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Music as Magic: The Reflections of an Incidental Swiftie

I've been thinking a lot about Taylor Swift music (and pop music, and art in general), but I still don't quite know what I think. I have a lot of thoughts which are a little contradictory and a little incoherent, and every conclusion I draw feels subtly inaccurate to my experience. Honestly, it feels like music is magic, outside the realm of logic to explain.

But there are some objective facts. I've listened to more Taylor Swift music in the last two years than you can possibly imagine. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% of songs stuck in my head are by Taylor Swift.

I also spent five weeks this summer on an break/detox/something from Taylor Swift and Taylor Swift-style music. I didn't listen to "music that I didn't like with all of me." Sort of. It wasn't the most precisely defined thing in the world.

It's me. Jacob. The author of the other posts here on Chromatic Conflux. And I guess it's time for me to publish a very large number of words, true or not, about the music of Taylor Swift.

This post will quote some song lyrics with profanity, because they're important. It will also refer to Taylor Swift throughout as "Taylor," because she calls each of her re-recordings "Taylor's Version", and besides, we're irl besties. It will also put periods outside of quotation marks, British-style, because it's just more functional.

I made a YouTube playlist of songs mentioned in this blog post (and a slightly less complete Spotify one), in case you want to properly develop opinions on any.

This post will contain puns, data, and personal thoughts aplenty. Sorry for the length — do not feel pressured to read it all at once. Welcome!

"I'm doing good, I'm on some new shit,

Been saying yes instead of no."

—Taylor Swift, "the 1", folklore

I knew about Taylor before 2020, of course, but as one of many popular musicians. I liked "Blank Space" and "ME!" ("you can't spell awesome without ME") and hated "Look What You Made Me Do", three songs which essentially do not come up at all in the rest of this blog post.

I don't actually know what date in 2020 this story properly starts, because my recollections are foggy and I didn't write it down anywhere (the earliest actual evidence I can find is that "seven" was stuck in my head on December 2...I'll get to that later). But I'm pretty sure I read on the internet somewhere (possibly the news?) that Taylor Swift had surprise-released an album in July 2020. I didn't listen to it until a few months later, but I'm pretty sure I just felt like listening to new music, and decided to put it on.

The album was called folklore, stylized in lowercase. At first, I just thought it was fine. I liked "seven" and "the last great american dynasty".

And then the songs proceeded to get very stuck in my head. What kept happening was that I'd listen to a song, think it was fine or okay or bad; and then it would get stuck in my head, and I'd listen to it more, and then I'd start liking it.

What kept happening was that I'd listen to a song, think it was fine or okay or bad; and then it would get stuck in my head, and I'd listen to it more, and then I'd start liking it.

For me, just listening to songs has a strong effect in making me like them more, or at least listen to them more. It's probably why I really like listening to instrumentals of pop songs. They're familiar. And they sound nice.

I came to love folklore! It felt totally unlike the Taylor I was used to. Quieter, more indie-sounding, more narratively structured. It had swearing. (That line from "the 1", the opening track to the album, just felt like the quarantine experience to me.) It wasn't boring pop. I got the strong sense that it meant something. I listened to it a lot, especially while making and solving puzzles in my bedroom. The first four tracks in a row — "the 1", "cardigan", "the last great american dynasty", and "exile" — felt particularly special.

In December, Taylor released evermore, her second quarantine surprise album, though again I didn't really listen for a few months. At first I disliked it, thought it was a worse version of folklore. Then I listened to it more. Then I started liking it.

"'Cause there we are again on that little town street,

You almost ran the red 'cause you were looking over at me."

—Taylor Swift, "All Too Well", Red

Thanks to the YouTube algorithm, I discovered a series of mashups which combined folklore and evermore songs (along with some older songs) with those from older albums, primarily Red, in the most seamless way. Some of them would displace the original songs in my brain. A commenter writes that "The 'betty' chorus set to the drums of 'All Too Well' is what I never knew I needed" (it is great). The "exile"/"Begin Again" pairing is also a favorite of mine. I always cringe saying the name, Maestro Music Mashups, but the mashups are amazing.

