Say What You Want About Her, But Taylor Swift's Discography Is Filled With Powerful Survival Anthems For Young Girls

taylor swift
PHOTO: KEVIN MAZUR / GETTY IMAGES

You either love Taylor Swift or you hate Taylor Swift; there is no in between. If you happen to fall into the former group, you've probably been associated with stereotypes in the vein of "basic bitch," a term that's often used to describe young women who value the things others (i.e. men) don't.

I've been a longtime Swiftie — a fan of Taylor's, that is — and I first heard the track “I Did Something Bad” off her latest album reputation on my walk to work on a dreary November morning last year. And as soon as Taylor sang the line, “If a man talks shit, then I owe him nothing,” I was floored. I nearly spilled my iced pumpkin spice latte (I admit I fit a certain stereotype) as I reached into my purse to press replay because it was just so powerful.

I listened to the song three more times before I regained enough sense to go into my office building and kept thinking about it throughout the day. Not only is it a catchy beat paired with some clever lyrics, but — more importantly — it's Swift's declaration that she's no longer taking shit from anyone. It's a proclamation that she's decided to take control of her own narrative, and one that contains some powerful allegories at that — like these few lines about a witch hunt:

"They're burning all the witches, even if you aren't one
They got their pitchforks and proof
Their receipts and reasons
They're burning all the witches, even if you aren't one
So light me up (light me up), light me up (light me up)."

These lyrics shed a much-needed light on Taylor's sense of self and the career she's cultivated for more than a decade. Her message is simple yet compelling: I am still here, and I don't care what you do to me — I will not stay silent. Just like so many other songs in her discography, it's an anthem that seeks to help young girls to survive in a male-dominated world.

From Speak Now to reputation, here's how Taylor has created a legacy of female empowerment for herself and her fans.

“Someday, I’ll be living in a big old city / And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.”

If you were ever bullied in high school, “Mean” was your jam. Off her 2010 album Speak Now (when Swift's music was still considered country), the song drifted slightly from her then-standard themes about gaining and losing love, but still packs a powerful punch.

Taylor reportedly wrote “Mean” after she became the subject of a nasty review by "Lefsetz Letter" blogger Bob Lefsetz"Taylor Swift can't sing," he wrote following her performance at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards. "Did Taylor Swift kill her career overnight? I’ll argue she did."

While one can realistically relate “Mean's" lyrics to just about anything, from being excluded from the "cool table" at lunch to being mocked for having dreams that are considered "too big," one can also argue that it's a statement about womankind's collective, exhausting struggle with the expectation to be "on" all the time in a world that favors men by default. Taylor is letting the listener know that everything will be OK; that they will survive tough times and emerge better than those who criticized you.

"Got a long list of ex-lovers / They'll tell you I'm insane / But I've got a blank space, baby / And I'll write your name."

In 2014, Swift shook up the game (and officially ditched the country genre) with her hit pop album 1989. I personally think it's her best album, with the real crown jewel in an album full of gems coming in the form of Blank Space, a genius satire of the "boy crazy" persona by which she's often described. (Yes, I used the word "genius" in a statement about a Taylor Swift song — fight me.) 

Yes, Taylor dates a lot. Yes, she writes songs about all of her relationships. But for those of you who find much of Taylor's muses tired, I would like to remind you of the world’s oldest writing advice: "Write what you know." She's is an attractive white girl from Pennsylvania; she’s not going to be singing about war-torn countries or gang violence. That’s not her world. Hers is one of relationships, cute guys, and heartbreak — and that’s fine. Singing about those topics doesn't make one less smart, less talented, or even less of a feminist. Let girls like the things they like.

There are other songs on 1989 that embrace the notion that girls should be allowed to have fun, date, and feel good about themselves, including "Shake It Off" ("I stay out too late, got nothing in my brain / That’s what people say") and "New Romantics" (“Baby, I could build a castle / Out of all the bricks they threw at me”). But "Blank Space" is distinct in that it showcases just how self-aware Taylor truly is. She's not only aware of the jokes about her, but she skillfully twists them to her advantage and usurps her haters' power. In doing so, she's teaching young girls that they can weaponize their perceived weaknesses and flaws. And that is an empowering lesson.

"But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time / Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time."

After a period marked by scandal, Taylor took a four-year break from music before changing the dang game with her 2017 album reputation — and if its first single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” isn’t a power anthem, I don’t know what is. 

A brooding, fierce track about rising above hurt and negativity and being done taking crap, the song is a symbol of Taylor's reincarnation as a woman and an artist (something she really hammers home in its music video). She's refusing to settle into a static character, showing girls that it's OK to have range, and to grow and change as a person.

I'll be the first to admit that Taylor is not perfect. She's frequently been accused of being a white feminist, for one thing — criticism that's completely valid. Still, it's it’s impossible to deny the power of Taylor Swift and the impact she's had on so many young women, myself included. She's a gifted singer, songwriter, and businesswoman — one who's not only created an empire, but confidently and successfully taken control of her name and brand over the course of her career. Her music sends an inspiring message to women everywhere: You don't just have to survive; despite the odds against you and backlash you will often face on the path to success, you can thrive

And if she's truly done something bad over the course of her career to make so many people despise her, why does it feel so good to be a Swiftie? 

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