I’ve spent most of this morning texting my friends in all caps “NEW TAYLOR SWIFT ALBUM” followed by a long string of exclamation points. In case those following along at home were not aware, this morning Taylor Swift announced a new, surprise 16-track album to be released in less than 24 hours. Like many millennials, I, too, grew up listening to Taylor Swift, getting her CDs for Christmas, and watching her music videos on my family’s desktop computer. I was never a “Swiftie” but I never was a hater, either. So every time that Taylor has announced a new album, I have gotten excited, sometimes more excited than I even thought I should be. Was it cool to like Taylor Swift this much? Most people might say no, but then again, does it really matter?
As Taylor Swift announced her new album, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of excitement, but also something else: gratitude. Sure, Taylor Swift is a genius businesswoman, and I have no doubt will profit greatly from her new album release. But I feel grateful even so, even if that sentiment sounds trite. I’ve always thought of music as a powerful force—sometimes for good, and other times, bad. But as its best, music invites discussion, facilitates connection, provides an epiphany, fosters empathy, or stirs up memories of other times that music brought us together.
During this pandemic, I have gotten great joy in connecting with friends over the music we’re listening to. I feel immensely grateful for how it has done that in my past, and how music continues to do that now, during a time when so many of us feel disconnected.
I think of…
My friend Ryan, who sent me a ton of links to amazing Americana and bluegrass music during the early and lowest days of the pandemic. We texted tracks back and forth, marveling at the musical mastery and the enjoyment we got in the whimsical lyrics and tattoo-clad characters singing them out.
I think of my friend Ashley White, who sent me a record of a favorite artist of mine named Kevin Garrett in April. On Friday nights, I’ve been listening to a record on my new turntable, and Kevin’s smooth vocals are an impressive sound to take in.
I think of my friend Nate, who I always can count on for commentary on the latest Sufjan track. Getting to discuss music with Nate is always interesting, and I appreciate the opportunity to share in memories of past musical experiences and respond to new ones with those stories providing context to our conversation.
To some, getting THIS excited about new music from pop star Taylor Swift may feel very silly. But to me, the sounds of the banjo, the guitar, the piano, the synth, are an interesting and often joyful distraction during a time when sometimes a distraction is not a bad thing, but a helpful thing.
A few months back, I wrote a post called “For Artists: Letters in Pandemic.” In it I wrote words for moments like these.
“I do not think [art and music are an] escape, but rather moments where creation comes back to its original design—beautiful, peaceful, true. A balm in the chaos, a calm, a reminder of the past and a foreshadowing of what is to come. A small redemption. It sounds a bit melodramatic to say that a handtowel or a banjo could be redemptive, but then I remember that the Creator is a unique communicator, delivering messages by way of talking donkeys, in a quiet whispering voice, in a pillar of fire, in mud mixed with spit—in the concrete, the every day.
The work [artists] do help us connect with others, foster empathy, build memories even while we are apart. And sometimes, when our brains are propelled out of our self-centeredness, they help us remember the Maker—the one who makes all good things, who will come again to restore creation to its original design. Until then, I will listen closely and look carefully—the sounds and signs are already here, glimmers of hope, signposts pointing towards a restored land.”
* * *
On a rainy Thursday summer morning when most news on my Twitter feed is bad, I am celebrating new Taylor Swift. Maybe my cool factor just went down for you – how could I like TAYLOR SWIFT?! If that’s the case, I’m not sorry, and I’m not cool. Didn’t you figure that out by now? 😉 I am celebrating Taylor Swift’s new surprise album because it feels like a small act of hope to text friends in all caps about an artist we’ve listened to since we were 13. To some, we may sound silly. Maybe we are. But I don’t know about you, but sometimes silliness, laughter, an exuberant conversation, a moment to engage with something fresh and new, is just what I need these days.
I’m excited about the new Taylor Swift album, and I don’t care who knows it.