This article was originally published online by The Daily Telegraph on 5th October 2022. It can be originally accessed via https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au
Hannah Diviney, Independent
After you read this, please feel free to jump in my DM’s, or leave your comments/fan theories/high level English Lit intellectual analysis where I can read them! It would mean a lot to me (:
Between the five of us, my family and I watch a lot of movies and television. For them it’s probably a combination of enjoyment and an easy watch to relax but for me, it’s where my brain really gets going; equal parts pure enjoyment and spongework, soaking up all the choices that creators and writers make, in the hope that one day, that’ll be me. I love nothing more than hungrily consuming stories, only to analyse and study them afterwards whether they’re books, TV shows, movies, music or any and all other media. It doesn’t help, that for the last four years at uni, studying Creative Writing, those instincts were honed to be on all the time, much to my family’s amused annoyance. With all of that in mind, dear reader, here are my thoughts on the most unexpectedly joyous gem of a TV show (that I think was purposefully perfectly built for these pandemic times) Apple TV’s Ted Lasso.
Over the last year or so, I’d heard lots of rumblings about Ted. I didn’t know what the show was about but I did know people were LOVING it, including friends whose recommendations for these sorts of things, I treat like fragments of gold. Not only that, but at last year’s Emmy’s, it made TV history, scoring a staggering 20 award nominations AND prompting displays of wild joy like this one from Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach, which I think says it all.
My family had been meaning to watch it for months, one of those shows we’d get to eventually, on our seemingly endless watchlist. For whatever reason, after being wrung out by spending Christmas sick with COVID and bombarbed by how badly things are going here in Australia at the moment, we decided this would be a brilliant show for kicking off 2022. And thank God, we did.
I’ve got to be honest; when I realised this was a show about a folksy American football coach from Kansas being handed the reins to an English premier league soccer team and in turn their extremely passionate fans, I was confused. Why was a show about ‘The Soccer’ (as Glennon Doyle so perfectly calls it) resonating with so many people who I knew were not the least bit interested in that sport?
Within five minutes of watching the show, I understood why; Ted Lasso isn’t really about “The Soccer” at all. It’s about a lot of things – masculinity, fathers, sons, marriages, relationships, mental health, self-worth, moral codes and the all important BELIEVE (if you know, you know) But under all of those tangled layers the single thread that runs through the show is simply this; it’s all about the choices we make and the ones we don’t, the ripple effect of other people’s choices on our lives and what we then choose to do with them.
after seeing so many people tweet about ted lasso i finally caved and looked up the show and it’s about……soccer???
— rebecca mix (@mixbecca) June 26, 2021
With only 22 half-an-hour episodes across two seasons, this show has proved the perfect easy wholesome balm for my overthinking brain and oftentimes too-full heart. Speaking of hearts, this show wears its proudly on its sleeve in the kind of way, that makes you laugh, cry and sweat over Richmond’s football scores as though they actually mattered, sometimes all three in the space of five minutes.
In all of the reactions, social media commentary, and conversations my family’s been animatedly having about this show, over the last few weeks, it keeps coming back to Ted’s unshakeable kindness, his boundless optimism and his refusal to be anyone other than exactly who he is without mind games or pretense. If you’re reading that, rolling your eyes; don’t worry. It’s not saccherine or cloying, and it doesn’t hit you over the head. You will learn that Ted is just a man even if he does at first glance appear too good to be true.
I think part of why the show is so hugely popular is because those traits feel unfamiliar. Much like the rest of the characters in the show, our initial reaction as an audience is to be suspicious. To look for the ulterior motive. To get ahead of the other shoe before it drops. Not to get too philosophical Coach Beard style, but when did that become the way we just expected humas to be? When did we accept that and why? After all of the tragedy, sacrifice, rightful anger, desperation, meaningless rhetoric and exhaustion of the last few years in particular, a show centered around kindness, forgiveness and growth of all kinds feels (excuse my Roy Kent here) fucking radical.
I’ve never watched a show before where I’m genuinely rooting for all the characters to be happy and do better. Except Rupert. Rupert can be hit by a bus. He’s too far gone. But other than that, literally everyone. Even Nate, after the end of Season 2. I may have screamed at the TV with rage at first, but I get why he did it. I’ve also never seen a show where every single character is given space to be a three-dimensional human who is more than the stereotype we first meet from Higgins The Abused Assistant to Keeley The Shallow WAG. Shoutout to Keeley for being the true dark horse of the show! They’re all messy and flawed, make good choices and bad and are capable of redemption, forgiveness and change in ways that I think are decidedly rare in storytelling.
Seriously, Jason Sudekis, I know you have a sneaky habit for finding what people are saying about the show so if you’re reading this, I need you to know; Jamie Tartt’s character arc might be the most well executed I’ve ever seen and more importantly, the show makes me want to be a better writer and a better human. Thanks for creating it and thank you for all the depth you gave all of them but especially Ted. As someone lives every day where he was at the end of last season and has also been in Ted’s Dad’s position, thank you. It made me cry. I’m working on being a goldfish. On that note, I’m a big fan of Sam Obisanya and everything he’s allowed to be on the show.
