Swift, but slowly

SINGKIT - Doreen G. Yu - The Philippine Star

It’s an odd – but good, I say – combination. I’ve started 2024 with Jose Rizal and Taylor Swift. I’m well into Rizal’s Noli and, like reading it for the first time, the convoluted world of friars and indios and peninsulares, intrigue, betrayal and romance is quite absorbing.

Taylor Swift is another matter altogether. A couple of days into the new year I figured I should swap my Christmas playlists for non-Yuletide songs. And as appropriate for a new year, I thought I should try something new – not my usual Simon&Garfunkel – and what could be more appropriate than Taylor Swift.

When I told my bagets carpool mate – who must’ve been sick of listening to 18 versions of Silent Night – that we would now be listening to Taylor Swift in the car, his expression was equal parts shock and joy. When the others in the office heard the announcement, there was a communal shout of “WOW!” Our third carpool mate, a fellow Boomer, admitted, “Hanggang Rolling Stones lang ako.”

Obviously, a neanderthal like me listening to Taylor Swift is a big deal. It wasn’t as big a deal when sometime ago I tried BTS. Sorry, Army, but that didn’t last two days; I just couldn’t get into their sound (of course, I couldn’t understand anything they were singing beyond “ooh-ooh” and “babeh, babeh” – but lyrics aren’t the point of BTS, right?).

Long before I heard the first strains of Lavender Haze or Anti-Hero, I had been fascinated by the phenomenon that is Taylor Swift. Much like Lady Gaga (who I like) and Madonna (before her strange make-over), Taylor Swift is much more than just a singer or a songwriter or a performer.

She’s one smart cookie, an empire now reportedly worth over $1 billion. She took back ownership of her songs after a dispute with a recording company over ownership of her masters by re-recording four of her albums (so she wouldn’t need the masters) and labelling them “Taylor’s Version.” That incident, I was told, is the story behind the song Karma: “My pennies made your crown/Trick me once, trick me twice… Karma’s a relaxing thought/Aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?”

She writes songs about her breakups, and with supposedly about a dozen exes, there’s much material there. I hope her current relationship with football star Travis Kelce (attendance at the games of the Kansas City Chiefs has soared since Swift started showing up at the games and their romance went public) isn’t going to become grist for her next hit album.

She’s Time magazine’s Person of the Year, and several colleges in the US – including Harvard – now have courses on Taylor Swift. Articles abound on her personal life, her transition from country to pop, her phenomenal Eras Tour, her sort-of involvement with the LGBTQ…

Her popularity cuts across all demographics; my 81-year-old friend, who is in New York visiting family, tells me her 10-year-old grandson, usually blasting rivals to smithereens in Fortnite and Call of Duty, puts Taylor Swift on the radio as soon as he gets into the car. So when she comes back to Manila next month, I guess we two ancients will be dueting Dear John and Forever and Always.

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