Reputation is Relevant. Because it's Not.

I'm sorry. The old Taylor can't come to the phone right now. Why?


So I want to talk about Taylor Swift’s Reputation tour. Because this is blog a VERY SERIOUS place for people who take themselves VERY SERIOUSLY. And it was a good show!!!!  And I think there’s a real nugget of wisdom in here that I would not want you to miss out on, even if you’ll never listen to a Taylor Swift album.

If you don’t know the album (or Swift), here’s the backstory: Swift released Reputation in November of last year after an extended break from public life. To say the album represents a departure from her previous persona is the understatement of the century. Swift literally and figuratively killed her old identity in the first single of the album (Look What You Made Me Do). Instead of a sweet, wholesome, naive girl next door, Swift writes herself as master manipulator, seductress, even villain. It’s a pop album for sure, but there’s a healthy dose of darkness and cynicism. Oh, and then there’s the steamy sex . . . Taylor Swift has sex?!!! We all know that nice, wholesome girls never want s-e-x! If you want to have some fun, look up “people watching Look What You Made Me do” on YouTube. The album creates a real dissonance . . . who is Taylor Swift? We thought we knew you! Have we been mislead all along?

Reputation is the opposite of intimacy. - TS

If the album creates dissonance, the staging of the tour smacks you upside the head with it. The old Taylor is not dead. She’s alive and well, singing and bopping around with pink hearts and rainbows. But now there are also giant snakes, and lyrics like “I only bought this dress so you can take it off.” It’s hard to reconcile the contrast between her past and present public images. When she gets on that stage, Taylor Swift is making nice with all of her selves, and she demands that we do the same.

She is the perpetrator and the victim. She is a snake and a kitten. She is seductive and wholesome. She is the naive master of the game. She is powerful and needs protection. She is adored and hated. She independent and needy. She is strong and vulnerable.

She is a performer. A character. An actress.

She is human.

Taylor Swift doesn’t kill her old selves. She examines them, learns from them, and invites them to join her in the present. Then she turns to us and unapologetically announces, “Yes. I am a mess. Take it or leave it.” And she means it. But she hopes we’ll take it. Because, at the end of the day, we all want to be loved for who we really are. Even Taylor Swift.

My fifteen minutes of fame are nothing compared to Taylor’s fifteen years. But they were significant and they shaped so much of who I became . . . in good ways and bad ways. Seeing yourself in the New York Times or People magazine is not exhilarating. People talk about you instead of to you, they want to hear your story, but you have no voice. When you are a headline, it’s easy to forget that you’re more than your reputation. It is disorienting and isolating. Like Swift, I became a character- “The Girl Whose Brother Shot People” (sometimes known as "The Smart, Responsible Older Sister"). 

The Girl Whose Brother Shot People is a great character,  but she is not the real Kelly. She is just a small part of me - the part that I let people see. She is a character constructed exclusively from other people’s expectations of me - the embodiment of every assumption I made about what what others think I should and shouldn’t be, or how I should and shouldn't respond. I disapprove of her processes, and I don’t like the lies I told myself to play along with her, but I have to give my character credit. She did some magnificent things. She thrived in the middle of unimaginably horrible shit . . . things so painful, I will never be able to wrap my head or heart around them. She made decisions that landed me with a good education, a fantastic career, amazing friends and an adorable, appropriately quirky family. Without that character and the near constant scrutiny of my reputation, I would have made very bad choices. Honestly, she’s a better person than the real me in tons of ways, and she probably saved me from a terrible life outcome. I owe a lot to The Girl Whose Brother Shot People.

But she is not the whole me, and after 20 years of playing a character, I am starving to be accepted for my real self. I knew I needed to sort this out, or I would die. My journey to reconcile my real self with my character started about four years ago . . . it’s been four hard years, and it has been incredibly disruptive. But it's the good kind of disruption, even in the plot twists. It took me so long, because I was doing it all wrong. For most of the past four years, I'd been trying to kill off my character - to “let go” of my past, to “get over it, to “be okay.” Those are things well meaning people tell you when they don't want to see you hurt. But in the past year, I’ve spent a little more time listening to The Girl Whose Brother Shot People, and less time listening to people who haven't lived as much life as she has. And you know what? I really do admire her! I was trying to kill her off, but I don’t really want her to be dead.

So I decided to stop fighting with my past self, give her a hug, and invite her to the fun party that is my current life. She and I have had a blast. I mean, seriously, y’all would be scandalized if you knew how much fun we’ve had. Bless her heart, The Girl Whose Brother Shot People really needed to let down her hair!! She takes herself so seriously - it can get a little heavy. We made an agreement that she can hang around and be all the good things she is and has been, but I get to handle the things she’s not so great at (Fun is one of them. She sucks at fun.). She can inform my choices, but I will be making my own decisions - good and bad - from here on out. There are bound to be mistakes, but the real me LOVES mistakes, because they are good stories and they bring out your real friends. This is an agreeable arrangement, and for the first time in 20 years, I’m pleased as punch with my real, whole self, even if it is a little messy in there. This is the first time in my adult life that I finally feel like a whole person with a past and a present and a future. I'm more than a character, or an actress, or a reputation. I'm human. Yes, it is a mess in there. Y'all can take it or leave it.

We all have a reputation. We all play a character of some sort. I think my lesson learned is that you can’t get rid of your past by trying to leave it behind. You have to hug it, love it, invite it to a dance party and mash it up with your present. I know it feels scary because you imagine people will judge you, or leave you, or gossip about you. Some will. But you will be surprised at the people who show up and dance with you (your "real friends," as the wise Miss Swift would say). And really, do you want to hang out with people who don’t dance? Nope. You don’t.

And in the death of her reputation, she felt truly alive  -TS

My Girl In Green

A Choice Between Fear and Purpose