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Taylor Swift’s “mad woman” Alongside “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Taylor Swift Yellow Wallpaper

“What is the matter?” the narrator’s husband asks in one of the last paragraphs of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, The Yellow Wallpaper. It’s the first time he asks his wife what is wrong. But by that point, it’s too late.

You see, no one likes a mad woman.

And in the end of The Yellow Wallpaper (*spoilers*) our female narrator ends up quite mad. But she also takes back her own power and, in a way, her freedom. 

When Taylor Swift released folklore in July 2020, listeners got a few more glimpses into the painful battle for her masters that was coupled alongside the heartbreaking betrayal of someone she trusted for years.

Swift’s song mad woman is a calm, steady, methodical descent into the special kind of insanity fueled by pain and anger. For centuries, women have been minimized and ostracized, hunted and blamed, burned, lobotomized, isolated, and shamed, themes Swift has explored in countless songs.

When looking at lyrics of mad woman and certain aspects of reputation and Lover through the lens of The Yellow Wallpaper, the short story from 1892 feels as if it could have been written by Swift herself, a modern day story of timeless female pain. 

In Wallpaper, readers meet a woman who is being forced to “rest” to cure her depression and anxiety in a room with horrible yellow walls. We immediately see how the narrator defines her own mental state and own sense of self through a man’s perspective: her husband.

John, a doctor, is a steady drumbeat of dismissiveness disguised as rationale (*cough* patriarchy*). John’s extreme reasonableness causes our narrator to assume she’s the one with major problems. He cares so, so, much, which is why he is telling her what to do and how to think/feel:

“John is practical in the extreme.”

“John says the very worst thing I can do is think…”

“He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.”

At one point the husband calls the narrator “little girl” when telling her what she shouldn’t be doing. 

Throughout Swift’s career, she’s continually run into men who infantilize her, reduce her to her emotions and try to minimize her strength. And her experience with her masters is no different.

Whether we saw statements declaring men’s reasonableness and maturity while labeling Swift’s emotions as a “temper tantrum,” or whether they are flying around saving face, the men in the story of her masters are kindred to the narrator’s husband, John. They gaslight the woman who tries to speak. Your thoughts and your feelings are incorrect, little girl. 

But Swift’s anger fuels her determination. Swift sings, “When you say I seem angry/ I get more angry” just as the narrator in Wallpaper states, “I get positively angry with the impertinence of it [the yellow wallpaper] and the everlastingness.” And the narrator becomes obsessed with the walls of her room, “I exhaust myself in trying to distinguish the order of its going in that direction,” which echoes the lines from mad woman, “They say ‘Move on’, but you know I won’t.” 

Swift stated in multiple interviews how excited she is to re-record her masters. Her conviction is heartfelt and positive, but can also be characterized as a sort of obsession, her being one of the first artists to dive into such an ambitious goal: only a certain degree of beautiful madness could drive such an undertaking. The narrator in Wallpaper says, “I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.”

Much like we’ve watched Swift’s career evolve, the yellow wallpaper evolves for our narrator throughout the story. Depending on the time of day or night, the pattern looks different. And at night, it looks like bars. The narrator states “…it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern…The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out.” Eventually, the narrator begins to tear at the wallpaper to try and free the woman. She locks the bedroom door (because “No one likes a mad woman”) and gets to work. 

In Swift’s music video for Look What You Made Me Do, we see Swift trapped inside a golden cage, surrounded by men. Whether by breaking away from her country-expectations or spearheading creative freedom, Swift also was forced to tear down the confining wallpaper that surrounded her. Imagine Swift trying to negotiate for the rights to her original masters. The narrator in Wallpaper tries once to voice her wishes to her husband to not avail. “I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go…but he said I wasn’t able to go,” she states. 

And while Swift tried her best to avoid the current scenario, without the madness and fury, we wouldn’t be getting Taylor’s Version re-recordings, we wouldn’t get the vault songs and get the opportunity to support a woman reclaiming her own art. 

At one point in Wallpaper, the narrator says her husband, “laughed a little the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wall-paper…I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wall-paper.” One can imagine Swift saying something very similar. That is is because of the very thing that drove her mad that she is doing so much better.

When her husband breaks down the door, asks in horror what she is doing, asks “What is the matter?” we see the narrator is crawling around on all fours. 

She says, “‘I’ve got out at last…in spite of you and Jane? And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!’ Now why would that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!”