PS: You all know I would LOVE to be in that writer’s room (if only the scripts weren’t already written and filming begun!) Alas, I will settle for joyfully inhaling Season 3 as soon as it’s ready. However I do humbly request more singing from Rebecca, Keeley being a boss-arse bitch and the happiness of both Roy Kent and Jamie Tartt. What do you want to see next season?
For millennia, women have been silenced, sidelined and ignored. Their ideas and contributions have been systematically dismissed or deemed frivolous, a surefire way to ascribe something inherently lesser value. They have been shouted over and talked down, to, told to ‘shut up and sing/look pretty/please their husbands’ and so on.
The author of this essay has noticed that there is an immediate devaluation of art or content made by young women for young women as soon as it becomes publicly available. Young women, whether they be creators or fans are instantly dismissed as valid and legitimate culturemakers i.e. creators of serious cultural artefact, and arbiters of taste. Why is that? What does this phenomenon and the art in question then teach us about the broader experience of womanhood? These are the central questions which this Capstone Project will attempt to explore.
But first, a point of clarification; ‘art’ is obviously used as an umbrella term to describe a wide range of mediums, some of which are infinitely more accessible to the general public than others. With this in mind, it feels important to specify that the medium this project is concerned with is modern music, songwriting, and the media paraphernalia that surround musicians as a result of the culture of celebrity in 2021.
The easy surface answer to the first of the above questions is clearly because we live in a patriarchal society, which at its core and across its every system is steeped in sexism and misogyny. The way society listens to and participates in conversations about music is no exception. How many times have you heard some variant of the following statement? ‘Her music’s fine/OK/good, there’s just something about her I don’t like…’ According to academic Evie Chiles, “an artist’s credibility in the eyes of the music industry overwhelmingly relies on the extent to which they can be deemed ‘authentic’, and standards of artistic authenticity have long been determined by privileging masculine sensibilities.”
Basically, a male artist can be deemed authentic based on the merit of their art, while for female artists, things tend to get a bit more personal. Chiles goes on to say, “Authenticity, by the music industry’s standards, is therefore much harder for women to attain; particularly if they are seen to be overtly powerful, emotional, or strategic”.
Honestly, with those criteria in place, this essay could have built a case study out of multiple female musician’s careers, so prevalent are these markers of gendered pressure. However, this essay will be focusing specifically on the artistry, performance and media perception of someone for whom the above labels have been consistently and expertly weaponised; Taylor Swift.
Her confessional songwriting style, which pulls real details from her own life and is often described as like reading her diaries has seen her follow in a music tradition popularised in the 1970’s by artists such as Carole King, James Taylor (for whom she is named) and Joni Mitchell.
As one of the most recognisable and successful musicians of the modern age, she occupies rarefied space in the uppermost echelons of fame, with the kind of critical and commercial success that is almost impossible to grasp. She has sold a staggering 114 million albums with collective streaming numbers across her songs and videos totalling a cool 78 billion.
She is the first artist since The Beatles to have five albums spend at least six weeks in the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 charts, the most celebrated and studied musical chart in the world. Earlier this year, she made history as the only woman to win the Grammy’s top prize ‘Album of the Year’ 3 times, an honour only previously achieved by universally acclaimed male artists Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.
But this success has not come without cost. Over the course of her fifteen year career, Swift’s songwriting has been repeatedly mocked and belittled as a result of its primarily romantic focus, indeed called overtly emotional and desperate on many occasions. She says, “For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated—a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way—that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.” This same angle and critique of confessional art is not applied to Swift’s male peers, such as Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars who have similarly built careers off the back of writing about their lives and relationships.
The tendency to slut shame or sexualise women, viewing them only through the lens of the men they are socioculturally tied to instead of valuing their achievements has a deeply historical basis. British historian, Dr. Bettany Hughes has found in decades of research that “often, women aren’t allowed to be characters in history, they have to be stereotypes. Cleopatra was a poet and a philosopher, she was incredibly good at maths; she wasn’t that much of a looker. But when we think of her, we think: big breasted seductress bathing in milk. Often, even when women have made their mark and they are remembered by history, we are offered a fantasy version of their lives.
The media has in the past made sport of trivialising Taylor’s work ethic talent and skill in favour of defining her by her dating history and the men she is seen with. That critique holds no weight anymore as for the past five years Taylor has been in an extremely solid, healthy and creatively fruitful relationship with the actor Joe Alwyn.
By her own admission, Taylor defines this prior period of her life as when she became “a national lightning rod for slut shaming.”
An uncomfortable example of this is when the talk show host Ellen DeGeneres forced Taylor to play a game where she was shown pictures of men and had to ring a bell if she had hooked up with or dated. them, a cruel segment that almost left the singer in tears on national television.
