By Sammie Purcell
BU News Service
Taylor Swift created an empire based on self-reinvention. From the country days of “Fearless,” to the stylized synth-pop of “1989,” to the edgy, if not slightly forced, rebellious attitude of “Reputation” – every album comes with a brand new Taylor at the helm.
But within that reinvention lies an internal struggle: the clash between honesty and persona. Taylor has never had trouble connecting with her fans, but in doing so, she favors sharing her heartbreak over self-reflection. But on her eighth studio album “Folklore,” she embraces her vulnerability, showing her insecurities in a way she’s never done before.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on “Mirrorball,” a track that best reveals the difference between Taylor then and Taylor now. In the lyrics, the performer engages with the emotional labor of celebrity – twirling, sparkling, spinning like a disco ball while “masquerade revelers” watch her “shattered edges glisten.”
For someone who has been in the spotlight for so long, Taylor rarely sings about her relationship to fame. When she does, it comes burdened with a pseudo-boldness and distance. Take a look at lyrics from her 2014 single “Shake It Off”:
“Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off”
On “Mirrorball,” instead of projecting an unshakeable exterior, she tells listeners how she really feels about fame – burdened from expectation and insecurity but happy to keep dancing on her “tallest tiptoes” and spinning on her “highest heels.” In the bridge of the song, she sings:
“And I’m still a believer, but I don’t know why
I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try try try
I’m still on that trapeze,
I’m still trying everything to keep you looking at me”
“Mirrorball” and the rest of “Folklore” lack the performative, “girl YAS” aspect of some of Taylor’s past attempts at self-reflection. Those older songs feel like the woman singing them has erected a wall of feminist platitudes to keep fans out – the complexity she lends to her relationship songs, until now, has been noticeably absent any time she turns the lens inward.
I’m not saying songs like “Shake It Off” aren’t fun or even that they’re bad – if one comes on at the club, I will be the first one out on the dance floor. But they are emblematic of this solid Teflon persona Taylor’s projected over the last few years. So what I’ve got haters? Nothing can touch me. I shake it off!
With “Mirrorball,” we’re given a glimpse of a woman whose persona is not impenetrable – far from it. But here’s the thing: by acknowledging that, it feels like she’s trusting fans with more of herself than she ever has. She’s letting us peek behind the popstar veil – not at a relationship, but at her. And everything that entails.