As a kid, I was a die-hard Taylor Swift fan.

I have vivid memories of listening to "Fifteen" while playing Zoo Tycoon. I loved Taylor, all the way up through her "Mean" days. She seemed to stand for outsider girls like me, who like to turn events and feelings into words.

Taylor Swift - Fifteen www.youtube.com

Around the Red era, something changed. I became disinclined towards pop artists in general, but particularly Taylor. I also found it difficult to relate to Taylor as she switched from confessional country to pop songs that spoke about a way of life that seemed glamorous and utterly unattainable. She'd become a cheerleader and the leader of a clique overnight, and I suppose I felt betrayed.

I celebrated as media outlets slammed her for being a white feminist figurehead and later for being apolitical. Before my job was to write thinkpieces for the Internet, I constantly wrote thinkpieces in my head that tore apart Taylor Swift. She seemed like everything I couldn't stand—shallow, a sellout, an emblem of white WASPy hyper-capitalist femininity and victimization, obsessed with relationships and herself, beloved by all. The pieces wrote themselves, really.

Then I wasn't alone. For a while, it was fashionable to hate Taylor Swift. There was the prolonged Kanye West drama, culminating in the legendary controversy concerning Kanye's song "Famous." Here's a brief rundown of what happened: the song contains the lyrics "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, Why? I made that b*tch famous." After Taylor denied approving the lyrics, Kanye insisted that Taylor gave her blessing and Kim Kardashian leaked a phone call revealing that Swift had, indeed, done so.

But thanks to a leaked phone call audio released on March 21, we now know that Kanye did not inform Taylor about the use of the word b*tch. In the new audio, Swift does say that she thinks the first line is funny, and adds, "I'm glad it's not mean though. It doesn't feel mean, but like, oh my God, the build-up you gave it. I thought it was gonna be like that stupid dumb bitch, like, but it's not." There's no mention of the last line. Maybe Taylor wasn't quite the snake we thought she was. (Would it matter either way? Does hyper-focusing on Taylor Swift's word choice solve anything for anyone?)

To be fair, the initial and prolonged blowback against Swift was about a lot more than just one phone call. At least in some circles, Swift became a symbol (of sorts) of white women's compliance in systems of oppression. Her willingness to make herself into a victim while condemning Kanye, many felt, was reminiscent of white women's complicity and evocative of the old narrative wherein fragile white women accused black men of crimes. Certainly this systemic oppression still exists, but Swift became its unwitting face. Her vindication doesn't do anything to change this very real issue of white supremacy and white women's complicity and integral role in it; it simply shows that maybe Taylor Swift wasn't the biggest problem after all.

Swift's history of racial insensitivity or apathy isn't reserved for this one issue. Until she suddenly became politicized (out of public necessity), Swift had been beloved by some members of the alt-right, who called her their "Aryan Queen." She used LGBTQ+ culture when it was convenient and in order to paint herself as a savior. The list of her missteps went on. The presses salivated.

Swift, always an expert at taking the public's temperature, is well-aware of our disdain for her. She's fought it relentlessly for years, but recently she's at last seemed to have given up the ghost of her need to please, and she's come clean about the toll that need has taken. Maybe that's what I was looking for all along: an admission of imperfection. Finally, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Swift said, "I used to be like a golden retriever, just walking up to everybody, like, wagging my tail. 'Sure, yeah, of course! What do you want to know? What do you need?' Now, I guess, I have to be a little bit more like a fox."

rollingstone.com Erik Madigan Heck for Rolling Stone

Asked about all the hate she received, she said, "I wasn't sure exactly what I did that was so wrong. That was really hard for me, because I cannot stand it when people can't take criticism. So I try to self-examine, and even though that's really hard and hurts a lot sometimes, I really try to understand where people are coming from when they don't like me. And I completely get why people wouldn't like me. Because, you know, I've had my insecurities say those things — and things 1,000 times worse."

As I watched Taylor Swift play four songs on the NPR Tiny Desk today, using just a guitar, a piano, and her breathy, shaky voice, I tried to find kernels of that burning hatred that motivated me and so many others to lash out against her for so many years. But I couldn't. The hatred had cooled, or perhaps moved on, like a storm front at last moving out from overhead.

Looking out over the flooded ruins of the industrial complex I and so many others have built out of my Taylor Swift hatred, I began to wonder about the sources of my fierce dislike for this pop star I once loved. I don't like a lot of what she's done and what she stands for, so there's that—but I don't have the same kind of vendetta against, say, Tomi Lahren, who is also Southern and blonde and who has committed far worse sins this week than Swift ever has.

With Swift, and with artists we love who let us down, it's always personal. Certainly, the hatred I feel for Taylor Swift is in no small part rooted in envy—envy that I could never look or be like Taylor Swift, envy that she is lauded as a great songwriter of our times while I am still playing piano in my bedroom, envy that for a long time, she seemed to be oblivious to pain not entangled in her own love affairs.

There's a little bit of internalized misogyny there, which I've noticed in my tendency to immediately write off stars like Camilla Cabello as industry plants while not blinking an eye at her male equivalent, Shawn Mendes. As she says in her song "The Man," it's true that she would probably not have faced as much hatred were she a male. This doesn't discount the fact that Swift comes from whiteness and wealth, and as another white woman from an upper-middle-class background, I realize that Taylor Swift and I are not all that different, and before I come for her, I need to interrogate myself and my own complicity.

Like all vitriol channeled at one person instead of larger issues, Taylor Swift hatred (like cancel culture on the whole) is a cheap and simplistic way to blame a single person for much larger and systemic problems with equally systemic solutions. That's why it can all come crumbling down so quickly, when a single phone call audio gets leaked.