In some ways it felt like they were the best of both worlds, hybridizing the qualitatively better songs from folkmore with the more classically catchy songs from earlier albums. I didn't listen to anything from Red on its own for some time. But eventually I started doing it, and eventually I started liking it.

Last November, Taylor also re-recorded Red as Red (Taylor's Version) because of ownership controversies. I don't think the new versions are really that much better, but their newness did cause me to listen to more Red. That said, the album does contain an epic, beautiful ten-minute version of "All Too Well", which everyone seems to love, and I am no exception.

Maybe you can predict what happened with Taylor's third-most-recent album of new songs, Lover, and certain songs from her purest pop album, 1989 (named after her birth year — it's the one with her most famous songs, including "Shake It Off", "Blank Space", and "Bad Blood"). I still haven't listened to reputation, Fearless, Speak Now, or Taylor Swift ("debut") much, though.

Taylor's album titles include a fun coincidence that I can't resist sharing: her three most recent new albums, and arguably her best ones, portmanteau perfectly into "folklovermore". It's ridiculous. You take the "folklo" from folklore and the "vermore" from evermore, and "lover" just appears in the middle. I think this fact is very cool, and that's why I shared it even though it's not really relevant to the plot.

Anyway, I was becoming a Swiftie. It turns out some people at my school are also big Taylor fans. A select set of us did the Taylor Swift Heardle and Swiftle every day for a while. I have an old friend who would've been the type of person to mock Swifties, but is now a hardcore fan. Taylor's top 34 songs by number of weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 might all be pre-2020, and by most objective metrics I think she's past her peak of popularity, but it's only now that she's truly popular among my friends. Long story short, it's nothing new for a haunted lover ( me!) to mean all too well to shake it off, but have an epiphany and speak now in the 1 clean, delicate style that fills blank space with our song titles — so don't blame me when I run 22 (fifteen plus seven) in mine.

Long story short, it's nothing new for a haunted lover ( me!) to mean all too well to shake it off, but have an epiphany and speak now in the 1 clean, delicate style that fills blank space with our song titles — so don't blame me when I run 22 (fifteen plus seven) in mine.

((C chord) C C D C B C (G chord) C C D C B C (Am chord) C C C D C B C (F chord) F F F E)

—Taylor Swift, "champagne problems", evermore

But it wasn't just about other people: Taylor Swift was very stuck in my head. I can give you the data to prove it.

Along with my diary and DIMS, (almost) every day between November 16, 2020 and July 29, 2021 and since January 1, 2022, I've written down the song that is most stuck in my head. Let's end the data series on June 16, 2022, my last day pre-detox.

I go back and forth on whether I like this metric. Sometimes it feels like it really captures the earworminess of songs, but sometimes it just feels random and feels like I'm kind of guessing the top song. That's why I stopped tabulating it for awhile but then restarted later. However, it's data. Better than no data.

Without further ado, let's look at the list of song artists who have been stuck in my head for more than five days:

Number of days with the song most stuck in my head, Nov. 16, 2020 – July 28, 2021, Jan. 1 – June 16, 2022

It doesn't take a statistical analysis to discover the outlier in this data. 161/411 rounds to 39%, which is the fraction of days that the song most stuck in my head was by Taylor Swift.

And as you can see, this figure doesn't even include some part-Taylor options: like her duets, or the mashups, or this channel hannah grae which used to host videos with "champagne problems" or "All Too Well" from the other perspective (Genius lyrics), plus more super seamless mashups, but she went and deleted almost everything on her channel for...some reason! (She wrote a post saying this was because of an "exciting project" we would hear about "very soon" but it's been 4 months, so I don't know what the deal is.) Also excluded from the 39% is Olivia Rodrigo's music, which is basically another Taylor Swift album. There's this one random line, "It's bittersweet to think about the damage that we do" from "favorite crime", that inexplicably got very stuck in my head.

The lack of data for five months in 2021 probably also hurts this stat, if anything. You can see below that my Taylor percentage was as its peak right around this gap, and I remember "All Too Well" being super stuck in my head during that time. If it was included, it might push Taylor over 50% overall. And again, I've excluded duets and mashups here.

