TONIGHT: Taylor Swift to pluck our heartstrings a second time
He doesn’t put it that way of course. He goes at if from a backdoor approach. “Have you listened to that tune “Picture to Burn?” he says. “Her boyfriend breaks up with her for another girl, so she trashes his house. And she’s a kid.”
This is true. As with Avril Lavigne, the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain before her, Swift has learned early in her career that you can’t go wrong with a female audience by laying the boots, metaphorically speaking, to the guy you love or loved.
The difference is, they were adults. She wasn’t.
In the song in question, Swift, who plays Rexall Place on Thursday and Friday night at 7 p.m., is the romantic obsessive, and fantasizes about destroying her boyfriend’s house. Let’s face it — it’s a part of every girl and every young woman’s life to at some point hate the schmuck who didn’t love her enough or whom she loved too much.
The father in question is a good guy, with his head straight in life, a thoughtful man when it comes to things like the influence of popular music among children. And he notes that it seems the majority of Swift’s enormous audience — she ranked 7th on Forbes Magazines 2011 entertainment power list — is made of teenage girls at the most impressionable age.
It’s true: until Swift, try to think of a single female recording artist who sang about those dramatic emotional themes, yet appealed largely to 13- and 14-year-olds. The closest you’d get might be Gwen Stefani and Madonna — but they were in their 20s and singing about young adulthood. Swift hit it big as a 16-year-old, singing with all the emotional maturity that would propose.
In fact, “Picture to Burn” is the more the exception than the rule. Much more of Swift’s work seems to be in the vein of “Love Story”, her single and video that played on the Romeo and Juliet theme of star-cross’d lovers.
The difference in Swift’s version?
It has a happy ending.
“I feel like they had such promise and they were so crazy for each other. And if that had just gone a little bit differently, it could have been the best love story ever told. And it is one of the best love stories ever told, but it’s a tragedy,” she told media.
No mistaken double suicides, here. It’s the perspective of someone young and optimistic, whose best days are yet to come. Listen to a song like “You’re not sorry,” with lyrics about a boy so non-specifically unhappy, so purely emotional and utterly non-analytical, and it’s obvious this is a person whose scars have been pretty milquetoast, whose burdens are….well, normal.
Ultimately, kids love Taylor Swift — and a fair swath of older women, too — because she sings about emotional frailty….but without vastly brutal consequences, as is typically the case in real life. Most bad relationships hurt us; they very rarely kill us. And in more than a few cultural traditions, that makes us stronger.
I suspect that to my friend the dad, who is already inclined to examine the impact of art on real life and worries about his own daughters, it’s that sunny approach he ultimately sees as dangerous, a naive position that underestimates the weighty emotional challenges girls often face as they continue to age — because they probably WON’T have $70-million by the time they’re 20, and their choice of Jonas Brother.
But is it really so bad? To suggest a kid who was picked on and bullied in grade school for being awkward might blossom into a swan, via story telling, songwriting and poetry?
It doesn’t mean her young fans are all so naive — or unschooled by their own parents — to think fame is easy or that beauty and social status are just out there waiting for them.
Young girls love Taylor Swift because they relate, not to her superstar life, but to who she used to be: them. They relate to the predicaments in her song — and they’re hopeful for the happy ending. Taylor Swift sings songs about being a girl.
It’s the same sense of teen angst about the uncertainty of life and the future that makes them want to date Vampires who can offer them immortal love and tough guy security simultaneously. They’ll never be as genetically perfect as Taylor Swift, and they’ll never meet an endless love, but they sure enjoy the mutual perception of it for a bit, creating a little fandom community, all while dancing, pumping up the old endorphins.
No one’s ever going to confuse it with profundity — but that’s not really her point….right?