This treatment was at its peak in 2012/2013 off the back of a string of breakups with high profile men. Swift says, “people were kind of reducing me to like, kind of making slideshows of my dating life and putting people in there that I’d sat next to at a party once and deciding my songwriting was like a trick rather than a skill and a craft. It’ s way to take a woman who’s doing her job and succeeding at doing her job and making things and in a way its figuring out how to completely minimize that skill by taking something that everyone in their darkest moments love to do, which is to slut-shame.” This teaches young women that the most criminally offensive thing they can do in the eyes of society is date, have desire and want to try out different things in relationships.
This deeply flawed and misogynistic dialogue provided inspiration for one of Taylor Swift’s biggest hits, Blank Space. This is a song where she fully leaned into the serial dater, maneater persona that the press had created for her and turned it into a dramatic and ridiculous parody of itself. This is clear as per the music video where she can be seen lighting clothes on fire, tossing phones in the pool, damaging cars with golfclubs and generally causing psychological torment.
In another song dedicated to dissecting the sexism that has enshrouded her career, The Man, Swift considers the potential for change in society’s perception if she made all the same choices but was a man instead. This is reflected in lyrics like, “They’d say I played the field before I found someone to commit to, and that would be OK for me to do. Every conquest I had made would make me more of a boss to you.”
Beyond the flawed and sexist perception of her as overemotional, Taylor Swift has faced sharp critique, calling her ‘calculating’ and ‘cold’, questioning her business acumen and how much weight she pulls in her own career.
As author Mary Beard notes in her book, Women and Power, “it is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they do not hear a voice that connotes authority.”For anyone wondering, Swift sits at the head of the boardroom table and has kept the same team around her for the majority of her career, which is rare.
As a result of her coming into the music industry at the tender age of 14, as the youngest songwriter ever signed to Sony/ATV publishing, Taylor says, “Men in the industry saw me as a kid. I was a lanky, scrawny, overexcited young girl who reminded them more of their little niece or their daughter than a successful woman in business or a colleague.”This would only heighten with the release of her self-titled debut album at age 16, and her being the youngest recipient of Album of The Year at the Grammys, for Fearless, an album she released at 18.
From there, the narrative of ‘oh how cute she’s written some hit songs, what a happy accident’ would shift to critical, searching for fault. “The second I became a woman, in people’s perception, was when I started seeing it (sexism).” Critics would question whether she wrote her own songs, so she wrote her third album solo. Her record label Big Machine would push back against her desire to follow her instinct and transition to pop music. 1989, her “first officially documented full pop album would go on to become the most awarded pop album of all time. We tell women to be confident, to own their decisions and back themselves but call them a bitch and question their capabilities as soon as they have any power. The example of unrelenting in control calling the shots power exhibited by Taylor Swift sets a masterful example for young women and girls everywhere.
Swift’s majority female fanbase, who hold a uniquely close relationship, “having grown up together” with the singer, have not escaped criticism either. Whenever fans defend her online as this author can personally attest, calling out misogyny and sexism or times she has been mistreated by men in the music industry, there are always comments along the lines of ‘Taylor fans are all silly little girls who believe in fairytales. They’re all 12 year old girls who need to shut up.’
This infantilisation and presumption of a lack of intelligence is not limited to Taylor Swift fans, but has historically been linked to any piece of culture or art teenage girls find themselves attached to. Consider this statement from an early review of the Beatlemania phenomenon in the 1960’s; “Those who flock round the Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria, whose vacant faces flicker over the TV screen, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures.” Of course, those girls had the last laugh, considering the beloved status of the Beatles in hindsight as one of the biggest and most musically influential bands the world has ever seen.
Perhaps then, young girls should not be made to feel silly or their interests looked down upon and thought of as having lesser value than the interests of middle-aged white men. As musician Harry Styles says, “How can you say young girls don’t get it?” “They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going.”
In a unique bond with fans that sees her invite them to her homes for album listening parties, send Christmas presents and routinely interact with them on social media, Taylor has consistently made a point of treating her audience as equals and respecting their intelligence, clueing them into the process behind many of her creative and business decisions.
This, coupled with her uncanny ability to traverse genres with ease and make each musical risk in a career full of them, pay off sets her apart from many of her peers in the industry. Her success has been across three hugely varied musical markets. Each of her three wins for Album of The Year has been in a different genre of music; country for Fearless, pop for 1989 and most recently, the alternative/indie genre for pandemic project folklore. This is obviously a testament to her skill, talent, and the immense work ethic she has committed to honing her craft.
However, this versatility is also deeply gendered. “We live in a world where women in the entertainment industry are tossed in an elephant graveyard by the time they’re 35” says Swift in her powerful Netflix documentary and Sundance pick, Miss Americana, a film, dedicated to unpacking so many of the narratives that can be damaging for young women to internalise.
