Taylor Swift's Outsized Power In Our Lives
The Jan. 31 release of Miss Americana, the Taylor Swift documentary streaming from Netflix, has been anticipated in part because it promises to lift the veil on Swift's political evolution, and in part because we are used to orienting ourselves to her work, and the documentary suggests a profound move from where we started. If Swift's original persona was all-American girl, her development from uncontroversial popstar into someone partisan, someone willing to speak for herself (a "nice girl doesn't force her opinion on people" Swift was told), suggests that a fundamental shift has occurred in greater America, and in us. To borrow from one of her lyrics, this movie has "been a long time coming"; Taylor Swift has been in the public eye since late 2006, and a part of my life — a part of fans' lives — for more than a decade.
I have followed Taylor Swift from my teen years into motherhood, and through many life disappointments along the way. Shortly after Lover's release last year, I learned through an ultrasound that my second pregnancy had stopped developing. I had listened to Reputation through the early weeks of my first pregnancy as a way to deal with the high risk of miscarriage due to my thyroid disorder. The soothing melodies of "So It Goes...," "Delicate," "Getaway Car," and "Call It What You Want" calmed me during stressful mornings at work and through waves of nausea. When I needed an energy boost during treadmill runs, "...Ready For It?" motivated me to keep moving, even as my sluggish thyroid and widening frame begged me to take it easy. Things went well for me that time, and two years later I felt embarrassed for thinking that if Reputation was my first child's album, Lover could be the anthem for my second. But on the way home from my medically necessary dilation and curettage procedure, I played Lover in my husband's car, repeating my favorite track on the album, "Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince," until we made it home.
Ahead of Miss Americana, I spoke with fans around the world about the impact of Taylor Swift's work, and found that her music hasn't just gotten them through their first love and heartbreak (often the theme of her earlier songs), but abusive relationships, family troubles, mental health struggles, coming out, identity issues, divorce, and more. A number of people claimed Taylor Swift was their inspiration for learning English, and others said she literally saved their lives. Here are some of their stories.
"I’ve never had much of a solid social circle because of my childhood raised in extreme poverty. I’ve been homeless twice and don’t have any local friends in my new area, partially because I was afraid to connect in case we’d have to move again. This fear came to fruition in April of last year—about a week after Taylor started the countdown for Lover’s first single—when our landlord told us that his company was planning to sell our home because it wasn’t financially feasible to continue to rent to low income renters through housing assistance. He didn’t voice it himself, but it was also clear that a severe gentrification problem in our area made our home more valuable to sell than to keep.
"Suddenly, Taylor’s countdown to 'ME!' was the only good thing going for me in my life. I had to cancel a planned business trip because I couldn’t justify the cost. I had to put all personal writing goals on hold to prioritize saving our home. I had nothing but fear and uncertainty in my life, except for daily countdown theories in my Black Swiftie group chat.
"Multiple friends in and outside of fandom supported me in making a GoFundMe to help crowdfund a way to potentially buy our home ourselves, but it was Swifties who held me up when I was overwhelmed with fear."
— Lily Meade, 25, Tacoma, Washington
I don't remember much of that day (what my friends and I like to call 'The Taylor Effect') but what I do remember vividly is the way Taylor hugged me, like if we had known each other for years, and in some ways we had.
"Every once in a while I have anxiety episodes where I feel like the whole world is crashing in on me and I will never amount to anything and nobody loves me. I just feel like either a million different thoughts are going through my brain and nothing I do seems to stop them, or a bolt of nervous energy is coursing underneath my skin and I can't stop feeling it. But one thing I learned that helps is listening to Taylor Swift. Whether it is a fun and happy song that I can dance and sing to and forget my troubles, or a sad song that helps me understand that I am not alone, she's got my back.
"God allowed Mama Swift to walk by our section and gave me and my friends the amazing opportunity of meeting Taylor at Rep Room. I have never felt happier in my entire life. I don't remember much of that day (what my friends and I like to call 'The Taylor Effect') but what I do remember vividly is the way Taylor hugged me, like if we had known each other for years, and in some ways we had. She had been there for me since I was 15, for the past 12 years of my life. I wanted to tell her that during our meeting but my nerves got the best of me. Hopefully, I will get another chance to tell her all that she has done for me. [U]ntil then I feel happy telling you."
— Heidi Torres, 28, Spain
"When I was 18, I was so depressed that I had to be submitted to a mental hospital. I felt scared, because when I started to feel like my old self again, I had no idea what my place in this world was. I went back to school and there were days where I would hear people whisper 'isn’t she the one who tried to commit suicide?' Which is funny, because I never did. Just a rumor. It was like Taylor wrote exactly what I felt. I don’t look back at those years with any regret, because still to this day, I think of Taylor as a (pretty long distance) friend that I needed at that time. I am thankful for her songs, because it’s amazing what they can do to a person."
— Cassedey Staal, 24, The Netherlands
"I've been an avid Taylor Swift fan since I was about 8 years old and heard 'Our Song' on the radio for the first time. My parents bought me a pink guitar for Christmas and let me live out my fantasy of being just like Taylor Swift, although I ended up having no musical talent. My sister Nikki was about 16 around this time, and was heavily into Paramore, Green Day, Simple Plan, and all things teen punk. Our love for Taylor Swift was about the only thing we had in common, being eight years apart."