Though there are a number of interpretations of who “Jane” is, many agree it is the name of narrator herself. In Swift’s video for …are you ready for it? Viewers see Swift against Swift, we see her battling herself, evolving through versions of what she felt she ‘should’ be, imprisoned by perfectionism, before destroying her controlling-robotic version and rising above it all.

And just like the narrator, whose sane, rational, husband ended up being the one to fall, we get to revel in the glorious madness of Swift moving over and past the very men who tried to lock her away.  

The yellow wallpaper drives the narrator to madness, totally fills her every thought, and eventually leads to her “freedom.” She loses her mind but simultaneously reclaims herself (and something that was everything).

No one likes a man woman. 

What is the matter?

You made her like that. 

It does not do to trust people too much.

I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.

I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.

You know I didn’t want to have to haunt you, but what a ghostly scene. 

Read Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” here.

Listen to Swift’s “mad woman” here.

My Long Overdue Apology to Taylor Swift (that no one asked for but I still felt compelled to write)

All right, buckle up, it’s been over a year since I last posted and that last post was (you guessed it) also about Taylor Swift. I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but felt embarrassed/ashamed to write it.

“All these people think love’s for show”

I’ll try to keep it simple: Back in 2016 I developed a theory involving Taylor and one of her exes. I clung to that theory for a long time and wrote thorough posts with all of my evidence (aka confirmation bias). The last one I wrote was as recent as last summer, though, that one strays a bit.

Someone once told me I only became interested in Taylor Swift when people started to tear her down, that I joined the mob. I felt defensive because the truth was it was because of how much I liked her that my theory arose.

“The devil’s in the details”

I wanted to believe she was one step ahead of us, that she was laughing at the pitchforks and torches from up high on her tower-of-intelligence. I wanted to believe she’d found someone who was willing to pull the wool over all our eyes in the midst of her tornado. It was unfathomable to me that someone as intelligent, talented and so obviously kind-hearted could be put through such hell….so I just assumed she had it all under control.

Four years later I know I was wrong. (And, tbh, part of me could tell I was wrong quiiiite a while ago but my confirmation bias would not stop).

She told me in her Rep letter, she told me in London Boy, and she told me in Peace….she told me in the empty picture frames scattered throughout her videos, in the stars around her scars and in Miss Americana.

I’m sorry Taylor Swift, for being another voice who spent more time caring about your boyfriend than your art. I’m sorry for writing about it. I’m sorry for clinging to it for so embarrassingly long when you were clearly going through it.

“But you’ve got a friend in me”

And I know it comes across as juvenile, but I wanted to share some pics that show I was a fan pre-2016 apocalypse. In the spirit of the Lover journals, here are some glimpses into the past…

This journal was with me through my own intense years of growth. From moving in with my then-boyfriend (now-husband), to quitting my job to try my hand at self-employment as a writer, to starting to write my romance novel (lol embarrassing), to dreaming big for our Europe trip, to planning our wedding:

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And here are some tweets from when I used to feel safe’ish on social media and actually tweeted stuff:

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One of the reasons I feel so connected to Taylor’s story is that in April 2016 I wrote this blog post, “Rebuilding that Confidence like an OG” which reflects on how I was looking at older pieces of writing and wondering where that “care-free” version of myself went. And it features this bit of writing. You’ll see why parts of Miss Americana really. resonated. with. me:

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And so when she sings “You knew it still hurts underneath my scars / from when they pulled me apart” I FEEL THAT.

Listen, I’m not sitting here saying that I’m the world’s biggest Swiftie…that crown fits better on so many other breathtakingly devoted fans. But as a writer and a romantic and a sensitive individual, as a “skinny white bitch” (other’s words, not mine) who grew up trying to be good and please everyone, as a woman who has learned to stand up for herself and to try her best to ignore criticisms, who is learning to be fearless…I am the biggest fan.

I’m now a mom, I’m working full-time, I’m working on a novel (lord help me), I’m trying my best to be a good partner and friend and family member and I know a big part in growing up is apologizing even if you know it might not be heard.

I apologize for my dumb past blog posts.

I thank you for your sharp pen and thin skin. 

 

 

 

 

Taylor Swift Predicted Her Own Future When She Wrote “The Lucky One” in 2012

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to Instagram it, does it make a sound? – Taylor Swift, Oct. 2108

A handful of summers back, I found myself on a boat on a large river in northern Idaho. As we motored along the water, someone pointed to a large brown home that sat at the water’s edge with pastures and a beautiful barn. The home had a breathtaking steeple roof, divided by large glass slats—you can just imagine the warmth of the sun streaming into the living space.