She also talks candidly about the incredible pressure and double standards on female artists surrounding ageing and the idea of constant reinvention in a bid to stay relevant and successful. This is not expected of male artists. There is no societal pressure on them comparable to the pressure on women that says, “be new to us, be young to us—but only in a new way and only in the way we want. Reinvent yourself but only in a way that we find to be equally comforting and a challenge for you. Live out a narrative that we find interesting enough to entertain us, but not so crazy that it makes us uncomfortable.”
The last fragment of that quote brings to mind much of the media dialogue and public spectacle made of the careers of Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Madonna among others. Society has a voyeuristic tendency to just continue watching, enjoying and ruthlessly criticising or cutting down women who stray from the unwritten narratives about who they’re supposed to be. In Britney’s case specifically, much can be said about the perverse pleasure people seemed to draw from her very public breakdown, often making fun of her shaved head and hysterics, instead of examining why she was behaving that way and what systems were complicit in making her that unhappy. It’s only in recent years with knowledge of the disturbing and restrictive conservatorship she has lived under, and the rise of the #FreeBritney campaign that the general public and media alike have re-examined their complicity in this dialogue.
Given that Miss Americana was released a month or so after Swift’s 30th birthday, this line of thinking around ageing and by extension body image feels particularly charged, especially because she goes on to say, “I want to work really hard, while society is still tolerating me being successful.”
This same societal mindset of toleration and expiration dates is clearly not encumbering male artists at the same rate, given the number of male musicians like The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Elton John, and Bruce Springsteen and many others who have had careers for decades, reinventing themselves not out of necessity but purely by choice. If they choose not to pursue reinvention, they can still enjoy great success coasting along in their carved-out niche.
But the complex double standard expected of women in regards to ageing and body image is not a phenomenon exclusive to the music industry. Women from all walks of life on a global scale are constantly faced with intrusive media, advertising, and other forms of messaging about their bodies and the roles those bodies are supposed to play in service to others. Over recent years, with the advent of social media and ‘Kardashian culture’ which is to say the privileging of a certain hypersexualised physical aesthetic with boobs, curves, butt and still an incredibly toned fit body, the pressure has only heightened.
As Swift says, in a fiercely candid moment in her documentary, “There’s always some standard of beauty that you’re not meeting. Cause if you’re thin enough, then you don’t have that ass that everyone wants. But if you have enough weight on you to have an ass, your stomach isn’t flat enough. It’s just impossible.”
This conversation orbits around two major revelations from Taylor; the first that she’s struggled with an eating disorder for much of her time in the spotlight and the second, discussing the impact of the sexual assault trial she won back in 2017, after a radio DJ sexually assaulted her at a meet and greet, “latching his hand onto her bare ass cheek.” After reporting it, the radio DJ lost his job and sued Swift as a result. In order to make an example out of that behaviour and loudly position it as not OK, Taylor countersued him for a symbolic $1, in an important precursor to the #MeToo movement which would soon sweep Hollywood.
In her only interview of 2017, after being named one of Time Magazine’s Silence Breakers for that year, she said, “People have been largely very supportive of my story since the trial in August, but before that, I spent two years reading headlines referring to it as ‘The Taylor Swift Butt Grab Case’ with Internet trolls making fun of what had happened to me.” The example set by Taylor Swift being bravely vulnerable and loudly open about the struggles she has experienced will pay dividends for the ways in which young people identify and respond to these issues for years to come.
In conclusion, while it’s true that society’s default setting is still to instantly devalue, undermine and dismiss art made by young women for young women, the needle is slowly shifting. Women in the public spotlight, such as Taylor Swift who over the course of her career has been put through the wringer, are being unapologetically loud about what’s happened to them, and even better, are being heard. Defences of young female fans as culturemakers, arbiters of taste and people who can generally spot the value of media are becoming more common. The experience of modern womanhood, for all its trials and tribulations is finally being presented not as something to grin and bear, merely surviving but as a place to know your power, demand respect, and thrive.
There’s a little girl crying in the street outside my bedroom window. It’s a miserable day, rain soaking the ground and wind so fierce our old house creaks as though it’s getting tired of holding itself up. I know how it feels. The little girl’s tears are noisy, big-body wracking sobs of heartbreak, the kind that leave you exhausted and snotty nosed. Part of me wants to race outside to this unfamiliar little girl, scoop her into a hug and use my brightest neon colours until she smiles again. The other wants to lie down and cry with her.
I have this uncomfortable hot and heavy splinter of a feeling lodged in my chest and it won’t go away. I don’t know where it came from or what about today brought it forward but honestly it’s all I can do to keep inhaling shakily around it. Tonight, I’ve just sat with, and then I started writing this. It’s all spilled out. I have this habit of trying to push my feelings away by keeping busy. Manage your mental health by keeping yourself busy. Distract. Think about something else. Work harder. Put more stuff in your calendar. Nap, just so you get breaks from being in your brain and body. Ugh. Sometimes I catch myself looking at the clock on my laptop, wishing time would fall away just so I can sleep again. I think, Is this all there is? Just me waiting until things magically get better. Being exhausted by all the work I’ve done and all the work I still have to go. Pulling myself out of really shitty places just to get to somewhere that’s not even good but just less shitty? I don’t know. I feel like I’m wasting my life. Running out of time.
