Can a Friendship Between a Swiftie and Swift-Skeptic Survive a Conversation About Taylor Swift?

Between The Eras Tour & 1989 (Taylor’s Version), a superfan and a non-fan sit down to discuss the global grip Taylor Swift currently has on pop culture.

Can a Friendship Between a Swiftie and Swift-Skeptic Survive a Conversation About Taylor Swift?

Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair midtown Manhattan, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where “Bad Blood” on Taylor Swift’s 1989 album might be the only song whose merit is agreed upon… Jezebel staffers Lauren Tousignant and Kady Ruth Ashcraft have finally addressed the tension in the newsroom over their differing feelings on Taylor Swift. The former has seen Taylor perform live at least eight times; the latter got very stoned to go see the Eras tour movie—the longest consecutive amount of time she’s ever spent with Taylor—in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

The following is a discussion about the global grip Ms. Swift has on pop culture. Friendships are tested! Loyalties are defended! At one point Lauren describes listening to Taylor Swift while on a whale watching tour. Will these two writerly friends remain so?! Find out for yourself…

(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity for the benefit of those who don’t feel as strongly as Lauren or Kady Ruth.)

Lauren Tousignant: OK, so you saw Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, the movie.

Kady Ruth Ashcraft: Correct, which feels very High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.

LT: We need to mention that you did not want to see it with me.

KR: Yes, I very much did not want to see it with you because I felt—well, so I just have to get off my chest that I’m anxious about our friendship being ruined because of our different stances on one Miss Taylor Swift. I also did not want to see it with you because I wanted to react naturally without your eyes on me.

Anyway, I’ll briefly explain my relationship with Taylor Swift, which is that in high school, I came across her album that had “Our Song” on it. What’s it called?

LT: Taylor Swift.

KR: Amazing, great name, easy to remember. I really liked it because I am a country music, a folk music gal. I thought it was really good singer-songwriter stuff. Then didn’t pay attention to her much until 1989 which, great album. Famously, the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever written online was a Facebook status when that came out, and I said “Between Taylor Swift’s 1989 and the new Serial podcast, I wish I had two sets of ears.”

LT: Woooow, I did not know you were a 1989 girly.

KR: Oh, I loved it. Very fun pop album. And then admittedly since then, I’ve not really been a fan. I felt pretty neutral about her but society at large has become so obsessed with her that every day it becomes harder and harder to remain that way.

LT: It’s funny that you were a 1989 fan because I still see that period as when she was completely overblown. That era, it was so big for her but she got so much backlash. It’s interesting that you’re still feeling that this is more and worse.

KR: It feels like there’s nowhere you can turn where her presence isn’t felt in pop culture.

LT: OK so, the movie. What was your first reaction? What was your final reaction?

KR: I saw the movie on a Sunday, and I’d say it was 80% empty except for these 9-year-old girls, and there were 15 of them in total. Immediately when they walked in and saw how empty the theater was, and they all screamed with delight. They said, “hi everybody,” and from start to finish, they made it an incredibly fun experience—witnessing a bunch of young girls lose their minds for three hours. They were running around, screaming, singing, filming TikToks the entire show, which I think if I didn’t have that in my theater, I would have really, really not enjoyed the experience. It was a very infectious energy.

LT: So witnessing your 33-year-old coworker lose her mind has not had the same effect on you?

KR: No. But the really funny thing is they kept running out of the movie theater and running back in and it was a really good barometer of if it was a fun song or a slow song. Without fail, it was all the songs that I recognized that they would come back in for and sing and dance.

LT: Do you don’t remember any of the actual songs?

KR: That really long one, “All Too Well.”

LT: They left for that?!?

KR: Yeah and that’s when like, my energy level started dipping. I was like, we are in here for so long.

LT: Oh my god. That is like, the crescendo of the concert for me.

KR: Yeah, Taylor Swift when she starts going slow is like, not hitting for me. I find her lyrics to be—this is where I’m afraid of our friendship splintering because I think you’re a very smart, wonderful person and I understand also this person has had a very big, positive effect on your life. So this feels very mean for me to say and why I feel nervous.

LT: Say it!

