Miss Americana

Talking politics is pointless. Not because the issues don’t matter, or the times aren’t dire; it’s more my lack of faith in humanity to solve the simplest problem. Call me an optimist, but when, like, 90+% of the world’s scientists say, “Yup, the world is burning,” you still get 49.9% who aren’t changing their vote. And I’m pretty much a nobody, a small-time author with a few books out. And don’t want the aggravation. There was this one time when I was Internet arguing over marriage equality, got pretty worked up, used words like daggers, and someone took a screenshot and sent it to my publisher, with something like “Is this the kind of person you want working for you?” Since the house was pretty much run by a bevy of well-established gay men, well, yeah. Still, that’s kinda scary shit. I mean, what career I have is tenuous. I get a bad name or piss off someone with my politics, it literally affects my family and ability to earn a living (what little money there is in publishing).

All this is a caveat to talk about (surprise) … Taylor Swift.

As many of you know I’ve been on a bit of a Taylor kick lately, and (sorry Brian Panowich) I am ready to dub her latest, Loverher best yet (yes, I like it even more than Red.)

Swift gets knocked, frequently, mostly by dudes (who still find girls icky) for writing “girl songs” about her “exes.” Yes, she covers that ground. And she covers it well. I’ve said it before: Taylor Swift is the poet laureate of 20-something females. And, yeah, I know, that doesn’t include me, a middle-aged suburban former junkie turned dad. But good art is good art. And Taylor is, well, fucking amazing.

Today I want to talk about one song off the new record in particular: Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince.

Ever since Alex Segura’s brilliant essay about Taylor as a modern noir femme fatale (gee, where I have heard that before? Stay tuned for: I Knew You Were Trouble: Mysteries Inspired by the Songs of Taylor Swift. I mean, soon as we get her lawyers’ okay), I’ve had an idea for an essay of my own. Since, unlike Alex, I am too lazy to try and place said essay with a, y’know, publication, it goes on up on my blog.

After the last election, there was a lot of fucked-up shit going around about Taylor. She’d been conspicuously silent, and in the age of Trump silence is tantamount to support. Not true. Not fair. But being blonde-haired, blue-eyed Taylor, racist assholes on the alt-right claimed her, championing her for their, I don’t know what. Third Reich? I’m not being flippant. I really don’t get it. It’s like my friend Brian Fast used to say (and this was in, what, 1995?): At this point in history? If you’re still racist? (And then he’d mime a gun at point blank range. Brian never minced words.)

Anyway, this is already getting too long. I can talk about Taylor for hours. Back to Miss Americana.

See, after I gave up the junkie bullshit, I went back to school and earned an advanced degree. Since it was in English/literature/writing, we did A LOT of analysis. Listening to “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” I’m sorry to say old habits resurfaced. Not shooting junk. I mean Derrida and deconstruction and the death of the author and all that verisimilude shit.

“Miss Americana” isn’t about an ex. Though Swift does use a love affair on the run (so noir!), the song is political, a searing commentary on these troubling American times, and sorry Republicans, Taylor is … blue.

If “You Need to Calm Down” (“shade never made anyone less gay!”) didn’t tip you off to which side Taylor is on, let’s take a look at the lyrics to “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince.” Though, yes, being an English MA nerd, I can occasionally read more into the text than is there, but you’d have to be a blind hermit with alopecia to miss this one. Check it out.

Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince

You know I adore you
I’m crazier for you
Then I was at sixteen
Lost in a film scene
Waving homecoming queens
Marching band playing
I’m lost in the lights

American glory
Faded before me
Now I’m feeling hopeless
Ripped up my prom dress
Running through rose thorns
I saw the scoreboard
And ran for my life

Ah, ah, ah
No cameras catch my pageant smile
I counted days, I counted miles
To see you there
To see you there
It’s been a long time coming but

It’s you and me
That’s my whole world
They whisper in the hallway, “she’s a bad, bad girl” (okay!)
The whole school is rolling fake dice
You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes
It’s you and me
There’s nothing like this
Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince (okay!)
We’re so sad, we paint the town blue
Voted most likely to run away
With you

My team is losing
Battered and bruising
I see the high fives
Between the bad guys
Leave with my head hung
You are the only one
Who seems to care

American stories
Burning before me
I’m feeling helpless
The damsels are depressed
Boys will be boys, then
Where are the wise men?