I hate that. The feeling that I’m not moving fast enough. That I’m missing the BIG window. Maybe it’s cause I grew up watching a generation of Disney Channel kids and popstars who were building empires at 17, so by 22, even though things are steady, it still terrifies me that I missed the shot. I’m working on a book right now and I caught myself thinking the other day, “Oh my god this book will not be out till I’m like 23 or maybe even 24. Oh my god. People will have moved on by then. They won’t want my thoughts. By that age, I should be on Book #2 or #3.
You’d think with everything I’ve achieved over the last year, that it would finally feel like enough. So many wonderful things have happened to me this year. I am making a difference. I get paid to write, which is a dream. I’m working on being the person for other kids that I needed growing up. I’m taking on one of the biggest companies in the world. I’m Things that mean I am starting to build myself a solid foundation. And yet I can’t seem to let myself fully enjoy them. Will I ever be happy? Satisfied? Will it ever be enough? Or am I destined to just keep searching for the next thing that will make me feel better and then being deflated when it doesn’t? The life I’m building is working towards everything I’ve ever wanted, but at the moment instead of being struck by the wonder of it, I. feel wrung out.
I thought finishing uni would feel different. I thought it would just open the gate to this shiny newness. I thought I’d start feeling like I could live, instead of feeling weighed down by an albatross of assignments and exams. And I know it hasn’t even been a month yet, but it doesn’t feel like that. Maybe it’s the loss of structure. The loss of certainty. Maybe it’s just the weather. The exhaustion of two years of living in a world warped by a pandemic.
The beautiful chaos of building Missing Perspectives into a media company, a job I love, and trying to wrap my head around the fact that this is actually working and growing and people want me at their party, so to speak. It turns out decades of not being invited to parties or being people’s first choice leaves you constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. For someone to tap you on the shoulder and say “hahaha we caught you, please leave now.” But that hasn’t happened yet and it doesn’t look like it’s going to and my brain doesn’t know what to do with that. It’s not used to this. How do I get used to this? Hopefully, my therapist has some ideas.
On Wednesday, I get to go to a big party. A fancy party. A party with a lot of brilliant bold changemaking women in the room. I’m nominated for an award. A life-changing award. If I win, I will literally be called the “Woman of the Future”. Do you know how insane that is? Some of my heroes will be in that room. I’ll get the chance to talk to them, give a head-turning speech in front of them. I can’t let myself believe for even a minute that it might be my name they call to come up to the podium. All my fellow nominees are amazing. Whoever wins, I will be ecstatic for them. But it won’t be me. It can’t be. Shit. What do I do if it’s me?
The number one question I’ve had bouncing around in my head since I pressed Submit on that final assignment is ‘What now?’ The truth is, I don’t really know. Create. Write that book. Keep building Missing Perspectives. Get to a place of healthy contentment. Vague things, surrounded by half-formed opportunities and things in the pipeline. I know what I don’t want to do; I don’t want to study any more. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself by working full-time or solely in the disability sector right now. I believe that I can do much better for my community by positioning myself outside of that. Maybe that will change. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe people will read that sentence and decide that’s it. I’m done. I don’t want to not enjoy things. I don’t want to have to fight for my brain to let me feel proud of myself. I don’t want to live my life wondering what would’ve happened if I’d backed myself.
There’s one more thing that keeps me awake at night. Love. Or rather, my lack of experience with it. I’m a hopeless romantic. Fascinated by real-life love stories. Always brought back to a warm smiley place by a good romcom or love song. And yet… nothing. “Who would choose you?”, is what my self-doubt screams at 2am. Who’s looking at everything that is your life with all its complications and going “Yep that’s my forever.” This tiny thing called the pandemic has made it hard to meet people. I’m freaked out by dating apps. And I’m not really very brave in social situations. Again, with those damn coming-of-age films teaching us that if you haven’t had a relationship by 22, you’re destined to be the smelly little old lady with 100 cats that neighbourhood kids are a bit scared of. I don’t want that for myself. I also don’t want it to be assumed that the only people who could ever find me attractive or want to build a life with me are also disabled. That’s gross and ableist and I’m not here for it.
I have no idea what to do with any of these feelings, except write them down. Writing has always helped me process everything. If you’ve read till the end of this, thank you. Maybe leave me a sign that I’m not the only one who feels any of this? Otherwise, this was just a lengthy scream into the void.
It’s the summer of 2012 and I am 13 years old. Fresh out of that first year of high school, no bruises visible to the naked eye but plenty of newly formed scars jostling for space under my skin. High school is rough. It’s Christmas morning. There’s electricity in the air; the kind that comes with still being a kid, but knowing there are only a finite number of holidays left before you have to grow up. If you couldn’t already tell, I was an anxious melancholy old soul daydreamer of a kid. It’s noisy at my grandparents house. There’s wrapping paper everywhere. My mum hands me a small square-shaped package. My heart jumps Could it be…?