KR: Taylor Swift’s lyrics, to me, feel like someone saying, “I’m a Virgo, and you know what that means.” And I’m like, “I don’t! You have to tell me more.” It’s a lot of telling and not showing. And I can’t get brought into her world because it feels like it’s laid out in too basic of a way, is how I feel.

LT: I was waiting for the word basic.

KR: I want a better word because “basic” is so overused…but her very poppy, fun, fast stuff, I can get into that because it’s the music you want to hear when you’re out and about. But when she gets into her reflective shit I’m like, girl, what are you talking about?

LT: That’s why I think it’s funny that, for someone who’s into country and folk music, you don’t like folklore or evermore. I’d think you be more rejecting of her songs like “Shake it Off.”

KR: I’m not saying “Shake it Off” is incredible artistry but it does the job of a really good pop song. It’s like Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe.” I’m not out here saying she’s changing the world but, wow, you fucking made a bop.

[Taylor’s music] feels reflective of this level of pop culture we’ve gotten to where there are a lot of signifiers without meaning beneath them. But I also understand so many people like her stuff, and I think she obviously brings a lot of people I know and love—including you—a lot of happiness and I think that’s fucking great. But I have a hard time when there are people calling her a genius.

LT: I feel like you can’t not say she’s some level of like, a once-in-a-generation something.

KR: In the sense that like, she’s selling out this tour it’s clearly resonating with people, that can’t be denied.

I do have a hard time with people paying thousands of dollars to watch someone power walk across the stage. It was a lot of walking. OK, actually, now I’m feeling mean.

LT: No, I think you’ve still held back a little bit. If you don’t connect with her, you don’t connect with her. I don’t know if you’re trying to say, she feels very young…

KR: She does feel young. Lindsay Zoladz wrote this piece in the New York Times about her not being married or being a mom, and when I think of her specifically in relationship to Beyoncé, it’s been really interesting to see Beyoncé’s work develop, change, and evolve as she’s taken on these different relationships as a woman.

But then, to Taylor’s credit, it’s like, why is it that I want her to have these new experiences with men or evolve past these feelings of dating and young love? And I don’t have an answer for that.

LT: I think the culture has kind of moved past that though. Because I do think folklore and evermore were such huge departures for her—I feel those were the albums that people said, ok, she didn’t write about her boyfriend, her exes, she created these tales and it showed her songwriting, it showed her versatility. And even though Midnights kind of returned to love, it still felt like such a more mature album. And a more adult album than like, Lover. It’s interesting that that’s still your perception.

KR: Then it’s an interesting choice to do The Eras Tour with all her really young eras because so much of her fandom seems and is still very, very young—and not quite leaving that behind is an interesting choice. I don’t feel like she’s been able to abandon that connection she has toward girlhood. Which I don’t think is good or bad, but I think inhibits my ability to connect with her.

LT: Counterpoint: I think if she wasn’t re-recording [her old music] she wouldn’t have done an eras tour.

KR: It wasn’t because she didn’t tour her last few albums?

LT: Yeah, because she hasn’t toured since reputation. But if she wasn’t re-recording everything then I’m sure she could have figured out a very wonderful, enjoyable, huge concert that just incorporated her last four albums. I think she loves her old stuff. I became a Taylor Swift Fan the second I heard “Tim McGraw” when I was 15.

KR: Great song.

LT: She felt like someone I grew up alongside, especially because we’re the same age. Her albums coincided with a lot of things I was going through at the same time. All those things are still speaking to people as they’re growing up.

What do you think of Lady Gaga’s tour and her doing all her old stuff?

KR: I didn’t even know she was doing that.

LT: That was her Chromatica Ball last year.

KR: Lady Gaga’s work has not been autobiographical in the same way that Taylor’s has. So it doesn’t feel quite as much as aging with Lady Gaga. She does like a jazz album then she does Chromatica, so it feels a little less chronological.

LT: Were there any parts of the film that you loved?

KR: I mean, her songs are catchy, I was singing along when 1989 came on. I think Taylor is a positive force in this world, but I think it just feels so overblown in a way that…it makes me want to be a hater.

LT: *maniacally cackles*

KR: That’s not an original idea. I was listening to The New Yorker’s “Critics at Large” podcast and they said Taylor Swift’s ubiquity is bringing back haters. Because she’s so mainstream, you can be anti-Taylor—and that is an identity in and of itself.

