It’s a Saturday night in May 2013 and approaching midnight. I am 16, seething in my childhood bedroom in a combination of angst, anger and frustration. My sister, 13 at the time, has been out later than I was ever allowed to be at that age at a Taylor Swift concert in D.C. — specifically, for Swift’s tour in support of her fourth studio album, “Red.”
“Why is she allowed to go see a stupid pop star, and I can’t even go out to the 9:30 Club with my friends for a rock concert?” I remember thinking, typing furiously into an entry for my Tumblr blog.
As a teenager, I did everything I could to “not be like other girls.” I would have rather died than be caught seen wearing Hollister or Abercrombie. While other girls played piano, I relished in the fact that I had an electric guitar. And I lived as an insufferable stereotype of someone who rejected anything popular and rolled my eyes at the girls who fawned over whoever was at the top of the Billboard charts.
In my mind, refusing to listen to Taylor Swift, One Direction and Katy Perry somehow made me better than them.
The stereotype is nothing new. Just take the trope of the 2000s cool girl: the girl who would rather hang with boys, because women are too dramatic; whose complexity would ultimately bewitch men and make them fall in love. But the same girl, whether she realizes it or not, is living in a cloud of internalized misogyny.
That internalized misogyny played out in many of us hating Swift.
When she first broke into stardom as a woman unafraid of being herself, of dating who she wanted, of speaking unabashedly about breakups and heartaches, her media coverage was blatantly sexist. Countless tabloid articles and a 2013 segment on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” in which the host grilled Swift about her dating life further confirmed my own internalized misogyny: We were supposed to hate her. She was nothing more than a vapid pop artist, someone whose music and persona I shouldn’t ever admit to liking.
Fast forward to today. Swift just released a rerecorded version of “Red,” nearly a decade after the original album first came out — yes, the album my little sister went and saw live while I sat at home pissed off. It’s her second rerecorded album, released as a way for her to own the master versions of the titles she recorded under her former label, Big Machine Records.
Now, 10 years later, listening to the new versions of the same tracks I once scoffed at, I realize how much I could have enjoyed her music and how much I could’ve related to her if only I hadn’t cared so much about not being like other girls.
I’m not alone, either. Among the social media choruses of Swift fans — Swifties, as they call themselves — freaking out about the release are also thousands of posts making the same general statement: I can’t believe I used to hate Swift for no reason other than my internalized misogyny. Well, not anymore.
The irony is, I could’ve really used Taylor Swift at 16.
It wasn’t a coincidence that I was dating a boy at the time who would visibly grimace any time pop music came on the radio, who would make snide comments about my girlfriends, who said after I got dressed up for our high school homecoming that I looked too much like a “Barbie” version of myself.
Looking back, “Red” would have been perfect for what I needed at the moment: Someone who understood, and could describe in a masterful act of songwriting, all of the “tumultuous, crazy, insane, intense” feelings you experience in semi-toxic relationships. If only I had given her a chance.
As I listen to Swift’s “Red (Taylor’s Version),” I am no longer in my childhood bedroom, and I am no longer who I was at 16. I, like millions of listeners across the globe, am overcome with emotion. It’s excellent.
In his review of the album, Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield said the project felt like “a tribute to how far she’s traveled, but it makes you even more excited for where she’s heading next.” I know, I know, he’s talking about Swift, but it feels like he could be talking to any of us just rediscovering her now.
For me, listening to “Red” feels like a wink and nod from Swift: I’ve definitely missed out, but I’m welcome back.