Proportion of songs in a particular month which were exclusively by Taylor Swift

Taylor doesn't quite comprise 50% of the songs that I listen to, though. Criminally underrepresented in this data, for example, is the music of 3Blue1Brown, which I love, listen to a lot, and made me 200 fake dollars, but it's not earwormy at all. "Better Days", by Dermot Kennedy, got Electoral-Colleged, being pretty stuck in my head for like a month while only being the most prominent song for one day. And some song artists, like Cheryl Wheeler, are just a bit underrepresented.

(A possible cause of Taylor's earworminess, musically speaking, is that her songs rarely end in a grand way, they just stop. This is my one grievance with ten-minute "All Too Well": the ending is unsatisfying, just phrases being repeated quietly. I love the lyrics "I still remember the first fall of snow / And how it glistened as it fell / I remember it all too well", but think they should be the last of the song. Regardless, this feature might allow the songs to more easily keep looping in my head after they're done playing. A lot of other artists do this, though, so I don't really buy this theory.)

"champagne problems", the top individual song at 14 days, is a funny case. Its name was the working title of a puzzle I created which was ultimately called "Summer Salts." It's also ridiculously easy to play on the piano. I did this a ton, particularly mashed up with fellow C Major/four-chords-of-pop song "All Too Well" (yes, inspired by MMM). The surprising musical simplicity (slash boringness) of the song is probably a factor in it being stuck in my head.

"If you're ever tired of being known for who you know,

You know, you'll always know me."

—Taylor Swift, "dorothea", evermore

It's unfair to reduce Taylor Swift music to trashy pop. There's a lot of music that's trashier and poppier. My #2 for earworminess is Smith & Thell, and their lyrics sound like the results of a neural net trained on pop music. My favorite example is their latest song "Planet Mars", which begins "You come from a place a thousand light years from me," a hilarious misunderstanding of the scale of the solar system. And Ed Sheeran forever annoys me by his album + being pronounced "plus" while his album × is pronounced "multiply." Be consistent!

I feel like Taylor is mostly above this sort of thing. She usually cares about making songs that work on multiple levels, and is known for her eastereggs, like secret messages in official lyrics, word searches revealing album listings. (I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it's not just her who has made puzzles about her songs.)

Taylor writes her own songs, and they're coherent and enjoyable on multiple levels.

Taylor writes her own songs, and they're coherent and enjoyable on multiple levels. "the lakes" is a clever song, with puns like "show me what are my words worth". I love the flow of "I want auroras and sad prose / I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet", and it encapsulated my mid-to-late-2021 desire to relax. The song "dorothea" manages to pack three separate meanings of the word "know" into a sentence, which is quoted in italics above. "Holy Ground", a song I initially didn't have any feelings about but has come to remind me of time spent with old friends, includes "Back when you fit in my poems like a perfect rhyme", which I love.

There are plenty more interesting things to discuss. I quoted "the 1" previously, but there's also a mention of the "roaring twenties" which I can't help but wonder about, as it is now the twenties. There's also the use of adjectives at the beginning of sentences in "invisible string" ("Bad was the blood of the song in the cab", "Bold was the waitress on our three-year trip"). (Of course I now have to mention that Jordan Ellenberg's blogged about that song, and I agree with his opinion that it's a song about wishing for an invisible string that isn't there, not one being there.) There's the detailed love triangle in "cardigan", "august", and "betty", which is its own rabbit hole.

There's a lot to appreciate. But not everything.

(I will quickly pick on the song "Red" for mentioning "Trying to solve a crossword and realizing there's no right answer", a thing that definitely for sure happens when a person is solving a crossword and not a sudoku, mmhmm Taylor you totally didn't just answer one of the clues wrong. Anyway, this is not the point.)

"Today was a fairytale,

You've got a smile

That takes me to another planet.

Every move you make, everything you say is right."

—Taylor Swift, "Today Was A Fairytale", Fearless

Many of Taylor's songs, especially the earlier ones, fall into a category I like to call "fairytaylor," which have stories where everything is magical and perfect and simple and un-nuanced.