Darling, I’m scared
Ah, ah, ah
No cameras catch my muffled cries
I counted days, I counted miles
To see you there
To see you there
And now the storm is coming, but

It’s you and me
That’s my whole world
They whisper in the hallway, “she’s a bad, bad girl” (okay!)
The whole school is rolling fake dice
You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes

It’s you and me
There’s nothing like this
Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince (okay!)
We’re so sad, we paint the town blue
Voted most likely to run away
With you

And I don’t want you to (go)
I don’t really wanna (fight)
‘Cause nobody’s gonna (win)
I think you should come home

And I don’t want you to (go)
I don’t really wanna (fight)
‘Cause nobody’s gonna (win)
I think you should come home

And I don’t want you to (go)
I don’t really wanna (fight)
‘Cause nobody’s gonna (win)
I just thought you should know

And I’ll never let you (go)
‘Cause I know this is a (fight)
That someday we’re gonna (win)

It’s you and me
That’s my whole world
They whisper in the hallway, “she’s a bad, bad girl”
Oh, I just thought you should know
You should know

It’s you and me
There’s nothing like this
Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince (okay!)
We’re so sad, we paint the town blue (paint it blue)
Voted most likely to run away
With you

I don’t really wanna (fight)
‘Cause nobody’s gonna (win)
I think you should come home

And I’ll never let you (go)
‘Cause I know this is a (fight)
That someday we’re gonna (win)
Just thought you should know

You and me
That’s my whole world
They whisper in the hallway, “she’s a bad, bad girl”
“She’s a bad, bad girl”

So what we have is youthful idealism, the romance of Hollywood film representation of the land of the free and Holden Caulfield’s idealism tempered by/juxtaposed with the bitch slap of reality, i.e., time, humanity, cruelty, selfishness, and bigotry. Yes, this is a “love story.” But it’s not with a boy. It’s with America, a country she, like I, and you, and many grew up loving (and, sure, still do), but that, right now, frankly, is showing some of her uglier sides.

Using the deceptive conceit (that’s an extended metaphor) of high school, a football game, and a prom, Taylor dissects the current state of our country, in heartbreakingly beautiful verse that pulls no punches and is relentless in its acumen and attack. You can argue about “I adore you” or “crazy” at 16, and the running away stuff as boyfriend fluff. Not sure there is any possible other explanation for “American glory faded before me” or “American stories burning before me,” the speaker’s feeling “helpless” in the face of a vicious and malicious opponent. And then there’s the scoreboard.

Again sticking with the high school motif, we are at a “game.” (I refuse to say “sportsball” even though I’m tempted because it would be funny here.) But the game, this time, is not love. It’s probably football. In the song’s narrative. But the meaning goes far, far deeper.

“My team is losing
Battered and bruising
I see the high fives
Between the bad guys”

So if the “bad guys” are winning, and her “team is losing,” which side is she playing for? Let’s take a look at the color of their uniforms. The predominant color, so often mentioned throughout the song: Blue.

“It’s you and me
There’s nothing like this
Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince (okay!)
We’re so sad, we paint the town blue
Voted most likely to run away
With you”

Again:

“We’re so sad, we paint the town blue (paint it blue)”

“Voted” … most likely to succeed.

Paint the town “blue” (paint it blue!)

Any questions?

Oh, yeah, one more, this one directed at the Brett Kavanaugh rapist apologists. Perhaps my favorite pointed barb, claws out, mutherfuckers.

“American stories
Burning before me
I’m feeling helpless
The damsels are depressed
Boys will be boys, then
Where are the wise men?”

Boys will be boys, the rallying cry to excuse douchebags sexually assaulting passed out girls behind dumpers, slapped on the wrist so as to not ruin their lacrosse career or some shit. In case you’re still on the fence …

“I don’t really wanna (fight)
’Cause nobody’s gonna (win)
I think you should come home
And I’ll never let you (go)
’Cause I know this is a (fight)
That someday we’re gonna (win)

I don’t want to really fight either, Taylor. Nobody is gonna win. At least not without a lot of feelings hurt, friends lost, and faith challenged. But I, like you, am going to fight anyway.

Taylor Swift got a lot of shit for not taking a stand the last election. It’s a no-win proposition for pop stars. One side is like “stick to music,” the other is chanting white privilege and what does this pretty rich girl know about suffering. Add to that, someone like Ms. Swift has a billion dollar industry banking on her, funding her, all up in her business, not wanting to offend album-buying demographics? Going on the record with a song like Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince isn’t just great songwriting; it’s goddamn brave.

Welcome to the resistance, Taylor.