“Shania Twain lived there.”

The pre-teen ghost of my past squealed in my heart, though my exterior just casually said, “oh cool.”

But seriously…the Shania Twain?

I have no idea if that home ever belonged to Shania Twain (something tells me no). But, over the years, I continually think of that spot along the river in quiet Idaho when I listen to Taylor Swift’s song “The Lucky One.”

For those a bit unfamiliar with Shania Twain’s story: she was a huge. massive. monumental success in the late ‘90s/ early-2000s. She was the darling of the country world. With songs like “Man I Feel Like a Woman” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much” dominating the charts, she was like a firework of stardom.

But exhaustion quickly set in. And she discovered she had Lyme disease, which resulted in devastating harm to her vocal cords. Then, her husband of 15 years left her for her friend. Needless to say: this talented songbird needed a break. All in all she took a 15 year hiatus from the music scene.

So when Swift decided to “disappear” after the pain points of 2016, it held echoes of Twain’s own run-from-the-spotlight. And it reminded me of song number thirteen off her 2012 album, Red.

“The Lucky One” made sense when it came out. It made sense Swift would be inspired to write about someone showing up and transforming themselves for stardom, then doubting others when they tell her she is lucky. And this was no different than when Britney Spears sang “She’s so lucky/ she’s a star/ but she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart” twelve years before in her song Lucky in 2000. The two songs have many parallels.

The part of “The Lucky One” that stands out like a candle lit in a dark room is the bridge (and we all know Swift loves a good bridge!).

It was a few years later, I showed up here
And they still tell the legend of how you disappeared,
How you took the money and your dignity, and got the hell out
They say you bought a bunch of land somewhere,
Chose the Rose Garden over Madison Square,
And it took some time, but I understand it now
‘Cause now my name is up in lights,
But I think you got it right,

Guys, homegirl basically saw into her own future. The song makes just as much sense in the light of 2019 as it did seven years before.

In her Reputation song “Getaway Car” Swift says “I left you in a motel bar/ Put the money in a bag and I stole the keys / That was the last time you ever saw me (go!).”

Swift took the money and her dignity and got the hell out. She chose a rose garden. She chose flowers and nature and quiet and love.

The music-lyrical house she’d built over the years was not torn down. “Actually,” she tells us, “I just built a bunker around it.” But, luckily, that bunker didn’t have to be all stone walls and cold moats. It can also be a place of lush nature and tranquil quiet and love. She was the lucky one—to surround herself with grounded people who loved her.

You don’t have to search far to see what the other side of the coin might look like. We all watched in horror (and painfully detached, foam-at-the-mouth-gossip-blog-awe) when Britney Spears unraveled in 2007. I think it’s tempting to forget just how scary it was to witness that event unfold—and how the outside world, and its demand of her, contributed so directly to that situation.

It is not easy to quietly step back. It is not easy to say, no, you do not get to take my picture right now. No, you do not get to be part of my blooming young love. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to Instagram it, does it make a sound?

I feel so thankful that Swift was able to trade Madison Square for her rose garden. Or, as it was described in the recent Vogue interview, “A human-scale basket that is short of shaped like a cocoon.”

As 2012 Swift would tell today-Swift: “It took some time, but I understand now/ I think you got it right.”

And now, we are the lucky ones. We get to glimpse inside that cocoon with the upcoming release of Lover. Come August 23rd, thousands of people will point to their deluxe editions with pages of Swift’s personal diaries and they will say “Taylor Swift lived here.”

PS: If you want to read a few other similar pieces I’ve written recently’ish, see below.

Why Taylor Swift Can’t Simply “Get Over It” & Why That’s Okay

Talking About Dating Anxiety + Love on GROUP Podcast

When Rebecca Lee Douglas first reached out to me to ask if she could interview me for her podcast, GROUP, my knee-jerk reaction was to politely say “thank you, but no thank you.” I sometimes don’t even answer the phone when it’s people I love, what makes you think I wana jump on a call with a stranger?

Actually, I don’t even think I responded to her first email.

Rebecca Lee Douglas is the founder and producer of the podcast GROUP, which focuses on mental health. She brings experts in and discusses important mental health issues in a relatable, empathetic, and often humorous way. There are episodes on thought distortions, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and even emotional support animals. She’s amazing.

Buzzfeed recently named GROUP as one of the 27 Podcasts You Need to Start Listening To In 2018. In other words: Yas Qween!!