One of her most famous songs, "Love Story", is about this, with the lyrics "You be the prince and I'll be the princess / It's a love story, baby, just say 'yes.'" In "Stay Stay Stay", a song which you'll never be able to predict the sentiment of from the title, comes the predictable "It's been occurring to me / I'd like to hang out with you for my whole life" in the song's bridge. There's the title of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together". From "Mean", the "All you're ever gonna be is mean." Taylor's current emotions are extrapolated outward for all of time.

Those examples are from older albums, and it's true that fairytaylor is less common in newer ones. But there are still examples. "London Boy" from Lover feels shallow and even maybe slightly offensive to me. And "the 1", which I've discussed so much, is still centrally about how "it would've been fun / If you would've been the 1". Very fairytaylorish to suppose that such a person exists.

There is definitely a strain of oversimplified fairytale throughout her music, and still this section always feels very fraught.

And yet there aren't that many lines that are unambiguously shallow. I worry that sometimes I just have a negative gut reaction to Taylor's songs because they're loud, or in-your-face, or girly, or too popular so I'm not edgy for liking them. There is definitely a strain of oversimplified fairytale throughout her music, and still this section always feels very fraught. I feel like as I'm slicing quotes from songs in attempts to explain them, I'm destroying them in the process: there are indescribable attributes about the songs that deserve to be the main takeaways, but that I keep sacrificing to share a random detail. "dorothea" isn't about the word "know", and "Red" isn't about crosswording, and yet those are the only aspects of those songs I will discuss in this blog post.

"I scream, 'For whatever it's worth,

I love you, ain't that the worst thing you ever heard?'"

—Taylor Swift, "Cruel Summer", Lover

Sometimes, when I talk to someone about Taylor, they say something to the effect of, "Jacob, if you like Taylor Swift music, you can like Taylor Swift music! You don't have to be ashamed of it." Hopefully I've communicated by now that it's not so simple, that not exactly being in her target audience is not my primary issue. That indescribability sometimes feels like magic, like the songs are a drug that happens to work on me sometimes. (I'm proud of my analogy between music and coffee: two uncontroversial drugs that almost everyone uses and are mostly fine.)

Songs are bottled vibes, sentiments in their pure form.

I've talked to people who it doesn't really work on. It feels like the conversation almost stops there, unless I imply they've been carried to the dark side like I used to, or that they listen to music that sounds bad in a clever way. But I always had trouble articulating why I did or didn't like Taylor, especially in a way that would imply someone else should have the same opinion. Songs are bottled vibes, sentiments in their pure form. Accordingly, I think music is much more about matching vibes in this magical sense than being objectively good.

(...although, this doesn't stop music, and media generally, from being a hard-to-resist conversation topic. People seem to love their vibes, and a lot of the value of media does come from bonding over it!)

To be fair, I don't think it's impossible to rank music objectively. Musicals are easier to consider this way, because they're much more about the actual story and lyrical content. I think Hamilton is just about the perfect musical: the story is compelling (to me) and largely accurate, the instrumentation is good in its own right, and the lyrics are packed with clever turns of phrase at every corner. I've also liked The Greatest Showman, Dear Evan Hansen, Carrie, and Heathers, and oh my god, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was my music crisis before Taylor was. Message me if you want thousands of words on the subject. A really great use of music that's not a showtune is "Music Box" by Malinda (yes, Google Translate Sings Malinda) made to accompany a video about her body image discomfort. The music truly succeeds for me at communicating the emotions behind her story.

And it's not a coincidence that the first Taylor Swift album I really got into was folklore, and one of the first songs I liked off it was "the last great american dynasty". I find that narrative albums and songs are easier to decide to like, because there's a strong surface level of meaning to appreciate before you start thinking more deeply.

"Hung my head as I lost the war,

And the sky turned black like a perfect storm!"

—Taylor Swift, "Clean", 1989

So the detox. I had thought about doing things like it before. Sometimes it felt like trying to get a Taylor song out of my head was like a war I was losing.

But the perfect storm. It was June 2022, and I was staying in a house for a week that had a beautiful mural of a whale painted on it. I was just struck by how much joy something without any utilitarian purpose brought me whenever I looked at it.

My photo of the whale house.

