I always want to be unique. With every piece I write, I strive for not just uniqueness, but perfection.
Obviously, this time was no different. The stakes were probably higher, actually. Per usual — with a little more pressure — I wanted to capture something fans hadn’t heard while listening to “Midnights,” Taylor Swift’s record-breaking tenth studio album.
But I couldn’t capture anything. Maybe that’s the fault of critics; we all try to be different. In reality though, many critics just sound like entitled jerks who — for no valid reason at all — think our opinions will be the be-all, end-all.
We’re chasing truths that don’t exist. We act like we’re deciding fates, solving puzzles and providing clarity, when really, I’m usually more hurt by the reviews I read than validated and enlightened.
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Writing columns these past few years, I’ve learned quality lies in the hands of the people who find value in something.
And critics often ruin that.
So maybe that’s what can be unique about this piece: I won’t break your heart. I won’t ridicule a song you love in favor of praising one you hate. Because, at the end of the day, I’m a fan of music, too — just like you.
I’d rather celebrate “Midnights” for what it is: a beautifully thought-out concept album regarding 13 sleepless nights throughout Taylor’s life. Like I’m sure is the case with many listeners, I felt I was hearing stories of my own sleepless nights while listening to it — especially on “Mastermind.”
When I heard “Mastermind” — the final track on “Midnights” — I felt my chest tighten. I got that late-night feeling of lonely melancholy. And I heard an admission I’d been waiting to hear from my whole life.
“No one wanted to play with me as a little kid / So I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since / To make them love me and make it seem effortless / This is the first time I’ve felt the need to confess / And I swear / I’m only cryptic and Machiavellian / 'Cause I care.”
The teenage girl in Taylor’s music is always there. I’ve always felt it. But the problem is that so many people — boys, usually — dismiss that as bad, stupid and immature.
Being a teenage girl is like wading through shark-infested waters, but you’re one of the sharks, too. And, if you’re not confident, you need to fake it.
I faked it. Always.
Just like Taylor, I didn’t have many friends when I was little. My teachers were always concerned with my shyness and lack of participation. So, I learned to use my voice. I enjoyed sitting back, just quietly observing the world. But no one knew me. And not being known is suffocating when you’re growing up. You get kids yelling things like, “Who is that?” and “I don’t know her” or even just giving disapproving looks.
Grade by grade, I talked more. I made more friends. I took on personality traits that weren’t really mine but seemed unique and desirable. I wanted the world to see that I expected perfection from myself, which wasn’t initially true until I really did start only accepting perfection for myself.
Just like Taylor — but on a much smaller level — I think I may be a bit of a mastermind. Not in a cool way, though; it’s a form of survival. Always scheming, always planning a few steps ahead, always protecting the perfect image you’ve mapped out in your head.
But I think that’s Taylor too actually. She’s not bigger than any of us. She was just a kid looking for approval in a world that doesn’t dish it out so easily — unless you’re perfect in all the right ways and endearingly imperfect in all the right ways, too.
“Mastermind” haunts me. I already feel it creeping into my dreams, forcing me to shoot up in my bed as I try to sleep. But it was a reminder that there are humans like me. And there is a human out there — in this sea of almost eight billion — who has the same issue that I do.
And that human just happens to be Taylor Swift.