the way i loved you

a memoir of taylor swift’s (former) biggest fan

These days, any mention of Taylor Swift impales me with a sense of loss. It is with great sadness that I admit that I am a bitter, disillusioned ex-Swiftie. “Have you heard her new song?” someone will chime. I, who had once asked such questions, must admit that I have not. Instead, I find myself trapped in the past, thinking of the days before the list of celebrity exes, before the straightened hair, before the sponsored sodas and shoes.

I first heard her music in the long-lost year of 2008, when I was in sixth grade and just beginning to deal with my first crushes and heartaches. Her earliest radio hits were the perfect fodder for my pure, pubescent emotions. Beyond “You Belong With Me,” though, my dedication as a fan really began with her lesser-known songs—songs like “I’d Lie” and “The Way I Loved You,” which made her experiences feel as real as a sister’s, and “The Outside” and “Change,” which weren’t about romance, but growth in times of loneliness and defeat. Taylor Swift was one of the primary reasons I started playing guitar and writing songs myself, both of which remain essential parts of my life. Even from those early years, I got the sense that she would be one of the biggest stars of my lifetime. And I loved knowing that I’d be one of her earliest fans.

Now amidst the hype of Reputation, which only built off of the popularity of 1989, I can’t help but feel like I should’ve seen it coming. But when you think you know someone or something intimately, any change in them is hard to accept. I listen to her new songs like a sad, senile grandma, hoping to relive some of my youth. However, I hear only what is now expected of her: tracks that retain a bit of Taylor’s old spirit, but also tracks made to sell. It’s certainly a common progression in an artist’s career. But I still miss the singer-songwriter who wrote honest music so beautifully ordinary it seemed like she could be my best friend. With her powerful public image today, I’m not sure if I could even imagine myself as Taylor’s colleague, let alone her friend.

Of course, no artist has to be buddy-buddy with his or her fans to be talented or successful. Swift’s Red album was the first in which I couldn’t get behind every track, but singles like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “22” got her more radio time than any song on Speak Now ever did. In the end, music production is a careful balancing act between commercial and personal appeal, and perhaps for me, the personal side simply won out. What seemed like a calculated image change to garner more publicity left me with a bad taste in my mouth. For the first time since she started touring, I didn’t attend her concert, which I knew would sell out with or without my help.

And yet, if I didn’t blame it all on Taylor and her PR team, the truth was even harder to swallow: I was changing too. Even I could sense that the themes in her music, both old and new, weren’t as appealing to me as they used to be. I used to admire her devotion to love, as well as her guts to call out her offenders. But as I grew up and went through the challenges of adolescence myself, I became increasingly touched by concepts like forgiveness, empathy, and forms of love beyond the romantic. I felt like Taylor did not grow with me.

When Reputation’s name was announced, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in the title, which, even if ironic, seemed to confirm a growing obsession with her public image. Lines like “I got mine, but you’ll all get yours” and “I don’t trust nobody, and nobody trusts me” didn’t sound powerful or independent—instead, they seemed passive-aggressive, self-destructive, and even childish. Of course, I still check out her new music eventually (once a Swiftie, always a Swiftie to some degree). And there are surprise songs in every album that I genuinely enjoy listening to. But now, nine years removed from the age when my adoration began, any appreciation I have left is purely musical. For reasons in both her and myself, I may never love her quite the way I used to.

I remember one particular performance from the second of the two sold-out tours I attended. It was toward the end of the concert, when 50,000 other fans and I in the arena could sense that our night of magic was coming to a close. And yet, Taylor and her bandmates danced as joyfully as ever on the stage. Confetti drifted down through the fireworks and spotlights, landing on our heads. With triumph and pride, she sang over and over: “Long live!”

Taylor has recently caused media mayhem by announcing the death of her old self, but the Taylor of that night has long felt dead to me. And that’s okay. My love for Taylor Swift wasn’t the only casualty as I grew up, and as I continue to grow, it certainly won’t be the last. In the end, there is a certain beauty in the pure love we have for anything, regardless of whether it lasts. Reputation may be the first album of hers I neglect to buy altogether. But at least from what I hear, some of the songs are as “Taylor” as ever—and for this old-timer’s memories, knowing that is enough.