I was also thinking about the near-universal acceptance of fiction in books, movies, and TV. It seems very easy to imagine people going off about how it spreads lies and provides no educational value, and it's a bit weird that no one's really pushing this argument today! (Maybe people are in some corner of the internet, but not any that I frequent.)

Why was I more okay with books than music? Granted, this was later, but I had a lot of fun writing one-sentence reviews of books for the blog, and it's not trivial to argue that book quality is more objective than music. Though, to be fair, people don't read the same books over and over again the way they do music. And books have more content.

Novels also felt more intellectual and profound; I felt like maybe there was a musical niche that hadn't quite found, the equivalent of John Green novels, like The Fault in Our Stars. They're romance novels for general audiences, but the characters are nerds like me, and the books really felt meaningful. Anyway.

What the whale mural, fiction, and Taylor Swift music have in common for me is that they're real-world magic. For the most part, they give no new information about our life and surroundings, yet they can powerfully move us.

So I got back from the whale house (to the tune of "White Horse" in my head, for those playing along at home) and tried to write this blog post. It was a daunting topic, and I was still thinking about the right way to approach it, and what the right scope would be, when suddenly, it felt absolutely imperative to watch folklore: the long pond studio sessions, the documentary about the album.

I pirated it and started watching.

"I want you to know

I'm a mirrorball,

I can change everything about me to fit in."

—Taylor Swift, "mirrorball", folklore

The documentary shattered me.

It wasn't anything in particular. I just...I felt like folklore was special. I said that. But long pond made me realize it wasn't really. So many of the songs were vibes and narratives projected onto melodies written by Jack Antonoff or Aaron Dessner that Taylor just thought were amazing. While singing the songs, Taylor kept stopping to talk about how fun it was. She talked about how she secretly wanted Bon Iver to be on "exile" and fangirled when it ended up working out. Jack defended the character of James from "betty", while Taylor stressed that he was a "fool". When Taylor heard the melody of "peace", she felt that it embodied peace, but she wanted to "make it interesting," so she thought of the lyric "What if I could never give you peace?" So interesting. So much nuance here.

They all said that folklore was special, but they said it in the same way that every artist says their work of art is special. All the nuance I thought was hidden within was just an attempt to make their commercialized pop feel indie.

I didn't hate everything about long pond. They basically shared my interpretation of "I'm doing good, I'm on some new shit". There were some nice high piano notes in "cardigan" that aren't in the standard version. There's really nothing egregious about the documentary. Why shouldn't Taylor have fun singing folklore? Yet I never could articulate why I listened to folklore so much, and maybe this was the reason why: there was nothing underneath it.

I never could articulate why I listened to folklore so much, and maybe this was the reason why: there was nothing underneath it.

And the situation was even worse, because I was holding folklore as the exemplar of good Taylor Swift albums, and if it was manipulation, what about the other albums?

Over the next 20 or so hours, I went slightly insane. I listened to three episodes of Revisionist History, one about art (a relisten, to my all-time favorite episode), one about Elvis Presley and Freudian slips, and one making the case that country music is more meaningful than rock. I listened to Simon from Cracking the Cryptic's 8 songs that he would take on a desert island. Having already gotten a feel for the personalities of Dermot Kennedy, Smith & Thell, Ed Sheeran, Malinda, and Cheryl Wheeler, I watched random interviews of various types and lengths with Simon & Garfunkel, the Lumineers, Lewis Capaldi, Billie Eilish, Bastille, Maggie Rogers, Billy Joel, Olivia Rodrigo, 2009 Taylor Swift, and I think Adele, Rachel Platten, Disturbed, fun., Queen Ifrica, and Imagine Dragons (sorry, I had trouble tracking down all the links). Some musicians weren't coherent and some were. But finally I watched the Formula One version of "Holy Ground" (which I felt was the counterpoint to my preferred BBC Live Lounge version), and that was the last song I put on for over a month that I didn't like with all of me...or didn't fit some vaguely defined standard that excluded anything by Taylor Swift, along with the majority of other music.

It wasn't quite that I thought meaningless pop was a terrible scourge of the universe: I just wondered what life would be like without the music constantly playing in my head. I didn't understand why it was universal, and I found that unnerving. I wanted control, and I wanted to listen to the songs that were objectively the best ones.

