Oakland, CA — In 2014, I was one of the countless people dancing the days away to Taylor Swift’s “1989” album. I was 8 when the album was released, 9 when I attended the "1989” world tour. And soon after, I became the founder and co-president of my class’s Taylor Swift club.
The adoration I had for Taylor Swift back then, was solely about the music. The catchy lyrics and synthy, 80s inspired beats woven throughout her first pop album were an exciting and captivating twist from her previous country sound. And while I had liked Swift before, “1989” was the album that made me fall in love with her music.
But in the nine years following the album’s release, my love for Swift has shifted from its original scope. In elementary school, I had no idea how the world outside of my fan club was treating Taylor Swift.
Swift’s career has long been saddled with the media’s obsessive remarks and constant ridicule of her dating life. She’s received constant backlash for how many relationships she’s had and for writing songs about her ex-boyfriends. Slutshaming her has become a commonplace in the media, in everything from magazines and tabloids to popular TV shows like “Ginny and Georgia.” When she shot a YouTube video for “Vogue” magazine’s “73 Questions” series, Swift was asked what advice she had for her younger self. “If I could talk to myself at 19, I would say, ‘Hey, you’re gonna date just like a normal 20-something should be allowed to do, but you’re going to be a national lightning rod for slut-shaming.’” Even now, as The Eras Tour is shattering records and Swift’s music is dominating the charts, she’s still often reduced to being nothing but a girl singing about boys.
On Oct. 27, exactly nine years after the album's original debut, “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” was released with the addition of five new “vault” tracks. “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” is the fourth entry to earn the “Taylor’s Version” title. After being denied the right to own the master recordings to her first six albums, Swift started re-recording her old albums one-by-one to reclaim her masters and have ownership over her music. After dropping the re-recordings of “Wildest Dreams” and “This Love,” the entire album is finally here.
With each re-release, the 33-year-old includes tracks “from the vault,” which are unreleased songs that were written at the time of the original album. In September, when Swift announced that the first vault track on “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” would be called “Slut!,” it immediately became the most anticipated song from the re-release. No one knew exactly what to expect of “Slut!” Some thought it would be a raunchy power anthem and others a sad, longing ballad. But what no one expected was that “Slut!” would be a love song.
The song is simultaneously an ode to being in love, and a social commentary on how Swift has been shamed by the media. “But if I’m all dressed up / They might as well be looking at us / If they call me a ‘slut!’ / You know it might be worth it for once.”
“Though the song is self-aware and occasionally insightful about the double standard Swift experienced as a young woman in the public eye, its edge is blunted by the way it centers the salvation of romance, as if the affection of a decent man — “In a world of boys,” Swift swoons, “he’s a gentleman” — can rescue a woman from the systemic scrutiny of sexism.”
Swift isn’t saying that dating the right man is going to rescue a woman from sexism – she’s saying the complete opposite.
Time and time again, Swift has been labeled as a slut. The right man — or a decent man — doesn’t make that okay, or rescue her from the scrutiny of sexism. If that were the case, being in a relationship would stop people calling her a slut, and this song never would’ve been written. Swift has been consistently ridiculed just for being in relationships, and “Slut!” is an acknowledgement of how truly unavoidable slutshaming really is, regardless of how loving those relationships are.
My adoration for Swift is no longer just a love for the music. It’s a whole new respect for who she is, what she’s gone through and the endurance it must take to bounce back and create after a 17-year-long career of constantly being shamed by the media. “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” is the latest album that Swift has reclaimed as her own. And “Slut!” is the latest way Swift has reclaimed a word used by the media to demean her. And in turn, reclaimed a part of herself.
Phoebe Lefebvre (she/her) is a high school student at Oakland School of the Arts focusing on creative nonfiction writing.
Edited by Nykeya Woods and Amber Ly