I tear into it eagerly, Come on. Come on. Come on. YES! It’s RED, Taylor Swift’s fourth album, the one thing I wanted that year and dropped about a billion hints for, ever since it was released a couple of months earlier in October. Too close to Christmas for me to buy it, my mum had said. But now it’s here, and it’s mine. A whole new world of songs for me to dive into, learn well enough I could probably sing them backwards, and use as a friend to lean on, to lessen the sting of lonely lunchtimes and surgery that was beginning to mark my life like clockwork. The only question left to ask is, “Is it rude if I listen to this now?”
It’s the spring of 2021 and I am 22 years old. I have just finished my final year of university, after handing in an essay exploring the sexist and misogynistic habit society has of immediately devaluing music when it is made by young women for young women. I also explored why society has a habit of shitting on things liked by teenage girls and what it means that they’re never taken seriously as people who have their finger on the pulse of pop culture. Among references to the Beatles, Britney Spears and Madonna, my main case study was none other than the career of Taylor Swift.
A lot of things have changed in the past 9 years but Taylor and I; we’ve never wavered, not since I first heard her music over a decade ago. I’ve already talked about my deep love for Fearless as an album and what it’s meant to me as an adult to hear the songs of my childhood reimagined so warmly, now that they belong firmly in the hands of the woman, who has deserved to own them since the very first day. My relationship with RED, much like the album itself, is a little more complicated.
RED is an album filled with the desperate frustrating longing to forget someone, but also to love them, and find yourself again somewhere along the way. This all comes after being shattered into a million pieces by the cruelest wrecking ball of all; heartbreak. I didn’t really have a lot of reference points for heartbreak at 13 – back then, I saw the world in a very black and white way. Things were either right or wrong. There were heroes and villans. Happy endings and sad ones. So, essentially, a lot of the pain, nuance and depth on this album went over my head as did Taylor’s desire to experiment and express herself in different musical styles. It’s only as I’ve gotten older and a little more experienced in this world that I can sit with this album and see it more fully.
Now, at 22, I know that heartbreak can be a lot more than romance. It’s grief, loss, loneliness, nostalgia and a million other emotions. Sometimes the worst version is when you break your own heart. I see shades of grey in the world, that I didn’t before. Now I know that people are flawed and confused, that we all make bad choices, and mistakes. That just because something ended doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. I get what people mean when they say that your twenties are HARD, that there really is truth to the idea that we can be happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time. Basically, all we are is bundles of exposed nerve endings walking around hoping that the people we brush up against make us feel new and alive instead of damaged and unprotected.
All of that is why I’m so excited to revisit this album and get a few more pieces of the mosaic along the way. Plus there’s always got to be some magic in listening to an ethically sourced version of 22 when you are ACTUALLY 22 and then the beautiful irony of knowing that the man who thought indie records were cooler than Taylor’s has had to live in a world where two of the best in recent memory are hers. History-making. Sometimes, fate works in delicious ways…
From the opening minutes of State of Grace with those drums and electric guitars, I knew this reimagined album would pack a punch.
The instruments are clearer, crisper, cleaner. Taylor’s vocals are stronger, surer. She’s less worried about convincing us that this patchwork quilt of songs and genres work together and more focused on us understanding the story of this colossal shattering time in her life all too well.
I’ve always said that the reason Red was such a divisive album upon its first release, was because there was not one scrap of filter in it. There was no hiding of emotion behind carefully concealed vague songwriting. Everything was raw and on the surface. It slapped people in the face and left red handprints in its wake. It rattled the heartbreak skeletons they’d shoved in the back of their wardrobes and brought them out to feel.
No song does this quite like All Too Well, the song I once saw Taylor cry over as she played it to an arena full of people, her heart spilling over the piano keys. From the second she mentioned a 10-minute version in an interview almost a decade ago, we as her fans have latched onto it, always masochistically curious about what breathless further evocative detail it might give us about the scarf in a drawer that she never got back. Well, holy hell. Now we know.
While the world made jokes fueled by sexism and misogyny, too busy warning guys to stay away from Taylor Swift, god forbid she use her prodigious talent as a songwriter to immortalise moments captured between them, Taylor was being maimed by a love affair that really should have been the centrepiece of a powerful conversation about power dynamics in relationships and emotional manipulation, not to mention the toxicity of pseudo-feminism. “You said if we had been closer in age, then it would have been fine and that made me want to die” LIKE HELLO. This is all reinforced by the beautiful short film to accompany the 10 minute version of the song starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien.
And before you ask, yes their age gap is intentional. Yes, seeing them intimate is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable and voyeuristic. Yes, you are supposed to want to scream at him when he’s gaslighting her, and then ruins her 21st birthday by not showing up at all. I think this short film and the song together mark perhaps the bravest and most important thing she has ever released in her career.