I wanted control, and I wanted to listen to the songs that were objectively the best ones.

In a funny joke by the universe, I heard two contemporary Taylor Swift songs in the wild independently the next day, "All Too Well" on the radio (including the line "That magic's not here no more") and "cardigan" in a restaurant. Nevertheless, after about a week, Taylor Swift songs stopped being stuck in my head. I was able to go days without listening to any music, though this was made easier by being busy with other life things.

Interestingly, though, I still craved folklore while creating or solving puzzles in my bedroom. I wanted to hear "the 1", "cardigan", "the last great american dynasty", and "exile", or else maybe the songs of evermore shuffled. I hadn't realized until doing this stunt how strong the association between those things was in my brain, and I think not listening probably made me a little less effective. Smith & Thell had also been my go-to for tedious tasks, and avoiding it decreased my effectiveness.

I did a bit of reading about musical anhedonia, a condition where people are unable to enjoy music. It made a lot of sense to me: what was the point of music? But actual people with musical anhedonia seemed mostly to be vaguely sad about it, that there was this world of enjoying music that was totally closed off to them. I felt a bit like I had musical anhedonia while I was doing the detox.

I didn't listen to Taylor Swift, Smith & Thell, and most artists in that style, but I still couldn't quit music cold turkey. I ended up listening to a lot of Cheryl Wheeler and showtunes, though I was apprehensive because I was still trying to avoid music.

Cheryl Wheeler is an example of music that I feel is closer to the objective "good." Some of her songs are comedy (like "Potato") and satire (like "We're the Bank") but she also writes songs that are more serious in tone. There's "75 Septembers", written for her father's 75th birthday, which I think is a great example of a song that should be played over montages instead of the relentlessly happy stuff you get. Songs about love ("Arrow") but also about road trips ("Rainy Road into Atlanta"), about unexpectedly enjoyable conversations ("Alice"), about looking back on childhood dreams ("Raining in Portland"). They're just authentic and legible and clever. I do feel, again, like this description doesn't capture the full essence of the music, that explaining music is worse than explaining jokes.

But as the music detox went on, I kept feeling like it was arbitrary, like maybe the Cheryl Wheeler was just replacing Taylor Swift. Why did I feel like songs about road trips and nature were purer than songs about romance? Why did I feel like sad and nostalgic songs were purer than happy fairytaylor?

Though I couldn't articulate why I liked folklore, I also couldn't articulate what the music detox was for.

The boundaries of my detox were undefined, and arbitrary, and I didn't know what to do with them. Though I couldn't articulate why I liked folklore, I also couldn't articulate what the music detox was for. This was an era where I sent a lot of walls of text to people that I still didn't feel fully satisfied with. It was unclear to communicate because it was unclear in my head.

"You searched the world for something else

To make you feel like what we had,

And in the end, in wonderland,

We both went mad."

—Taylor Swift, "Wonderland", 1989

It'd been a month and ten days, and I could have gone longer.

But I just ended it. I listened again to some of the Taylor-adjacent pop artists whose reasons for exclusion during the detox were unclear, and then finally the essential Taylor Swift. The folklore songs felt somewhat hollow, but the rest of them felt okay. I couldn't help feeling that this was backwards, and that if I watched documentaries about the other albums I would've had the same feeling. I was listening to Taylor Swift again, but it wasn't the same.

My feelings from long pond gradually faded. And then, three weeks later, on August 17, I sat down to make a puzzle, decided to put on folklore, and on that day it finally regained for me the magic it had lost. It was a profound moment, and I'm so grateful for it.

I sat down to make a puzzle, decided to put on folklore, and on that day it finally regained for me the magic it had lost.

Additional closure time. I mentioned earlier that I had been looking for the John Green novels of music, and so naturally, I had sought out John Green's favorite music. Fortunately, he has a podcast, The Anthropocene Reviewed (now also a book, which I haven't yet read), where he "reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale." It's both light and deep at the same time, it's great.