LT: Do you feel superior for disliking Taylor?

KR: Totally. She is the biggest artist in the world. The president is being asked questions about Taylor Swift’s boyfriends and—yeah, I write about pop culture all day every day so I often can’t go around being like, I’m better than that. But I’m certainly able to feel that way when it comes to Taylor Swift. But also, you’re talking to Succession’s number-one fan.

LT: I hate Succession.

KR: That’ll be our next convo.

LT: So, when she performed “Cruel Summer,” you were just like, yeah, that’s a song.

KR: Yeah. Did you cry listening to it?

LT: When that album came out—

KR: What album was that?

LT: Lover.

KR: What year was that?

LT: 2019. I listen to all her albums when they come out at midnight. We listened to that album and then my friends and I had a whale watch the next day, so we had to go to bed at like 1 a.m. because we had to wake up at 6. We were on the boat and I was just googling the “Cruel Summer” lyrics because I was like, I need to know every beat, pulse, and second of thiw song. I need this song memorized in my brain right now.

I have a lot of favorite songs and I go through cycles of them, but that’s been out for five years, and every time I hear it come on, I feel like I’m hearing it for the first time.

KR: There were times when I was watching the movie and my brain was bored but my body had literal goosebumps. I think there’s something algorithmically that she and Jack Antonoff are doing where they’ve figured out how to biohack you to get the catchiest beat—like they’ve perfected the pop song.

How do you feel as a longtime fan that she is dominating the world right now?

LT: Well, that feels vindicating. Because I was a massive fan when the world fucking hated her. Even when the reputation tour was so successful and people started being like, oh wait, like OK, even that felt vindicating.

KR: Was reputation when she’s like, “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now”?

LT: Yeah.

KR: I made a lot of fun of that when it came out.

LT: That tour was incredible. There was nothing like the reputation tour and watching that album get performed live was just like, holy shit. I feel vindicated right now that everyone loves Taylor and everyone hates Kanye.

KR: That’s interesting that you still hold them tethered to one another.

LT: It’s a very different situation than just, oh they have different fan bases. Obviously, there have been difficult mental health challenges around Kanye that it’s hard to put them in any type of comparison at this point. But yeah, two of the most brutal moments of her career were because of him.

KR: There was the VMAs one, but what was the other?

LT: That was the phone call when Kim edited them talking. And then he released that song, “Famous” where he said, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, I made that bitch famous.”

KR: Oh yeah.

LT: And that was kind of what, quote unquote, canceled her. Then Kim called her “snake” and Calvin Harris and Katy Perry and all these people just kind of piled onto it. And she disappeared for a year and a half, and I fully thought she would not come back. I remember during that time, she gave “Babe” to Sugarland and I remember thinking, Oh, this is what she’s gonna do now. She’s just going to be a songwriter in the background and she’s going to shop her songs around. I thought she’d never be a public person again.

KR: So interesting. There was an Amanda Petrusich piece talking about how Taylor’s true love is her fans and that is something that I thought a lot about while watching the movie. Clearly, there is so much love there and that I think is very beautiful. And I think it is also kind of dangerous. I can’t even get started on my feelings about the weird numerology shit and the Easter eggs and stuff like that. Anytime I’ve written about it for [Jezebel] and make even slight fun of it, I’ve had some crazy emails and TikToks made about me.

LT: The Easter eggs started with her first album, because she wanted people to read the booklet that came in the CD, so in the lyrics for each song she capitalized certain letters to make a little secret message. From day one, she was like, how do I get people to buy the CD and read the fucking booklet. And it worked and people got obsessed with it.

I think the thing that gets misconstrued is…I think, in general, Swifties are very aware of how crazy it is. Like, I think a lot of the jokes you see about the numerology is, we know this is insane. But also Taylor has been insane with us for years. So it is kind of like a very inside joke and, if you’re on the outside, I can see why you’re thinking, these people are fucking nuts.

KR: I like art to stand on its own, and additional stuff can be fun, but I have a hard time when it feels gamified in that way. That’s how it feels to me. I understand maybe it’s not for a lot of people and I understand there’s a community within it that feels very fun. But as a grown woman, I don’t know, it feels a little infantilizing to me, these little gimmicks.

