On Taylor Swift and forgiveness

By Madeline Papcun

Personally, I think we all could learn a lesson or two from Taylor Swift. And this might seem like a ridiculous claim or silly thought, but let me explain. 

I grew up listening to her earlier albums, but moved away from Swift’s music in middle school. Looking back on it, I can figure out that this was probably some form of internalized misogyny — she was “uncool” in that she “only ever wrote about her ex boyfriends” and had started leaning more into the pop genre. I didn’t want to have to defend my music taste to my fellow middle schoolers (arguably one of the cruelest demographics) so I simply stopped mentioning Swift’s name in conversations about music, and eventually stopped listening altogether. 

However, in my sophomore year of college, she rereleased her 2012 album “Red.” I at first listened to it just because I wanted to see if it sounded different, now being rerecorded almost 10 years later. As I listened, I found myself understanding her songs on a different, more mature level. After all, lyrics about a tumultuous relationship tend to resonate more deeply at 19 years old than they do at 9 years old. Nowadays, I’m a full-blown “Swiftie” again. I’ve bonded with friends over her lyrics, even screaming along to her songs with the windows down on the highway, as if starring in my own movie scene.

Apart from just enjoying her music, Swift has always been someone I’ve looked up to, particularly in her philosophies on life and love and how she handles herself in the public eye. This is especially because she began her career in the spotlight as a teenager, and carries herself well for someone still so young. 

As a society, we tend to emphasize forgiving and forgetting, or moving on when someone hurts us. But Swift has explained in interviews and shown in her lyrics that she doesn’t agree with this. She favors an approach of indifference, and this is exactly what I admire about Swift. The fact that she is willing to disagree, especially as a woman in the music industry, is brave. It risks being called “catty” or “jaded” or any other dismissive word that likely would not be used to describe a male musician.

I can see this in her music, in the dichotomy between her 2017 album “Reputation” and her 2019 album “Lover.” In “Reputation,” she is a little spiteful, even with a song titled “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” discussing past betrayals. But in “Lover,” the opening track, “I Forgot That You Existed,” tells a different narrative. She sings, “How many days did I spend thinking about how you did me wrong?” remarking on frustrations she has felt in the past, only to say the solution came through indifference. She sings later, “I forgot that you existed, and I thought that it would kill me but it didn’t,” even going on to describe this “forgetting” by saying, “...and it was so nice, so peaceful and quiet.” 

This dichotomy and change between “Reputation” and “Lover” shows growth and maturation. Swift is not advocating for letting people walk all over you, in fact, quite the opposite. But she also is not advocating for holding hate in your heart. 

I believe this is a really important idea to keep in mind, especially now as a 20-something year old, having experienced disappointments, breakups and betrayals in life that I hadn’t when I was first listening to Swift. Just because something did not work out the way you once wanted it to, or just because someone has hurt you in the past, does not mean that you have to stay angry about it. But you also don’t have to completely forget to move on. You can remember it without letting it be something that keeps you awake at night. And of course this takes time. For example, there’s two years between the release of “Reputation” and the release of “Lover.” A lot of growth can happen in two years — and did, in Swift’s case. 

Essentially, I think we have a great example from Swift on the topic of forgiveness. Neither forgiving nor forgetting are necessary components of getting over something, thus “forgive and forget” is not a universally applicable statement. 

At the end of the day, you need to do what makes you feel best, not what others say you should. Hence, you can follow Swift’s lead if “forgive and forget” isn’t your thing. And to my middle school self, you don’t have to stop listening to one of your favorite artists just because she isn’t “cool.”

Reach Madeline Papcun at mpapcun@record-journal.com.


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