Taylor Swift Is…Not So Bad

Editor’s Note: With Taylor Swift having just been named Time’s “Person Of the Year,” it was perfect timing for this piece by the dad of a “Swiftie.” Maybe those of us out of her target demo should give her a chance. Read on.


I know what you’re thinking.  I’ve been there myself.  My now early-twenties daughter was obsessed with Taylor Swift as a teen and still is.  I was constantly reminded that she’s had more number ones than the Beatles.  All I heard in the car was “Mean”, “Shake it Off” and “Dear John” (poor John Mayer).  But here I am asking you to reconsider what you might think of her music, Travis Kelce romance aside.

Let’s start with Taylor’s accomplishments.  Starting in 2006 with her self-titled album, she’s released what seems like a non-ending stream of highly successful LPs (ten of them), each of which has done very well and earned significant airplay.  She’s won 12 Grammy Awards (three for Album of the Year, tying for most by an artist), 40 American Music Awards, 23 MTV Video Awards, 12 Country Music Association Awards, and was the youngest artist on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time. She’s sold 50 million albums and 150 million singles. On Spotify, she has the most single-day streams and most single-week streams. Her latest album, Midnights, entered Billboard at number one, and at one point the top ten slots on the Billboard Top 100 were all from this album (the first artist to do that).  And then when her label would not allow her to buy her music catalog, she re-recorded and re-released four of them to great fanfare.  She has spoken out against TicketMaster’s monopoly and pricing tactics and has even considered starting her own ticketing service.

Being a weekend musician, I had some skepticism about the simplicity of her songs, the rare chord changes, the lack of harmonies, her words and phrasing; thoughts that caused me to skip over any songs of hers that popped up on her playlist. But then I had an epiphany and it happened during a Karaoke outing while on a business trip with some fellow fathers.

After I’d done my take on “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, a young girl started singing a song that caught my attention.  When she got to the chorus, the entire place sang along – including the four middle-aged men who were on the trip with me.  I asked them, “What’s this song?” They replied incredulously “’Betty’? By Taylor Swift? Dude!”

Shortly after I returned, I snagged some tickets for my daughter to see Swift in Tampa for her Eras concert. When she returned she spoke of a fantastic show, three hours’ worth, with no intermission, constant costume changes, and…guitar solos!  And then she suggested we see the IMAX movie version of the concert; I was hooked. A lot of the songs I’d first heard casually had been rearranged with stronger basslines and guitar parts, which piqued my interest even more.

Speaking of the Eras tour, here are some impressive statistics: it contributed $2.2 billion to the US economy. She funded twice the amount of money needed to cover her carbon footprint. She tried to hire only local workers at each stop.  Typically, every $100 spent on live performances generates $300 in other spending like hotels, transportation, etc.  For the Eras tour, audiences are spending upwards of $1,500 of additional monies and boosting local economies. She paid each driver in her tour trucking staff a $100,000 bonus. She’s donated generously to local food banks along the way and has led a voter registration drive among her young fans.

But let’s talk about her music and some songs that are worth your time.  In my opinion, these are well-crafted, clever, or just plain catchy.

“Betty” – (album: folklore)

This is the song that brought down the Karaoke joint and it’s one of my favorites.  The story is subtle and tells the tale of someone who has wronged Betty in some way that is made clear later in the song.  Right off the start the simple harmonica intro and acoustic guitar are Bob Dylan or Neil Young worthy.  Chord changes are simple, and the lyrics paint a vivid tale that ends each verse with a pause and the spoken words “the worst thing that I ever did… is what I did to you.” The narrator worries about what would happen if they dared to show up at a forthcoming party to make amends.  And then the party approaches and the song slows to nearly a standstill, ending with a simple strum, a major to minor chord to suggest the coming dread.  And when the inevitable happens, the words “so I showed up at your party” are repeated without any indication of the outcome, which takes us to an unexpected modulation that makes the song soar right to the end.  Well-written and poignant, it’s one that I can now sing at Karaoke.

“You Need to Calm Down” – (album: Lover)

This is a more pop-oriented song with a simple synth bass line but it’s the lyrics are that are particularly amusing.  The tune is directed at someone throwing shade, presumably at Taylor.  The arpeggiated “uh-oh’s” are well done, especially the last high-octave one.  Clever lyrics drive home the point that just being hateful is wrong.

Anti-Hero” – (album: Midnights)

This is another song that’s lyric-driven and speaks of the exhaustion Taylor (presumably) feels of being criticized or labeled.  I’ll just quote the chorus:

“It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me

At tea time, everybody agrees”

Great lines, and a straightforward song that speaks to the insecurities that most people suffer from.