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So when she said she wanted to talk with me for a mini-Valentine’s Day episode my inner-voice-slash-confidence-that-I’m-still-working-on-everyday was like “nah, she doesn’t actually want to talk to me.”

But guys, Rebecca Lee Douglas is the coolest.

And my admiration for her (and acknowledgement of my own insecurities and fears) overshadowed my desire to avoid her. I’m so glad I took the chance because it was like talking to an old friend.

We chatted about love, dating, intimacy, and of course inappropriately timed digestive complications that can arise whilst trying to be romantic. She is honestly the loveliest person and I am so lucky to have been part of her show.

Click on the image above to listen. And subscribe to the show at the official GROUP podcast site, on iTunesStitcher or Acast.

She’s going to take over the podcast world and I hope we all cheer her along in the sidelines. In a world that continually breaks out hearts it’s vital we steer our eyes and hearts towards the people out there doing good.

GROUP, and Rebecca, are doing so much good. Thank you.

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Rebecca Lee Douglas

Rebecca Lee Douglas is a freelance journalist and multimedia producer.

Her stories focus on mental health and intersectional feminism.

She has Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which is sometimes super crappy, but is usually ok with therapy, sunshine, exercise, and friendship.

Besides talking about mental health and feminism, Rebecca enjoys the following things: all types of cheese (except for blue cheese – ew), dogs, napping, being outside, comedy, sour gummy candy, and horror films.

Follow her on Twitter @RebeccaLDouglas.

Taylor Swift Calvin Harris

Analysis of Lightning Bolts & Taylor Swift’s “…Ready for It?”

Let’s go back to the lightning bolts.

But first, I need to acknowledge how amazing this one theory is and how much it’s helped me put some things in perspective. This beautiful and insightful theory, by Fearlesslove13 & @shesdeads (brought to my attention via Buzzfeed) dove into the idea that the Taylors in the video are not good vs. evil. But instead, she is training. YES YES YES.

In their post they say:

this means that the darker taylor, the one in the hoodie, represents all of the old taylors, and the media’s perception of them.  she’s the one that recognizes the world is cruel, and trains the caged taylor because she wants her to be able to survive.  and by sacrificing that version of herself to protect her, she gives the now freed taylor the opportunity to start fresh, and maybe not end up the same way she did.

What I particularly love about this is their insight into the concept of “rebirth.” On how Taylor made the choice to redefine herself. In a sense, she knew she had to burn it all down in order to rise anew.

We are met with a “naked” Taylor who goes through multiple evolutions (basically, shedding one self for the next and the next). She tries to build armor, defend herself, fight back, look like “a bad guy” and when that doesn’t work she tries to be the pure white knight in armor atop of the white horse. But when that isn’t quite right either she has to return to just her bare bones/naked self.

In This is What You Came For we are introduced to Taylor and the lightning. “Lightning strikes every time she moves.” This, as pointed out in earlier posts, has to do with her inability to make even the slightest movement in 2015/early 2016 without the media attacking and striking her down/illuminating her every move.

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calvin harris / this is what you came for

BUT, she discovers the power in this. In …Ready for It? We literally see her discover the potential of all this power, the power in the lightning. And how they can define her reality. And we see her look around and notice the countless orbs of power around her (all the different alternate realities). We see her reaching out towards one…literally picking her own reality.

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Discovering the power, yo!

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Literally reaching out for that new reality!

 

THEN we see her harnessing that power. This is when she (and, according to my theory, CH) decided to use the power of the media —and all of us salivating conspiracy theorists—against us. They self-imploded, put up smoke screens, crafted fake narratives, disappeared into the night and allowed themselves to be alone in their newly formed reality.

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Learning how to harness that power, before breaking free.

The Taylor at the end of …Ready for It? is once again raw, naked and vulnerable JUST like the Taylor we are seeing in the clips from Call it What You Want. She’s returned to a more honest and naked form. But, it was at a price, which is why the Taylor at the end of …Ready for It sheds a tear. There are a lot of sacrifices you have to make and pain you need to go through to have privacy and to live as you wish.

Before TS & CH broke up they were leaving us clues about the lightning bolts. They were right there in front of us from the start. And when the drama queens and liars were tearing her down, she decided to at least do one thing right. She harnessed that power, held her love close and returned to her true self.

NOW GO PAINT SOME MORE PAINTINGS IN BED, GIRL. xo

 

 

cover image cc: @taylorswift instagram