- More reading: Walter Tunis’ take on Taylor Swift.
Reflexively, I knew I really shouldn’t be too interested in this song.
The story of a high school girl longing for her buddy the football star, who is so stereotypically hooked up with the cheerleading captain, shouldn’t have resonance with a 42-year-old dad now trying to convince his own kids that all their school dramas will mean nothing in 10 years.
But Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me comes from such an authentic place, a timeless story that my generation might have seen best articulated by the John Hughes classic Sixteen Candles. What’s more, it has that accelerating chorus — “She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts/ She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers” — and the soaring payoff, “You belong with meeeee-e-e.”
Yes, I had to take Swift seriously.
Of course, there are natural demographic reasons for me to dismiss her, as many do. As a 40-something guy, I am well out of her target demographic. I’m at an age when we’re supposed to look at sweet young things like Swift and think wistfully that they just might amount to something, someday.
But the reasons for rejecting what Swift, who plays a sold-out show at Rupp Arena Thursday, has already amounted to are as shallow as the football star dating the witchy head cheerleader, because that’s what his peers expect him to do.
In a pop culture world where every teen who gets a show on the Disney Channel thinks she’s supposed to be a pop star, Swift, 20, has separated herself from the pack — even her closest peer-competitor, Miley Cyrus.
Most important, she has the songs.
You Belong With Me has been the biggest so far, and I logged it on my list of favorite songs of last year, along with You Never Know by Wilco, a band I’m supposed to like. But most of us were introduced to Swift by Love Story, maybe the best pop song to invoke Romeo and Juliet since Dire Straits’ (another act I’m supposed to like) song named for the star-crossed lovers. Like that classic, Swift’s interpretation of the story comes from an authentic experience of someone her age and disposition. Same goes for 15, a song almost painful to listen to, knowing where it comes from.
In addition to her music, Swift has shown a winning personality, particularly in her Saturday Night Live hosting gig last year. She delivered a deceptively cheery Monologue Song (La La La), in which she mocked a jerky ex-boyfriend who broke up with her on the phone (“Hey. I’m doing OK. Ha-ha-ha.”) and exacted some comic revenge on Kanye West for messing up her MTV Video Music Award acceptance speech (“It’s going to be a great show. Kanye West is not here”).
Maybe what I appreciate most, as a dad, is what we have not been talking about.
No drunken, drug-addled partying in Beverly Hills.
No sex tapes.
No being photographed getting out of her limo with no underwear.
Yes, she’s an attractive young woman, but she hasn’t turned that into her leading commodity.
Thus far, Swift’s fame has been the result of her work and its connection with her audience. Her music might not be to everyone’s tastes, but she has done substantial work.
It might be easy for adults to write off Taylor Swift as just another teen/tween pop sensation. But adults are supposed to be a bit more discerning.