You know what else is brave? Opening the vault door and in giving us these songs we’d never heard before, coloring the album darker than ever imagined. As one of my friends online noticed, even though the original tracklist gave us all sonic and emotional whiplash, in hindsight it was the santinised version. First of all, there’s Ronan, a song I will probably only ever listen to the once, so raw and deep is its expression of grief for Ronan Thompson, a four-year old who died as a result of an agressive and cruel cancer, co-written with his mum Maya Thompson from her perspective. I couldn’t get through the lyric video, full as it was of these gorgeous and devastating moments and photos from Ronan’s short life. If you are brave enough to watch, grab the tissues. And Maya, if you’re reading this, I’m so glad your beautiful boy has a forever home with Taylor. Now, he will be looked after and never fade from memory.
And then there’s the sucker punch of Nothin’ New, a Joni Mitchell inspired Phoebe Bridgers duet that builds on The Lucky One and the fear of fame eating you alive. The first glimpse of the elephent graveyard society builds for female artists in the spotlight, who are often discarded as they age, losing their newness and shine.
It’s terrifying for 22 year old Taylor and might explain why she was so desperate for Red to be such an experiment in trying on new versions of herself, her music and the people she worked with. The internal battle between the rose garden and Madison Square has thankfully been won at 32 it seems; Taylor has the anchor of a shared life with her partner Joe Alwyn, she has rebuilt her world to be steadier after the maelstrom of 2016 and honestly, she seems to have carved out a life that is distinctly hers while the work and art still gets to be ours.
Forever Winter is a song that I think might get overlooked by people when they talk about this album, but I want it to have its moment here because when I realised what it meant, it pulled the air from my lungs for a moment. Oh God. I can’t even really write about it without getting choked up, so I’m just going to leave it here and say, as someone who has walked both sides of that terrifying faultline, thank you for writing that, Taylor. It means a lot.
Finally, Taylor I know this is all a decade in the past for you, but I want you to know that I appreciate you going back to these scars and giving us your heart in this way, all in the name of owning your art. There’s such power and grace in this moment, a movement for anyone who shares part of themselves in the making of things. I’m so glad you made it through and honestly, that I did too ❤
This letter was written on Dharawal country and land, the home of the Eora nation. This land always has been and always will be Indigenous land. It belongs to a series called Letters to Australia, commissioned by the Australian Multicultural Foundation. Follow them on Instagram @amf_letters.
This is a letter about inaccessibility, exclusion, and under-representation: the daily (sometimes hourly) realities for those of us living with disability and chronic illness. It’s about a world literally not built for a body like mine. There are shops I can’t access because of steps or narrowness, venues I can’t go to, paths I can’t use. There are roads without kerbs, train stations without lifts, disabled toilets used as storage rooms, if they’re even there at all. There are so many ways this country can be more tangibly accommodating to the needs of people with disabilities. But that requires conversation and consultation, something that, on current form, our leaders aren’t particularly concerned with.
I want Australia to be a fairer place. A more tolerant place. A place where people like me don’t have to fight so hard. I am a strong and capable disabled woman. I’m working hard on being proud of that fact.
Feeling pride about this part of me, a part that’s as intractable as my hair or eye colour, is hard in this country. It’s hard because we’re rarely seen or heard. Australians can be expert at ignoring what we don’t want to see, despite the narrative of the fair go, the lucky country, mateship.
The issues faced by people with disabilities in this country run deeper than inaccessibility. Under Australian immigration law, applications for Permanent Residency Visas can be denied on the grounds of an individual having a disability or chronic illness. This blatant discrimination is justified by the argument that people with disabilities and the cost of their potential care needs are an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer. Basically, disabled people cost too much. This issue isn’t exclusive to Australia, but it remains one of the only places in this country where systemic, government discrimination is legally allowed to occur. It goes unchecked, because people don’t know about it. And there’s more.
When I was completing my HSC in 2017, I had to deal with the rigmarole of applying for special provisions. That meant getting permission to use a laptop because the fatigue caused by my Cerebral Palsy means my handwriting gets illegible quickly. During this months-long battle fighting for my right to a level playing field, my mum was told that those in charge of the HSC didn’t care about my mark, only that I completed the exam, the insinuation being that maybe university was beyond me. At the time of writing this letter, I am just months shy of completing my Bachelor of Arts and International Studies, a four-year degree.
During my first year of uni, desperate for the independence of employment, I decided to try a specialised disability employment service because, according to the recent SBS documentary, What Does Australia Really Think About Disability?, 15 percent of Australians believe disabled people are either incapable of, or will perform badly at work. I thought if anyone was going to get me a foot in the door, it would be these guys given their whole premise is combatting systemic exclusion. As it turns out, those services are only available to people who aren’t uni students because someone with a disability is apparently unable to manage work and study at the same time.
