taylor-swift-seven-folklore

Photo: Beth Garrabrant / Courtesy of Republic Records

Taylor Swift’s “seven” Marks the End of Innocence

Taylor Swift’s childhood has frequently acted as the rare domain that can neither be snatched by tabloids nor staked out by fans, but “seven” presents a narrative of innocence dragged out of a child by abuse.

folklore
Taylor Swift
Republic
24 July 2020

Additionally, a similar argument can be gleaned from “Safe and Sound” (2011). The folk ballad, co-written and featuring the since-disbanded The Civil Wars for The Hunger Games (2012), was described by Swift as a “death lullaby“. The lyrics depict a world where “everything’s on fire / The war outside our door keeps raging on” yet promises “Just close your eyes, the sun is going down / You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now / Come morning light, you and I’ll be safe and sound”.

Despite the reassurance Swift will never let the addressee go (it seems that it’s someone whom she had guardianship over, given the maternal tone of the lyrics), it’s obviously a comfort mechanism employed to make the addressee’s passing easier. The sentiment for this song was distilled from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, who feels protective towards her younger sister and fellow participants, Rue and Peeta. This protectiveness is further embodied by Swift’s plea, “Hold on to this lullaby even when the music’s gone”. Both “Ronan” and “Safe and Sound” reflect on the end of innocence for a child with the knowledge that their life can be snatched away by a harsh world. Yet the narrator’s knowledge rests on experience and age, far from the realm of understanding for the child.

On ” cardigan”, Swift mocks the assessment that youth equates to ignorance, remarking “when you are young, they assume you know nothing”. The perception that young people don’t “understand” is one Swift has spent her entire career combating through the release of her confessional ruminations on young love and teenage angst, in addition to her well-documented appreciation for her young fans. Fittingly, the notion that age dictates neither competence nor emotional validation is a point that rears its head throughout folklore: the snapping at the presumably older lover in “illicit affairs” whom Swift demands not call her “kid” or “baby”, and used again, albeit in an alternate sense, in the character of James’ desperate apology for his unfaithfulness to the eponymous “betty”, “I’m only seventeen, I don’t know anything / But I know I miss you”.

Youth is frequently seized upon by hostile parties as a rationalization for invalidating an individual’s emotional experience. What Swift’s catalog, especially her latest release, demonstrates is that lacking some knowledge does not preclude an individual from having a valid emotional response, or that any knowledge said individual does have is consequently worthless. folklore scoffs at the idea of dismissing emotions. “I knew everything when I was young” she shoots back at the tail-end of “cardigan”.

The nostalgia Swift conjures up in her songwriting for her childhood is not depicted as a longing for what her world was like when she was seven, as it is still a world marred by monsters and demons —rather, the nostalgia Swift conjures up is for a time she felt she could accomplish anything. A world before she was reduced to being the “good girl” who feared alienating consumers through political admissions or had to carry military-grade gun gauze in her purse out of fear of her many home invaders.

By virtue of her career choice as a musician and her wild success in the undertaking, Taylor Swift has become a creature defined by the perceptions and opinions of strangers. The only havens for Swift where the beliefs of onlookers are irrelevant are in the relationships she maintains with those who know her personally. Swift moved away from her Pennsylvania home at fourteen, and the specifics of the childhood friendship described in the song remain inaccessible to those outside of her inner circle.

Often, we grow apart as we grow older, and sometimes we lose touch. (Sometimes we don’t. I’m still friends with Andrea, and when I chose to write my undergraduate thesis on Taylor Swift, she said she had created a monster.) Swift admits that she lost contact with her friend and can no longer even recall her face, yet maintains she still feels love for her. In confessing her lapse in memory, Swift waives her escape to her past life of normalcy. There is a painful sort of honesty in Swift pleading that her friend remember her as the child she was at seven.

Swift’s knowledge of her friend’s story ends when their paths diverged in childhood. However, Swift is famous, she’s no longer afforded the privilege of being forgotten in the mind of her friend. In begging her friend to remember the Swift of yore before she was molded into a pop star, a girl who promised her “Pack your dolls and a sweater / We’ll move to India forever”, she is begging to be viewed as a real human being and not the ” mirrorball” any and all project their insecurities and realities onto. Swift’s nostalgia here exists not solely as a desire to return to a world that was not complex, but to an iteration of herself, who at the age of seven, was brave enough to face it, a Swift who might refer to herself as Fearless.

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