It so happens that Episode 14 (here's a transcript) reviews, in addition to the Hall of Presidents, the song "New Partner", by Palace Music. I'd feel bad quoting the entire second half of the episode, but it's worth checking out. Anyway, here are the most narratively important parts to this blog post:

"It's been my favorite song for over 20 years now, but I've never really been able to make sense of the lyrics. One couplet goes, 'And the loons on the moor, the fish in the flow / And my friends, my friends still will whisper hello.' I know that means something; I just don’t know what. The next line is equally beautiful and baffling: 'When you think like a hermit, you forget what you know.'


But 'New Partner' is not just a song for me; it's a kind of actual magic, because it has the ability to transport me to all the places I've heard that song before ... Like any magic, you have to be careful with a magical song — listen to it too often, and it will become routine. You'll hear the chord changes before they come, and the song will lose its ability to surprise and teleport you. But if I’m judicious with a magical song, it can take me back to places more vividly than any other form of memory.

[John Green tells five anecdotes from his life that he associates with the song]

We're playing 'New Partner' for our now nine-year-old son for the first time, and Sarah and I can't help but smile a little giddily at each other. We start dancing together slowly in the kitchen despite our son's gagging noises, and we sing along, Sarah on-key and me way off, and at the end of the song I ask my son if he liked it and he says, 'A little.'

That's okay. He'll have a different song. You probably have a different one, too. I hope it carries you to places you need to visit without asking you to stay in them."

folklore has not existed for the 20 years John Green has loved "New Partner", and neither have I. But a lot of this rings true for me, particularly the lyrics that "[mean] something; I just don't know what." It reminds me of Simon's 8 desert-island songs, which I felt nothing while listening to, and still, as he explains in his blurbs, they have really powerful connections for him to times in his life. It reminds me of the songs my parents listen to from when they grew up that have their own magic. It reminds me that folklore will probably remind me of now when I listen to it in 20 years. "It's a kind of actual magic."

Something can be undefinable and unquantifiable but still bad. When I say music is magic, I'm not saying it's only good, just magical. Still, it resonates with me: it may be totally fake, but it's the only thing that's real.

Flavoracle (a Tumblr personality who, ironically, I came across because of Magic: The Gathering) introduced me to the concept of real-world magic, defining it as "Anything that exists but cannot be defined or quantified by science," and wrote "I believe that 'good' comes from people who want to cultivate and grow magic in the world." I agree with this conditionally. Something can be undefinable and unquantifiable but still bad. When I say music is magic, I'm not saying it's only good, just magical. Still, it resonates with me: it may be totally fake, but it's the only thing that's real.

When I first listened to "New Partner" itself, I didn't really like it, but the more I listened to it, the more I started liking it. Very poetic.

For those of you who like data, here's my earworms chart as of September 8:

Number of days with the song most stuck in my head, Nov. 16, 2020 – July 28, 2021, Jan. 1 – Sep. 9, 2022

(The Billy Joel is "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant", which was randomly stuck in my head.) The final Taylor percentage was 7% for July and 10% for August.

"That old familiar body ache,

The snaps from the same little breaks in your soul,

You know when it's time to go."

—Taylor Swift, "it's time to go", evermore

This post is now over six thousand words, which I'm pretty sure is a Chromatic Conflux record. (6042, according to When I originally wrote this parenthetical, the length was slightly below 6119, and I mentioned how I was resisting the temptation to push it over just because, but shock surprise, it got longer after more editing.) And I didn't even talk at all about Taylor's public relationship drama. Anyway, maybe this should've been two or three parts. Sorry?

Regardless, Taylor Swift music has accounted for a lot of my magic in the last two years. I can say now, it's nice when it doesn't consume me.

She's releasing another album in October. The world thought 1989 (Taylor's Version) was gonna be next (well, I did), but nope, Midnights, 13 new songs. I'm tentatively excited.

I'm doing good, I'm on some new shit, and I hope this blog post came close to navigating the minefield of beliefs I almost have. I hope it provided a good-enough approximation to my complicated feelings about not only the discography of popular American singer-songwriter Taylor Alison Swift, but music, art, and all the real-world magic that surrounds us.


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1 Comment

Sep 14, 2022

This was fantastic! It may qualify as a book. I think I will have to listen to Taylor Swift now. Glad your are enjoying music so much.

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