Now, I’m a uni student, a successful freelancer and the editor-in-chief of a global publication platform, Missing Perspectives. I got to where I am through putting myself and my writing out there on social media and being unafraid to ask people to help me get where I wanted. I’ve spent the last couple of years as I move from teenager to twenty-something, growing into a politically aware person, trying to figure out how we can begin to change things up so a fair go might become more than a myth.
So, what can you do? How can you help? It starts with awareness. Start actively taking notice of accessibility in your local area. Look at the paths. The shops you go into. The public transport you use. If you’re a business owner, investigate what it would take for you to improve accessibility. Make sure your websites and social media posts include image descriptions and screen readers, and look up Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Make sure the experiences of disabled people are represented in who you follow online. Listen to their experiences and support their work. Then start reading, or listening to Carly Findlay’s book Growing Up Disabled in Australia. It’ll explain a lot.
All I want from Australia is acceptance, inclusion, tolerance, and empathy. One in five Australians has a disability so if you’re not an ally or you don’t have disabled people in your life/community/workplace, you need to do better. We deserve better. Listen. Learn. Deconstruct. Rebuild. There are so many of us out here, working hard to teach people about our lives, offering resources and moments for growth. Take us up on it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Well, hello there! Welcome to my little corner of cyberspace, I’m really glad you could make it 🥰 I have to admit, even though I’ve had blogs before and filled all sorts of corners of the Internet with my ramblings, this time feels a little scarier. A little more official. A little less the kind of thing you can leave dusty for months, which is something I have a habit of. Maybe it’s because this website I own now, has my name on it? I don’t know. There’s something about the fact that this slice of cyberspace will be mine in perpetuity, for as long as I work in the public eye, that kind of hits me in the chest.
But then again, so does the idea of having a profile. Of growing into a ‘public figure’ whose name can be Googled and work researched . It feels extra strange, considering I grew up as the kid who struggled with making friends at school, was often left off the invite list and sometimes even had to eat lunch alone. The contrast between where I was then, even four years ago in Year 12, to now is enough to make my head spin. And I keep being told this is only the beginning, although my imposter syndrome has a hard time believing that one!
I’m a successful freelance writer and disability advocate who has had work published by ABC Everyday, Hireup, Go-To, Careers With STEM and many other publications. You can check out that list on my Writing page. When I was 15, I worked at Mamamia for a year (a crash course in what lies behind the perceived glitz and glamour of a news organisation that takes cues from the cut-throat brutality of the 24 hour news cycle) as a Junior Editorial Assistant, and I believe I still hold the record for the youngest person that company has ever employed 😱 My insides are twisting uncomfortably at the thought of acknowledging my achievements but here we are…
I’m also the Editor in Chief of the brand new publication platform Missing Perspectives which aims to address the marginalisation of women and girls in news, media, democracy and decision making on a global scale. Even though I’ve only been at this job a month, building something from the ground up and getting the opportunity to provide space for the stories of women and girls around the world, many of whom have lives that feel eons away from mine, is teaching me so much. We’ve talked about all sorts of things so far, covering everything from issues of race and disability, to period poverty, climate justice, domestic violence and the education of women and girls. This is only the beginning for us and I can’t wait to share all of the plans our team has, when the time comes.
Something else I’m really proud of is my campaign in collaboration with change.org, petitioning for Disney Studios to create a Disabled Disney Princess, launched in December of last year. The petition has over 37,000 signatures from around the world and has attracted the attention of several high profile people including Jake Tapper, Martha Hunt, Jameela Jamil, Jodi Picoult, Neil Gaiman, Sterling K. Brown, Brandi Carlile and even DISNEY LEGEND HIMSELF, MARK HAMILL!!!
It’s true that I’m doing a lot of cool things, wearing many hats. But when you strip all of that away, I’m the girl who writes love letters, throws solo dance (and karaoke parties), and lives by the Nora Ephron quote “Everything is copy”. I cheer out loud when a movie I’ve been waiting for comes out or a song I can’t wait to add to my jukebox drops. I make playlists for the people I care about and believe strongly that there’s no such thing as too many compliments. I’m the girl who’ll pass a complete stranger and say something nice because for all I know, that could be the only reason they’ve had to smile all day. My teeth chatter when I’m nervous or cold and I cry a lot.
I still have the stuffed toys of my childhood in my bookcase and am more likely to know the words of a TV show’s theme song, from when I was little, then I am to remember any of high school maths. I wear my heart on my sleeve, even though I’ve tried to convince it, that it needs a more protected place to live. I’m a hopeless romantic, a daydreamer and someone who will always believe in the power of pure imagination. The girl who always has a book on the go, and multiple songs in her head. Who would happily write essays on Taylor Swift, Harry Styles or Queen and Fleetwood Mac. When you give me the AUX cord, you never know what might come out; anything from Wheatus to Dean Martin. But above all, I’m a person who’s fascinated by stories. By capturing moments and pinning them down. This website is going to be a scrapbook of all the things I love, am passionate about, believe need more attention or are important for people to hear, no matter what. I hope you enjoy flicking through my scrapbook over the coming months.
Love, Hannah x