In the song “mirrorball” Taylor Alison Swift sings, “I want you to know / I’m a mirrorball / I’ll show you every version of yourself tonight.” Peering up at the ceiling inside Leonidas Cafe Chocolaterie in Evanston, Illinois, I noticed a disco ball hanging high above my head. “She wasn’t kidding,” I thought to myself, before putting down my fork and knife. No longer interested in indulging in the végétarienne crepe I ordered, I realized I was hungry for something more. I pushed my plate aside and penned the following:
What is it about Taylor Swift that can mobilize millions of human beings to go to such great lengths to watch her performances? What is it about her that could move so many people to masquerade as her, dressed in costumes reminiscent of her past eras? And perhaps, most importantly, how does she reflect aspects of ourselves that are yearning to be released from glass cages? Aspects, or shards of ourselves, we’d like to piece back together?
Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do,” performed live at Raymond James Stadium, on April 15, 2023.
These were the questions I grappled with in early August, as I reflected on the closing of the first leg of Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour, where Taylor announced the rerecording of her fifth studio album, 1989. Having anticipated the rumored announcement, I stayed up late to watch the livestream. While doing so, I analyzed the potential meanings and metaphors instilled in the tour visuals, lyrics, and song choices. Furthermore, I reflected on my participation as an audience member during her April 15th show in Tampa Bay, Florida. Today’s date is Friday, October 13th. As I gear up to see TAYLOR SWIFT | THE ERAS TOUR Concert Film on opening weekend at my local AMC theater, I find myself asking those same questions. Having prepared another Swift-inspired outfit, I wonder what eras I will see emulated in the fashion choices of movie-goers this evening.
Friday the 13th is a day associated with horror, bad luck, and superstition. A day riddled with connotations of broken mirrors, black cats, masked monsters, and ladders too dangerous to pass through. The imagery associated with Friday the 13th thereby evokes this feeling of being engaged in an avoidant trapeze act of sorts, wherein we must live in a constant state of fear. When we contextualize Taylor Swift’s life and work within what we can gather about her character, however, another story is told. Taylor Swift reflects to her fans this notion that it is possible to face their demons head on, rise up from the dead (Alexa, play “Look What You Made Me Do”), take control of their narratives, and reinvent themselves, time and time again.
Consider, even now, Swift’s decision to bypass potential deals with Hollywood Studios, approach SAG-AFTRA to negotiate an interim agreement during the strikes, and cut a deal directly with AMC. Was that decision made to ensure that the film would play in theaters alongside the continuation of her tour? Or, was it a decision informed by the desire to stand with other writers and performers also fighting to obtain fair compensation for their intellectual and artistic property? Perhaps it was a decision made to ensure that her fans, who were unable to score concert tickets due to the Ticketmaster fiasco, would have the chance to experience the show co-currently. Is Taylor Swift using her art and positionality to fight the system from within? That is what I’d like to believe.
In “Midnight Rain,” Swift sings:
I guess sometimes we all get
Just what we wanted, just what we wanted
And he never thinks of me
Except when I’m on TV
Before I continue, I would like to state that this is an inquiry into an upcoming film I have yet to see. When we imagine Taylor as a character on screen (which we must, seeing as we don’t know her, not really), something different happens.
What is the difference between the relationship we may have with Taylor Swift (as a character) versus any other performer we may see playing a role on stage? Is there one? Is there not? How, and why, do we identify so heavily with these characters? When we speak of someone’s character, what are we actually saying? What roles do we play, what narratives do we identify with, and why?
In “Anti-Hero,” Swift proclaims:
It’s me, hi (hi), I’m the problem, it’s me (I’m the problem, it’s me)
At tea (tea) time (time), everybody agrees (everybody agrees)
I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror
It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero
How many metaphorical mirrors have we broken throughout our lives? How has doing so, perhaps, altered how we see ourselves? What happens when we choose to reject the projections that have been placed upon us, and instead, take control of our own narratives? What does that decision actually look like? When the mirror is taken away, how do people see themselves? When, and for how long, do we gaze in the mirror? And, at what point, do we turn our heads to the sun and continue to move forward?
An act of reclamation in its own right, 1989 (Taylor’s Version) will be available to listeners in just a few short weeks. On October 27th, days before Halloween. Will we be seeing more Swift-inspired costumes? If I had to take a guess, I’d say yes. I suppose only time will tell.
The author invites you to ask yourself: What “Taylor Swift” era are you in and why? What are your thoughts, and what is your “costume” choice?
Today’s date is October 18, 2023. While this piece was originally published online on Friday the 13th, I recognize the timeliness of it, which led me here.
Perplexed by the question of time and tense, I walked to Charmer’s Café in Rogers Park for coffee and further contemplation. With headphones in, I listened to “Invisible String,” with many pauses, rewinds, and retracing of steps. “The 1,” came second.
How do we, perhaps, create our own footnotes?
How do we revise, edit, alter, or amend our narratives across space and time?