I have three daughters (and a son whom I love, but isn’t part of the Taylor Swift story). One of my governing principles in my mothering has been to give to my daughters things I wish I had been given growing up. To undo the damage I experienced growing up by changing the trajectory and choosing to be brave in areas where it would have been easier to slide into unhealthy patterns. This intentionality has not been easy, but it has been rewarding and healing, not to mention (hopefully) beneficial to my children.
One of the things I missed out on as a child was an awareness and exposure to culturally relevant events. My parents were restrictive to a degree that I think did more harm than good. When I was growing up, I did not listen to the songs on the radio, see the movies, watch the shows, wear the clothes, understand the trends, or read the magazines. Whatever was cool or hip or culturally relevant was unknown to me for the most part. As a mother, I know how important it is to protect my children from harmful messages and inappropriate media, but I also know how fun it can be to enjoy age-appropriate cultural touch points. As a child and teenager, I needed someone to allow me to experience the culture of my childhood in a way that was loving, allowing, and fun.
Taylor Swift has been a source of immense enjoyment and connection between me and my girls for as long as she has been singing her songs, and when it comes to a shared cultural touch point, she is at the top of our list.
Annie, my oldest, was only three when Taylor first came on the scene, but by the time she was in middle school circa 2015, Taylor was a thing. Her CDs were always at the top of herbirthday or Christmas gift list, and because of Annie’s sphere of influence as the oldest child, her two younger sisters fell in love with Taylor’s music too. I will admit in the beginning I was lukewarm on Taylor. She was cute, her songs were catchy, but I wasn’t invested very deeply.
It wasn’t until Norah was in the fifth grade talent show as an emcee and had to dress up as Taylor Swift, that I started to realize how magical and important she was as a celebrity to my teen and tween girls. I started paying attention. I began to listen.
I observed that Taylor was talented, and not just in a performative way. Yes, she was fun and catchy and cute, but she was also writing her own music, penning lyrics that were more than bubble-gum pop, churning out hit after hit, delivering catchy melodies and doing so in a way that made it possible for me to enjoy her music while also sharing it with my girls. No drugs. No nudity. No profanity (quite yet). For my young brood, she was the right music at the right time, and for me, she was the kind of fun I missed out on as a child.
When Taylor released 1989 in 2014, I didn’t recognize her voice on Shake It Off because…wasn’t she a country artist? Shake It Off was the first time I noticed Taylor’s keen ability to reinvent herself, to show up in a new way, to keep us guessing, and to put her endless creativity on display. I also adored how she poked fun at herself in the video, playing up her awkwardness, never taking herself too seriously. She seemed normal, but in an aspirational way. It was as if she was a pop-star on the outside, but on the inside, she was just one of us.
When Reputation came out, edgy and dark and different, Taylor pushed back against being typecast as the nice girl, while still staying true to her fans. She was brutal and intense, but also endearing and grateful, always reminding her fan base of her love for them and eager to express how much their support means to her, as though we were her friends. I was impressed. Taylor was growing up, growing into her own, showing us she could still deliver the magic we liked, but reminding the world that she was going to run the show. She would not be pushed around by the careless deeds of others, she would not be passive, and she would not be toyed with. As a mother of impressionable girls, I welcomed the empowering message Taylor delivered. She was assertive but not arrogant. She was powerful, but kind. She was having fun and showing us how to channel big feelings in a positive way, without being cloying or cutesy. She was powerful in a way that I found mesmerizing.
During Covid lockdown, when Taylor surprised the world with two unexpected albums back-to-back full of folk songs written in a new softer style and new third-person perspective, our collective jaws dropped. Folklore and Evermore stunned me. I thought I knew her style, but these songs were different. I couldn’t get enough.
When she released Red Taylor’s Version, she revealed her gall, daring to rerecord songs and release them again to the world, demonstrating how to creatively speak truth to power. When faced with someone stealing the rights to her music, she decided to sing her songs again, and make them even better and richer the second time around. She also released songs from the vault (she has a vault?!?), showing us how she was going do things now that she was in full control of her creative work. We were stunned. I was inspired. Her work just kept getting better and better, and her devotion to the process was impressive.
For years her songs were the soundtrack of our home, our car, our parties. I remember driving Norah to school one morning, listing to a Taylor playlist, when All Too Well came on. We were singing along, and I asked Norah, “Do you know my favorite lyric in this song?” She didn’t, and so I waited and then turned the volume up full blast while we yell-sang together, “You call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest.” We agreed it’s the best line in the song. I genuinely love that song, and I particularly love that lyric. Taylor was mine too, not just my girls’. I made a fool of myself in front of my high-schooler, and it was a sweet moment to share.
