BY ED KING ROCK EXPERT This is the story of how I learned to stop worrying and love Taylor Swift. The year just passed was one of the most challenging to date for me personally and professionally, but there was one song that got me through it. Let’s back up. One February evening I came home, announced I needed time alone, then lay on the floor to contemplate my ever-diminishing future. The company where I’d worked for the last 10 years, with core colleagues stretching back an additional 10 years, had been sold to a UK company. The unrest following our acquisition put me into a funk so deep that I could no longer listen to Beatles records, the roots of my Anglophilia, without being tormented by a fear of redundancy, as the Brits call it. The music of Elvis Costello, The Clash, The Who, and The Kinks similarly inspired uncharacteristic attacks of Anglophobia. “Those limey bastards aren’t going to lay me off!” After an hour of stewing I found my center: I know who I am. I’m good at what I do. I’m going to be me. (Call this my Stuart Smalley epiphany.)
Another challenge involved my 13-year-old son, who was hip-deep in pop music. I’m blessed to have an obsessive, contrarian son. He immerses himself in whatever interests him and incessantly spouts off analyses and observations, eagerly awaiting our reactions. He reminds me of myself, which is both a blessing and a curse, I suppose. Or karma. All summer the Pop Music Obsessive and the Rock Snob butted heads over control of the music during car trips. When my wife and our 17-year-old son were in the car, the kid was outnumbered. When it was just the two of us, however, I’d feign tolerance.
“We’ll listen to your music on the way,” I’d negotiate, “then my music on the way back.” I’d take the high road and occasionally allow that a song “wasn’t bad.” I aimed to “love him out” of this aesthetic rut and see him re-embrace pre-teen faves like David Bowie and ELO. The plan was backfiring as he not only raved over Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea songs but felt compelled to point out the nastiest bits and ask if I got the meaning. “First,” I’d tell him, “I’m your father. Second, I was once a 13-year-old boy.”
One day a song unapologetically leapt into its hooks with a singer who didn’t moan like an Auto-Tuned porn star. The lyrics were as hopeful and big-hearted as the music. “Who’s this?” I asked as I excitedly turned up the volume. It was Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” and it all made sense. I was first exposed to Swift during the 2008 World Series, when she performed the national anthem with Velvet Underground-like simplicity. I’d heard other hits by her since that stood out from the pack. She knows who she is. She’s good at what she does.
This fall my new parent company had me visit the home offices. It was my first-ever trip to England. I’d positively adjusted my attitude by this point. My goal was to grab this trip like Bill Clinton, minus the extramarital affairs. I would shake hands, kiss babies, do whatever it took to show my new colleagues who I was and what I could offer. While flipping channels in my hotel room one night who should appear on a talk show but Taylor Swift, enthusiastically lip-syncing “Shake It Off”? I think I did.