I’m just, sort of, like can’t this exist on its own? Without the backstories and the who’s this about? And people have been doing that for years, that’s not Taylor-specific. I always get annoyed when people talk about fuckin’ Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and they’re like, How did they record this when people were split up? That lore around it always feels so blown out of proportion. People make music about and with people they’re fucking and then have stopped fucking all the time. With Taylor, it feels like, without that lore, these songs are fine, but that lore can make people go fucking feral.

LT: I mean folklore and evermore did not really have—there was nothing really to suggest she was about to drop that surprise album.

It does make you a little feral to be like, OK, well then what is a clue and what isn’t? Her second and third albums I was definitely very into the clues she left and everything, I grew out of that a little bit—not to say I don’t still enjoy it, but I’m not trying to figure anything out.

KR: Yes.

LT: I forgot what awards show it was, it was before Lover came out, she wore a disco dress and then two weeks later she dropped the “ME!” single with Panic at the Disco’s Brendon Urie.

KR: I did stay up to midnight to watch that because I thought she was going to announce that she was gay. That was a rumor at the time.

LT: Those rumors are still…

KR: Yeah, that’s a whole other conversation. I guess what I’m saying with this relationship with her fans is she definitely encourages this Easter egg hunt. I wonder if that is holding her back creatively, in some ways. This desire to create these puzzles feels like it’s creating a more and more tangled web.

LT: But I don’t think a lot of the puzzles are in her music, they’re in promotion. Things are finished and she’s like, oh I’m gonna release it on this date because it’s five three two three and that equals 13.

KR: It feels very hard to engage with her music without moving through that element of it, and it’s pretty impossible to engage with her fandom without moving through that part of it. And that is sometimes what I’m saying with these signifiers without the meaning to back it up. I’m sort of like, just give me the fucking music.

LT: Because it’s fun! It also drives community.

KR: I feel like an ornery old witch.

LT: When people talk about her relationship with her fans, she does create community with those things. The idea that her love affair is with her fans, I do agree with, but I also think she’s just having fun. I think she’s doing stuff she enjoys, I don’t think there’s someone above or beside her that’s like, you have to give this to the fans. I think she enjoys the connection with them, it’s kind of like a secret wink between us and her.

I think what she’s created just adds to the music. I don’t think it’s in place of it, I don’t think she’s trying to make up for anything.

KR: I respect that, but I disagree and that is the beauty of this conversation.

LT: So you did not leave the movie a Swiftie.

KR: I did not leave the movie a Swiftie. It was a long concert that I imagine if you saw it in person would have a lot more energy but the allure and the fanaticism around her still escapes me.

I left feeling grateful to see so many young gals have a very fun time though. Admittedly, I also felt really weird about them doing just TikToks the entire time but I think that’s a different conversation about the state of girlhood.

LT: Fair. She’s the only thing that brings any joy to my life.

KR: And I’m happy she does that for you. I want to ask, where do you think she goes from here?

LT: I don’t know, I’ve been wondering that. I honestly think six months after the tour is officially ended, maybe not even six, maybe like two, she releases a new album—

KR: And that’ll be in six years?

LT: Right now the tour is finishing December 2024. I would suspect she has a new album out that February, I wouldn’t even be surprised if she put out a new album next year. But where she goes after this? I don’t think she’ll try to top the Eras Tour for a very, very long time. Or she ends with the Eras Tour and marries Travis Kelce and they have babies.

KR: I’m genuinely curious how her fandom will react if and when she gets married and has babies because I can’t imagine it’s going to be normal.

LT: Marriage she’ll probably be public about. I don’t think she would be public about having kids for a while. I don’t think she’d make a pregnancy announcement or a birth announcement.

KR: And this is even if she does either of those things which she might not, and I feel weird even wondering that. I think she’s an artist who’s predicated so much of her work on young womanhood and these feelings of falling in love, which I think are very worthy song topics and I don’t begrudge her for that.

The larger cultural perception of her is not as a mother or a wife, and is very invested in her starting relationships. Even if she writes about other stuff — she very much exists in that lens.

LT: I think the funnier thing will be to see how many Taylor Swift fans get pregnant after she says she’s had a baby.

KR: And I think that’s the end of our conversation.

LT: Well, we’re still friends.

KR: We’re still friends, we did it.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin