The storm breaks. The petrichor engulfs you, pleasantly filling your nostrils. The dulcet sounds of serenity tickle your fancy. There is a rainbow rising, just there, over the horizon.The peaceful confluence of all these senses culminates in a feeling of justice, that all is right with the world. There is an acceptance that accompanies these sensations and that acceptance leads to a proud, bold declaration: I AM ME!
“ME!” is a colorful, cheerful departure from the black & white, tempestuous Reputationera. The opening of the video features a clear demarcation of the two eras: a serpent, the symbol of Reputation, explodes into a flock of multi-colored butterflies. The singing opens with the vocal effects of “Delicate”, the lasting single of Reputation, only to be dropped in short order in favor of her natural singing voice. The ReputationStorm has broken and what is left is the Rainbow of “ME!”
Superficially, it may seem as Taylor Swift is retreating to the safety of girlish innocence where she made her mark as the purveyor of romantic fairy tales and ensuing heartbreak. The metamorphosis of the serpent into butterflies is a definitive visualization that storm is past her. There is not only a continuity between these two eras, but a forward progress. It was through the raging tempest of Reputation, she found “ME!”. “ME!” is not a retreat, but a result of truly accepting herself for herself. “ME!” is the goal for all humans, but we all venture through our own Reputation storm before we arrive at “ME!”. Reputation is steeped in self-doubt and injustice. From those emotions arose a myriad of virulent and complicated reactions. Her own identity became nebulous to herself.
I attended the Reputation tour in late July of last year. She gave an excellent speech in between two songs. She discussed the deeply unsettling notion of your own sense of self not mirroring other people’s opinions of you. That is a form of injustice. I once heard it explained that etymology of “justice” is from the Greek to mean “right ordering of relationships”. In layman’s terms, if you feel things are out of whack, you are experiencing a sense of injustice. As soon as I heard her say how she felt her reputation no longer matches what she thought of herself, I immediately thought of what “justice” means. In my opinion, justice is the key ingredient for peace. Without justice, people live in turmoil and agony. Reputationwas the tumultuous product of this injustice.
For me, there were two ways to deal with injustice: punishment or mercy. In this case, I could see a lot of Taylor punishing herself and those around her. There were moments of her trying to rationalize her own bad behavior by blaming others, ahem “Look What YOU Made ME Do”. She vividly scoffs at the idea of forgiveness in “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”. There were other moments of her despairing over her actions and chastising herself for blaming others, “Delicate”. It is not neat and linear because when you are living in injustice. It is not clean; it is messy. You don’t what to believe. Am I really the bad guy? Or am I misunderstood? As I am listening to her speech, a lot of light bulbs are going off in my head when she goes on in her speech to prescribe a third avenue as a solution to injustice, which hitherto had not entered my mind.
She explained the act of expressing these negative, dark thoughts could lead to healing through making connections with other people that would understand. It is a two-way acceptance of imperfection also known as love. Love is accepting people for who they are despite their shortcomings and faults. Not every single thought in our head is the right one. Not every single reaction is the perfect one. Even the saintliest, kind, generous people have a dark thought or a poor reaction or self-doubt. Reputation is an expression of Taylor Swift, warts and all.
There are many times where I would initially shake my head at a lyric especially when she scoffs at the idea of “forgiveness” in the breakdown of “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”. Mercy is such a core tenet of who I am. Giving people a second chance and never giving up on people is at the very fiber of my being. I remember becoming angry when I first heard this lyric. The righteous indignation was flowing through my mind “How dare she…there are impressionable people…”, but then I listened to her speech at the concert. I re-listened to the whole album. I checked my sanctimonious attitude at the door and I got it. I present a very forgiving and understanding person to this world because I believe in people and I want to lead by example. However, has every single one of my thoughts aligned with my moral code, the answer is a resounding no! I believe that is what Reputationis.
Reputation is a comprehensive look at the darkness and doubt within all of us. Reputation is an exploration of the recesses of the mind and presented to the world on the grandest stage. It was an act of astonishing vulnerability. Through that courageous vulnerability, she presents Reputation as a mere aspect of who she is. In doing so, this fosters an environment of two-way comfort. For her fans, it supports those struggling with issues of self-identity and self-doubt. The solace comes in the form of acknowledging that even your idol is not perfect, but she is not defined by dark storm of Reputation. For Taylor, she stood in front of sold out stadium after sold out stadium she re-made those connections with her fans that restored her faith in herself bringing forth the fruit of justice: peace. With peace comes acceptance. With acceptance comes the bold, proud declaration: “I AM ME!”
“Stargazer” by Rainbow is a song I would consider for the Greatest Song of All Time if I was to make such a list. I highly recommend it if you have not already heard it.