taylor Swift is only three years older than I am. She’s a seven time Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter with multiple albums under her belt and I am a third year English Literature undergraduate with no idea what I’m studying most of the time.
But still I waited with anticipation for her new album 1989 to fall into my lap in all its digital album glory. Somehow, I knew the album would show me my anthems again. Back in August, I ate, breathed, and lived Shake it Off, because I needed to shake some things off. A few weeks ago, hoping that it will give me some form of an answer, I put Out of the Woods on repeat when it was ready for download and sang loudly to myself, over and over again, “Areweoutofthewoodsyet? Areweintheclearyet?”
I even bobbed along to Welcome to New York once I got used to the beat, though I am first to admit that it is the track I skip now that I have the entire deluxe album to sink my teeth and eardrums into.
Once upon a time, my sister was a bigger Swiftie than I was. She scribbled Taylor’s name onto pieces of paper to put up on her wall, and she played all her songs on the guitar which I had given up on learning to play. Then Red came and went and I found myself singing her songs and clutching to them like they were lifeboats to save me from the deep dark ocean.
They were floats and I clung on to them and I hung on tight because I didn’t know where to go and I didn’t know how to swim when my feet couldn’t touch the ground. Suddenly I understood Taylor’s appeal: though her heartbreak was put on display for the world to tear apart and to dissect, they were also anthems, and they were anthems her fans sung along with her. I sung along too, so many times that I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve repeated I Knew You Were Trouble or All Too Well.
Above her new album’s Foreword, there is a tiny scribble that says,
“These songs were once about my life. Now they are about yours.”
It’s a sentiment that echoes that of John Green saying that his books “belong to their readers now, which is a great thing–because the books are more powerful in the hands of my readers than they could ever be in my hands” or, to throw in a literary reference, how Roland Barthes’ famous essay “The Death of the Author” talks about how the “birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author”.
Okay, maybe that last one is a bit of a stretch, but what Taylor wrote about her songs telling stories of “your” life doesn’t just apply to the songs of 1989, they apply to her older songs — to Tim Mcgraw or You Belong With Me — because truth be told, her songs have been the anthems of heartbreak, love, and the anticipation of falling in love for years now.
These anthems have carried me through my heartaches and heartbreaks like no other songs have. Because now these songs belong to me. So maybe your personal Taylor Swift is different from mine, but I know that there must have been songs you have repeated furiously under your breath when you were in anguish in a bid to feel just a little better. They might not be Taylor’s songs, but they were your anthems, and they were what you held on to when darkness threatened to engulf you.
One of my favourite writers, Hannah Brencher, wrote recently in one of her Dear Monday emails, “You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat.” And yes, I completely agree. You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat. You can do more, you can be more, yes, you definitely shouldn’t be held back by those lies you tell yourself.
Because, like Hannah wrote, “the point of this lifetime is not to look at other people and wonder why they got what you wanted”.
So maybe I shouldn’t be scared that Taylor Swift is only three years older than I am. I might not think it’s true sometimes, but I am still so full of potential, bursting at the seams with words I have yet to pen down, words that I’m afraid of writing or words I think I’m incapable of writing. I don’t have to be terrified that I’m never going to realise my dreams because I will get there if I take steady steps toward them. Just like how I picked up the guitar just a few days ago, an instrument I’d become afraid of failing at after I had tried to learn it at 14, and found that it wasn’t so scary anymore — in fact, it was easily overcome.
See, these songs — no, these anthems — you put on repeat?
They tell you what exactly you are more than — they reveal parts of yourself you’d rather keep hidden, and they give you hope and strength to work through them.
They let you shake it off when the “liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world” get you down. They let you ask, your soft, shaky voice echoing in the dense woods, if you’re “in the clear yet”, if it’s safe yet, if you know for sure that this time, love, or at least, the promise of it, won’t let you down. They let you declare, after that promise of someone staying has fallen through, proudly and clearly, “People like me are gone forever when you say goodbye”. Then they let you build castles “out of all the bricks they threw” at you because you know you can rise out of the dust.
They are anthems because they help you work out your tangles, all the while reminding you what you have known all along: you’re not alone. You’re never alone. After all, “heartbreak is the national anthem“. We not only sing it “proudly”, we wear it on our sleeves. We plaster it on our walls, we hang it on our doors. We hope and we hope and we hope, with the soundtrack of our lives playing on our phones and in our heads.
And with our anthems, the ones we repeat to ourselves and sing to others, we search for a way to be found.
To Fridays is a weekly column that hopes to be able to give you all the encouragement and love in the world. #tofridaysvp