I was fifteen when Taylor Swift’s Fifteen came out.
None of my friends knew a redhead named Abigail or was dating a boy on the football team, but that song was everywhere. And I hated it.
It’s funny how we have such strong opinions about celebrities who have no idea who we are, but Taylor Swift was really living in my mind rent-free. When Teardrops On My Guitar was famous, I groaned at how this girl wrote a song about this random Drew who kept looking at her. Everyone obsessed about the You Belong With Me video and I scoffed when Taylor and Lucas Till (the mid-2000s Noah Centineo) talked while holding up notes through their bedroom windows.
My 15-year-old-self insisted that I was too cool for Taylor Swift. In my mind, I was “edgy.” Excuse me, I don’t listen to You Belong With Me, I listen to Patron Tequila by Paradiso Girls featuring Lil Jon. That song choice alone should have signaled my extremely flawed “cool” radar.
I brought this same energy to another phenomenon happening at that time. A shameful secret of mine (well, not so shameful now with how problematic J.K. Rowling turned out to be), is that I became obsessed with the Twilight series before I joined the Harry Potter fandom. When I first noticed the book with the pale hands cradling an apple on a bookstore display, I grabbed a copy, sat down, and almost finished reading Twilight in the middle of the bookstore shelves. Later on, I even made the bold claim to my sister that Eclipse was better than any Harry Potter book.
Things changed for me when the movie came out. Everyone became obsessed with it, and with the obsession, came the mocking. TV shows were parodying teenage girls who were arguing over who’s Team Edward or Team Jacob (still a firm #TeamEdward, btw). Guys at Comic Con blamed Twilight for ruining the whole convention when the cast made a panel appearance. To this day, there are people who think Twilight forever scarred the whole vampire literary nomenclature by painting them as pretty sparkly Robert Pattinsons. Hearing all of this made me immediately reject my Twi-hard tendencies. I’d still watch the movies, but it was because I was forced to go with my friends. I’d still check the Stephenie Meyer website, but it was because I was making fun of the “obsessed fangirls.”
Looking back at my teenage self, I guess a hidden fear of mine was being seen as an obsessed fangirl. Books for teen girls were not “real” books, songs teen girls loved were not “real” songs — and I wanted to be real. Yet, despite all the Twilight ridicule, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many young girls read the same book all at once. During a C.L.E. class, I distinctly remember one of my classmates tucking a Twilight book inside her bible. Even those who’ve never gone through a book managed to finish the novel in a day. It’s ironic how we don’t consider books like Twilight legit literature when these were the books that made so many young people fall in love with reading.
With regards to Taylor Swift, she and I reached an understanding back in 2012. It was my freshman year in college and my sister, a devoted (former) Swiftie, insisted on playing her new album “Red” in the car. All Too Well came on and it was the first time I shed my judgment and actually listened. Scratch that, you don’t just listen to All Too Well — you feel it. I didn’t care how long her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal was. I, too, felt like he broke me like a promise so casually cruel in the name of being honest.
“Red” made me curious about Taylor Swift’s past discography. All the songs I used to ridicule were suddenly lyrics that expressed all the emotions I once felt and was still feeling. Months later, when I experienced my first break-up, nothing felt more cathartic than belting out Forever & Always in the shower. And yes, I did shed a tear when Fifteen came on afterwards. No one feels things as deeply or as purely as a teenage girl, and Taylor Swift was a master at putting those feelings into words.
There’s this scene in the movie Lady Bird where Saoirse Ronan’s character is in the car with the cool pretentious pretty-boy Kyle who’s decidedly over going to their prom. Saoirse goes along with it until one of her favorite songs, the iconic Crash Into Me by Dave Matthews Band comes on. Kyle says he effing hates the song, to which Lady Bird quietly replies, “I love it.” There were so many times in high school that I wish I’d stood up to the Kyles in my head, admitted I loved the cheesy “girly” song, and accepted that I did, in fact, enjoy things like prom.
It’s funny how it took maturity for me to openly embrace things I loved or would’ve loved as a teenager. For someone who used to mock songs about 15-year-old girls’ love lives, I now spend most of my free time writing YA stories with characters in high school falling in love. Recently, I’ve found that the moments where I allow myself to feel things most intensely — dancing to that top 40 song I know all the lyrics to, bursting into tears from a sudden bout of loneliness — those are the moments I feel most real. I’ve still had a love-hate relationship with Taylor over the past few years for multiple reasons, but when I heard betty from her latest “folklore” album, I again marveled at how she still perfectly captures those exhilarating and sometimes heartbreaking feelings of being a wide-eyed teenager. Maybe I’m making up for lost time, but from now on, I’m hoping the obsessed fangirl in me never dies.
Banner art by Bri Guingona