"[In 2017], my sister died in a tragic car accident at only 27 years old, leaving three of her children behind without their mother. I was starting my sophomore year of college and feeling entirely lost, when only a few months later Taylor released her Reputation album. At first I was distraught because this was something my sister and I had looked forward to for so long and I was angry that she didn't get to experience it with me. But then, I decided to go on a long drive and listen to the album all the way through, imagining my sister sitting shotgun listening with me. This album seemed to be made just for her, as my sister was finally coming to terms with loving herself and not caring what others thought right before she passed. She was finally finding happiness."
— Grace Walden, 20, Nashville, Tennessee
"Taylor is my inspiration in life and her lyrics literally got me through my tween, teen, adolescent, and now currently adulthood years. I'm so thankful for her as a singer, as a songwriter, and most of all as a person. She is so kind, genuine, and dedicated and that's why she will always be my favorite artist. I'm so happy that in six days, the world will get a chance to see her life's work come together in a whole documentary and the people who didn't believe how great she is will now finally know. I love her so much, and I can't wait to see her live again and maybe meet my idol one day!"
— Shehzeen Rehman Cochinwala, 20, Houston, Texas
I'm forever grateful for her creating the soundtrack to my life.
"I fell in love with Taylor's music long before I became invested in her brand. After Fearless and Speak Now, which I consumed at once in 2010, I worked my way back to her debut album before the Red era commenced. Only during said era did I really start to care about the woman behind this music and watched all her interviews. She didn't look like me and her brand personality didn't entirely mesh with mine but I still felt as though I could relate to her because of how her music spoke to me.
"You know, Taylor has had some high highs and low lows over the years (and as a black woman who is a stan, a lot of those lows were hard to watch for several tone-deaf reasons). None of that though felt serious or offensive enough for me to dislike her as a person at any given point or feel detached from the music I've been enjoying my whole life.
"I've loved her music since I was 14, loved her since I was 16 and I'm still a proud Swiftie at the age of 24. I'm so glad I got to fall in love with the music before becoming invested in her brand and I'm forever grateful for her creating the soundtrack to my life."
— Rosalinde Antindi, Namibia
"I feel like every one of her albums has come out in a time in my life when I needed it most. Speak Now came out when I was just about to start college and I made a name for myself, rather than being what my at-the-time abusive boyfriend wanted me to be. Red came out when I was trying to figure out what to do with my broken heart after leaving him. 1989 came out when I was learning to live my life for myself and transition into real adulthood. Reputation was the badass girl anthem I needed when I picked up my whole life and moved to a new town where I knew no one and did what I wanted to do with no regrets. And Lover ... I’m with my soulmate, we have our own place (where we make the rules!) and my life feels truly at peace."
— Corinne Wilson, 26, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
"I was born with cerebral palsy. Taylor first came into my life when her debut album dropped in 2006, just months before my 13th birthday. Almost every summer of my youth was spent in a wheelchair while I recovered from a surgery. Because of my physical limitations, I was an outcast and constantly bullied for the way I looked and the way I walked. Once I discovered Taylor’s music, I felt like someone finally understood my feelings. She was the friend I turned to when I was having a bad day. Her music helped me survive high school. Due to the constant bullying, I developed depression and anxiety. Taylor and her music help me find my happiness when I’m extremely sad and feel alone. I play her music when I’m on the verge of a panic attack and it focuses my mind so I calm down. Taylor is my happiness when I’m at my saddest. She’s the one friend I have who has always been there for me. She’s the reason I’m still alive right now. My biggest dream is to meet her so I can hug her and thank her for not only changing my life, but saving it."
— Torie F., 26, Minnesota
"At the age of 46, [I was] diagnosed with a noncancerous brain tumor, but the tumor is spreading and growing toward my brain stem I had to make the choice of losing total hearing and balance on the left side. I then had a small brain bleed and half my face was paralyzed. I didn't want to leave my house. Nothing sounded right to me. I can't figure out which direction any sound comes from but the one thing that got me to 'listen' again was the reputation album because I had to hear Taylor’s story. Every album is a story. She is literally why I started to listen to music, watch TV and all that stuff. Now, I'm facing new struggles along with nerve damage in my head and constant head pain I have been diagnosed with Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis and currently doing chemo as treatment. But I look at Taylor’s life and think if she can go through what she's been through I can do it too."
— Deana Ragsdale, 49, California
I have been a Swiftie since I was 10 years old. Now I’m 23, living in Nashville, and working in music publishing.
"I sat by myself at lunch a lot. I didn’t get invited to all the birthday parties and outings. I usually drove myself or had my parents drive me to middle school dances and high school proms while everyone else showed up together. Despite that, one thing remained constant: Taylor Swift. She felt like my best friend because with anything I was going through, she had a song that I could connect with. If I was heartbroken, I could listen to the Red album and not feel so alone, because there was somebody else out there who understood. If I was happy, I could put on a bop like 'Shake It Off' and dance until I completely forget everything else. I have actually even made many friends online through Taylor and followed my dream of moving to Nashville to work in the music business. I have been a Swiftie since I was 10 years old. Now I’m 23, living in Nashville, and working in music publishing. I am so inspired by Taylor that I have made it a goal of mine to always fight for fairness in the industry. I want to help make a change and I’m glad there’s artists like Taylor who are helping to fight this battle too. Taylor Swift means a lot of things to a lot of people. But for most of us she isn’t just Taylor Swift. Most of us grew up with her. We cried, laughed, danced, and sang our hearts out to her songs. She shaped who we are and helped inspire us. To so many people, she’s not just Taylor Swift. She’s our friend, Taylor."
— Abbie Nixon, 23, Nashville, Tennessee
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.