This isn't to say that Taylor Swift is entitled to anyone's love or time. I, for one, still don't entirely understand the reason that people seem to worship the lyrics of "All Too Well," which to me is a relentlessly average, cookie-cutter pop song. I do think she gave a good performance on the Tiny Desk, although arguably many others deserved the slot.

Taylor Swift- All Too Well Lyrics www.youtube.com

We are all entitled to dislike who we wish to dislike. We are, in general, entitled to our preferences and emotions. But the kind of rage that Taylor Swift has ignited for so long within us—that so many pop stars and figureheads and ditzy celebrities ignite within us—shouldn't cloud over the deeper realities of the world that shapes them and that profits off our obsession with them, be it negative or positive.

Lately, that rage often swirls around an artist's political acuity or lack thereof. But must all artists be activists? I believe that someone like Taylor Swift, who can afford hundreds of PR people (at least one of whom might be bothered to be responsible for her political and social presence), does have certain responsibilities. Still, this exists on a spectrum, and while everyone should hold a basic respect for others' human rights, I don't think we can say that artists must always be radical activists, especially if we are not activists ourselves.

Maybe our tendency to lash out and blame one person for an entire issue is indicative of the Internet's tendency to polarize and ignore the forces that conspire to create each person, which stems from our desire to find quick fixes to unanswerable and ongoing issues. No one exists in a vacuum. Trump did not create racism—this is sewn into the fabric of America. Contrary to popular belief, Taylor Swift did not create white feminism—that was built into the origins of the women's movement.

So today, Taylor Swift wins. Today I am releasing my Taylor Swift hatred. Surrendering it, as Marianne Williamson would say. There's too much else going on to expend more energy on her. If this is it, to quote another artist whom I've spent an excessive amount of time defending, I'm signing off. The 45 minutes I spent writing this piece will be the last minutes I spend griping about Taylor Swift, and that's a promise. Until next time.

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MUSIC

Taylor Swift Soars in “Lover’s” Exploration of Complex Love

Swift finds her state of grace on Lover's more personal, sincere, and quiet tracks.

When people think of Taylor Swift, they think of break-up anthems, heart-shattering love songs, and her ability to write and produce earworm singles.

Over the past six years, from 1989 to Reputation to Lover, the brash production of her pop-perfection has overshadowed Swift's more subtle talents. But on Lover, long-time listeners can forge a connection to the woman they've grown up with, as Swift turns to quiet reflections to grapple with loss and the trials of love.

Admittedly, throughout the first half of the album, Swift feels removed, regurgitating the same spew she's offered fans for the past six years. The songs give little insight into her life (besides the intimate title track, "Lover"). At the very least, Lover's opening song, "I Forgot That You Existed," immediately pivots away from the resentment of Reputation and moves towards acceptance: "It isn't love / It isn't hate / It's just indifference." Frankly, the tedious lyricism is disappointing.

It feels like the further you delve into the album, the further you are from being connected to Swift. "Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince" is the most reductive track. It's a retreat back to adolescence, but the song sounds even less mature than her work as a teenager, as it's missing the vibrant and visceral emotion of her earlier work. Upon second listen, it's apparent that she's alluding to her past reluctance to address politics, but for the average listener, it fails to achieve its intent. (And anyway, it's a cop-out for her to merely allude to her political silence rather than fully explain her rationale).

Thankfully, Swift is able to make the necessary heel turn to a more personal and quiet style midway through the album. Of course, there are still interjections of certified pop-pandering hits, like "You Need to Calm Down" and "ME!," but you're better off skipping those. The album's midsection, from "Cornelia Street" to "False God," is almost heavenly. The tracks expose another side of Swift: sweet, mature, introspective, and at her most sincere since Red. For once, she shows a few signs of genuine growing pains.

"Soon You'll Get Better" is her most personal track on the album. Swift always does her best work in the midst of heartbreak, and "Soon You'll Get Better" twists hearts into knots, as Swift softly sings about the stress of having a sick loved one. The track is about her mother, Andrea, who was diagnosed with cancer back in 2015 and went into remission before the cancer recently recurred. The lyrics leave the star emotionally exposed: "And I hate to make this all about me / But who am I supposed to talk to? / What am I supposed to do? / If there's no you."

From introspections like "Desperate people find faith / so now I pray to Jesus, too," Swift moves to "False God's" declaration that "the altar is my hips." The transition is almost seamless, exploring how different relationships evolve, sometimes with beauty and sometimes with heart-rending tragedy. "False God's" slow-burn beat and her captivating delivery are soul-stirring.

If "Soon You'll Get Better" shatters your stone cold, glass heart, then "It's Nice to Have a Friend" succeeds in gluing the shards back together. The evocative imagery tells a story of strangers becoming friends, friends becoming lovers, and lovers becoming partners. The echoing vocals hover around the chorus, encompassing the listener; it's cinematic.

On her seventh studio album, Swift sheds her old skin of pettiness and resentment. Altogether, the album matures from "I Forgot You Existed's" indifference to "Daylight's" focus on love and sun rises, as she quietly concludes, "You are what you love." For the first time since Red, Swift mixes genres and plays to her voice's strengths to say exactly what she has to say. She could have written this album back on her bedroom floor, all alone, and we'd believe it. Lover may have its ups and downs, but its midsection proves why Swift doesn't need to retreat back to country music—those brief but poignant songs create moments when the album is glorious.

Listen to the epic album here: