Taylor Swift: The Triumph Of Effort Over Cool

In a world that still expects women to do it all and make it look easy, Swift shows her work, writes Emily Cronin.

Taylor Swift Eras Tour

by Emily Cronin |
Published on

There's her songwriting. Her storytelling. The way she can place a highly specific personal experience under a microscope and, in analysing it to a cellular level, transmute it into something universal. Her willingness to remain vulnerable in the face of years of scorn. Her apparent good cheer in light of the above. Her collegiality with other artists (most of the time). Her industry-moving defence of the value of art. Her commitment to female friendship. Her implausible and persistent belief in love and happy endings. Her elevation of girlhood into a dominant cultural force.

There are so many things to admire about Taylor Swift, but top of my personal list is this: she represents the triumph of effort over cool. Which is to say that in a world that still expects women to do it all and make it look easy, Swift shows her work. She has never (not once!) pretended that she doesn’t try her hardest at everything she does. For some, being seen to want something and to be frank about going for it still elicits disdain. They recoil from the earnestness of it all. But I maintain that it’s good to care, to try hard and not try to conceal that. Swift tries hard and she doesn’t apologise for that.

Consider the context. Around the time Swift was recording and promoting her early albums in the late 2000s, early 2010s, the leading aesthetic was ‘model off-duty chic’. The look was Alexander Wang ripped T-shirts, leather leggings, biker jackets and smudged black eyeliner. It was a style that came down to appearing as though you’d just rolled out of someone’s bed, picked clothes up from the floor, pulled them on and styled it out.

Meanwhile, Swift was busy rewriting Romeo & Juliet, singing about high-school rejection and telling haters that while all they’d ever be was mean, she’d go on to bigger, better things. Did she ever. Even now, when we’ve traded model-off-duty vibes for a veneration of ‘effortless’ style, here’s Swift, singing in Mirrorball, ‘I’ve never been a natural/all I do is try, try, try.’ Here’s Swift, writing out a page of American football rules to swot up on before watching Travis Kelce play. Here’s Swift, rallying the troops (Blake Lively, Selena Gomez, Gigi Hadid, et al) to console a fallen soldier (Sophie Turner) with another dinner out in Manhattan. From songwriting to football- spectating to friend-bolstering, she greets everything with an earnestness and head-girl energy that’s miles away from ‘French girl cool’.

That goes for her shows, too. You may not have noticed, but Swift doesn’t really dance. She’s more of a rhythmic walker. But she’s practised the choreo like crazy and she hits every mark. The first time I heard a Swift song must have been 2006. Tim McGraw came on the radio and I stayed in my parked car until it ended, because I also had a boy I thought about whenever I heard a specific Tim song.

I saw Swift perform live at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show in 2013 and I pitched her as a possible interview subject when I worked at a glossy magazine (long enough ago that the response was, ‘Taylor Swift? Who’s she?’). I went to the 1989 tour and slept in the T-shirt until it was more hole than shirt. So while I don’t have a PhD in Taylor Swift studies, nor a Reputation-themed tattoo on my shoulder – like one woman I met at Swiftogeddon – I do have a deep respect and fondness for her work.

And then, last month, I flew to Swiftholm – sorry, Stockholm – for the Eras Tour. Amid the trading of bracelets, the scream-singing of lyrics, I found the most positive, uplifting, electric atmosphere. Never underestimate the buoying effect of 50,000 fans knowing they’re about to have an audience with their leader. The show is pure entertainment. Nothing that happens on stage is accidental. It’s rehearsed and calibrated and dammit she does seem like she’s having the time of her life up there. Every one of us was enchanted to meet her.

Watching her, I did wonder when enough effort is enough. How many ecstatic crowds and platinum albums will provide the validation Swift craves, so maybe she doesn’t have to try so hard forever? We know from Miss Americana that she wants to keep pushing while she’s at the top because she feels she won’t be there forever. Which is probably realistic, but still: as much as I admire the drive, I also wish Swift... rest.

I brought my 10-year-old daughter to the Stockholm show. Partly because I wanted to harness the fleeting sliver of time in which she’ll want us to spend time together. Partly because I wanted her to see that this is what I mean when I tell her not to worry about ‘cool’. This is what caring and working hard can get you. Not necessarily a stadium of screaming fans, but something like your wildest dreams.

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