“Dear John” – (album: Taylor)

This song off her first album turns out to be a hit job on John Mayer whom she dated and collaborated with for a while in 2009.  While it mimics some of the guitar stylings of Mayer, including a great guitar solo, it’s just beautifully performed and fun to play on guitar.  And the words are interesting even if a little hateful. She rarely does this song in concert as both she and Mayer have moved on and she considers the song “a bit mean.”  Note that a similar song with the same timing and harmonica is “I Bet You Think About Me.” from Red (Taylor’s Version) with a great vocal accompaniment by Chris Stapleton.

“Vigilante Shit” – (album: Midnights)

Get those sub-woofers ready because this song will drive them into the ground with a simple synth-bass line and cutting lyrics.


That’s not to say all of Taylor Swift’s music is fantastic; whose is?  Even Led Zeppelin II included the clunker “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper.”  But as Taylor Swift has matured, her songwriting skills have also improved.  And she’s one of the few artists who writes nearly all of her own music; that’s notable nowadays. Her lyrics often speak of courage and empowerment, which her young female fans especially love.  Take a listen to the ones above, and then check out some of her other songs. You might find that she’s not as “bad” as you might think.

-Will Wills

Photo: Taylor Swift, 2019 (© Glenn Francis, www.PacificProDigital.com via Wikimedia Commons)





Other Posts You Might Like


Will Wills — a native-born Italian, raised in the US — does a killer impersonation of Mario (“a-letsa-go!”). Generally, you’ll find him frenetically bouncing between software development at a large US firm, leading a local dance/pop band, playing COD and watching MST3K. Yes, he’s sleep deprived, but you can follow his resulting incoherence at @WillrWills or his band at @WillsAndTheWays or his blog, "A Day in a Monkey's Life," if you’re suffering from insomnia, too.

6 comments on “Taylor Swift Is…Not So Bad

  1. Ronald Hext

    You need to do better research before you write about Taylor. Dear John was on ‘Speak Now’ in 2010 not debut album in 2006, 3 years before their relationship. The lyrics quoted for Antihero don’t make your point that she speaks of the exhaustion she (presumably) feels of being criticized or labeled. Eras Tour contributed over $5 Billion not $2.2 Billion to the US economy. $2.2 B is what the tour is estimated to gross. Saying she paid each driver in her tour trucking staff a $100,000 bonus tells only part of that story. She paid that to 50 truckers, $5 Million, and paid another $50 Million to everyone else on the tour. Every album from her second through her tenth and her 4 rerecords all debuted at #1 on Billboard, another record. Different estimates state she has sold 75-150 Million albums not 50 Million. As far as accomplishments, you should mention 3 of her greatest; being named Woman, Artist and Songwriter of the Decade. Also she’s Spotify’s Global top artist of 2023 and Apples #1 artist of the year. Sorry the Beatles have 19 #1’s, Taylor currently has 13, from her 2nd to her 10th plus 4 rerecorded albums debuted at #1 on Billboard. Read her main Wikipedia pages.

    • Will Wills

      Thanks for the feedback, Randy. Part of it was just repeating what my daughter kept saying about Taylor, right or wrong. What do you think of her music?

    • John Smistad

      You’re right, Will. Swift is, in fact, more than tolerable.

      Many backlashed against the hype machine pushing The Beatles, too. Another tie that binds these spectacular musical artists.

      She’s just named Time’s 2023 “Person of The Year”, too, Ronald. Complete domination.

      • Will Wills

        Agreed – I think that’s a great point. There’s so much hype these days. I remember when “Drake” had the most downloads in a day and I’m like “Drake??”. It was much harder in the day when your success was based on physically releasing a single/B-side and hoping people would drive to the store and buy it. Thank you kindly for the comment, John!

  2. Okay, now I’ve heard five Taylor Swift songs! Harmless stuff, nothing to hate on. And some of those videos are pretty fun and clever. Certainly nothing wrong with a message of courage and empowerment. Still, it’s amazing at the VOLUME of sales/tour dollars/fanaticism. Seems like we’re in an era of extremes, and she’s at the positive end of that spectrum right now.

    • Will Wills

      100% – the young-girl empowerment message is wonderful. I didn’t expect her songs to be so much fun to play as well. Watching her in the Era’s film when she dons a guitar, she’s very comfortable with chord changes, etc. Thank you for the comment. 🙂

Leave a Reply (and please be kind!)