It’s time for Taylor Swift to change her messaging and portray healthy relationships. Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty
It’s time for Taylor Swift to change her messaging and portray healthy relationships. Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty

The problem with Taylor Swift’s portrayal of love

It's true that no one will ever love you like Taylor Swift, but that's probably a good thing.

The popstar's new song, ME! has been unleashed upon the world, and is a return to the poppy joy we're used to hearing from the singer.

She's shaken off the rage that dominated the Reputation era, and in ME!, she and Brendon Urie are spending three minutes and eleven seconds telling you who they are in this new age of TS7.

For the record, I love Taylor Swift. I've been a huge fan since I first saw her perform Love Story on the Ellen Show roughly 10 years ago. So it pains me to say that both the characters in ME! sound like the worst people ever.

"No one will ever love you like I do," she sings.

This a "romantic" refrain that's been dominant in pop music for decades. It's also hella abusive and a pretty messed up thing to say to someone.

Taylor Swift performs her latest single with Brendon Urie during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards. Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty
Taylor Swift performs her latest single with Brendon Urie during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards. Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty

The characters in ME! spend a while telling you how you can't spell "awesome" or "team" without them, about how he's better than all the lame guys out there. She is aware that she's "psycho" and there are a lot of cool girls out there, but he should stay with her, because no one else could ever love him like that.

And, look, I get why saying "no one will ever love you like me" sounds romantic. It's basically saying that they love you more than anyone else could. But I've been in that relationship. I spent years being told that no one else could ever love me like they did (or just that no one else could ever love me full stop). Hearing that every day made me feel trapped in a relationship that neither of us were happy in, because I believed that no one else could ever love me - so it was either that misery with a love I didn't want (and didn't want me), or loneliness forever.

And, like the people in ME!, staying in that relationship as it became more toxic kept us from being our best selves.

Some people shouldn’t be relationships until they stop being “psycho”. Picture: Kevin Winter/Getty
Some people shouldn’t be relationships until they stop being “psycho”. Picture: Kevin Winter/Getty

Some people shouldn't be relationships until they stop being "psycho" and whatever else is keeping them from being a good partner. And the sentiment of "love me or leave me" should apply to finding weird hobbies or harmless quirks loveable, not tolerating weaponised jealousy and abusive behaviour.

The problem with Swift is that she has form with these themes.

Her backcatalogue is awash with songs about characters who are abusive or just terrible to be in a relationship with, and talks about these traits as though they're to be celebrated.

In Blank Space, the character is proud of being a "nightmare dressed as a daydream", accepts that not only is it expected that her boyfriends will be "players", and adds that she'll make the tables turn and be jealous.

In I Knew You Were Trouble, the character blames herself for getting into a relationship with an abusive man.

Many of Swift’s songs portray toxic relationships. Picture: Kevin Winter/Getty
Many of Swift’s songs portray toxic relationships. Picture: Kevin Winter/Getty

The worst offender, though, is one of my musical favourites, despite the lyrics making me cringe - Stay, Stay, Stay. She opens the song by talking about how she threw a phone at her boyfriend, and then recounts him coming back to resolve the argument wearing a football helmet as though it's an adorable anecdote and that they should both stay.

And this thread of her songs trivialising abusive relationships has been constant throughout her career.

While I'm in no way accusing Swift of doing the things the characters in her songs do, I worry about the effect it'll have on young women who hear these songs and think they're romantic. I know that one of the reasons why I didn't notice the red flags in my own past relationship was because that's what pop culture has taught us to expect from romance. And, perhaps my ex meant nothing malicious by those comments, but had been similarly conditioned to think them the height of courtship.

In some ways, the promise that no one will ever love you like the "psycho" detailed in so many of Swift's songs is a relief, but one that is only realised after healing.

Alice Clarke is a freelance journalist, producer and presenter. @Alicedkc



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