Taylor is a source of giddiness for me and my girls. If she performed at an award’s ceremony, we were watching with rapt attention. If she was posting on social media, we were watching. If she made a public appearance or released a music video, we looked for clues and secret messages, which Taylor promised she was actively including in her work.
During the 2022 VMA’s, while wearing a dress made completely from crystals, dripping with diamonds from shoulder to shoulder and sporting her signature red lip, she accepted her award for Video of the Year, then dropped a bombshell that lit the Swiftie universe on fire – “I was thinking that if I got this award tonight, it would be a great opportunity to tell you I am releasing a new album on October 21.”
This is when the game changed for me. This is when I realized my goosebumps and squeals of delight and sheer glee were signs that I had fully adopted my status as a die-hard fan and could not wait for her new album. I felt like a kid, or how I imagine a kid would feel when their favorite artist announces a new album. Instead of tamping that feeling down, I embraced it. I welcomed that teenage part of me that missed out on the fun of pop culture, of knowing every secret liner note lyric, of eagerly anticipating a new record or song. This work of welcoming parts of my younger self and giving her what she needs is healing for my heart, and this kind of mothering is beneficial for both me and my children.
I took a screenshot of Taylor’s red carpet look from the VMA event, that beautiful sparkly bejeweled frock, and texted it to Annie with the message, “I think I know who I want to be for Halloween.” I usually pick an influential female character to dress up as for Halloween (In the past, Queen Elizabeth, RBG, and Jenna Lyons), and when I saw Taylor on that red carpet, I knew I wanted to add her to my Halloween list. I also thought my girls would get a kick out of it, and I don’t mind shamelessly showing up in a costume for the sake of daughterly delight. Annie replied to my text, “Yes! You have to! Wouldn’t it be great if we all dressed up as a different a Taylor Swift era?”
After years of dressing up, sometimes in coordinating costumes, other times not, Annie’s idea was an idea I knew we could all get behind, particularly given the new album on its way. I pitched the idea to the girls, and we were all in. The planning began in earnest as we divided up the eras between the four of us, plus Rachel, and our fellow Halloween-lover, Nina. Annie would be Fearless, Norah would be Lover, Lillian would be 1989, Rachel would be Red, Nina would be Taylor’s debut era, and I would be the VMA red carpet look which wasn’t technically an era but was definitely A Moment.
I remember as the release of Midnights approached, the girls and I were unhinged with excitement. What would the style be like? How many songs? Who would she sing about? Taylor was making daily appearances on TikTok during the time leading up to the release, and we were doing our finest sleuthing, trying to decode any hidden messages. We were ridiculous, and it was fun.
The album was scheduled to drop at midnight on October 20, and instead of waiting until the next day to listen to it like a reasonable human adult, I stayed awake in my bed unable to sleep. I was counting down the seconds, refreshing my Apple Music feed, and texting back and forth with my daughters (who were also in bed, supposed to be asleep). At 12:00am, the album dropped. I listened to every song, comparing notes with Annie about each song. “Bejeweled! Wow.” Her: “Wait! I’m not there yet!” We lived this moment together. With Annie away at college, miles apart, but connected. I loved Midnights. I thought the music was amazing, the lyrics on point, the production creative, and the songs representing a welcome return to pop. I went to sleep happy and then awoke the next day to discover at 3:00am she released the second half of the album, surprising us all with even more songs for us to pore over and enjoy. What a day!
Ten days after the album dropped, on Halloween, we dressed up as six different Taylor Swift eras. We bought wigs, sequins, spray-painted a hand-made guitar, and got every detail exactly right. It was so much fun.
When Taylor announced her tour, I informed my husband that the girls and I would be going, come hell or high water. He agreed it was an excellent idea. I knew this tour would be amazing, and given how influential and connective Taylor’s music had been for me and my girls, I wanted to experience this tour with them. Taylor was ours. We needed to see her perform together.
I waited five hours in the queue before being granted my ten-minute window to purchase tickets. I was so nervous I was shaking, and had to ask a co-worker to help me think and make decisions so that I didn’t accidentally flub it up out of sheer nervousness or panic. My seat choices were very limited, and so I took what I could get. I bought six seats in the very top section of AT&T stadium for Saturday, April 1. I felt uncertain about the seats. They were so high up. How would we see anything? Later, I realized how lucky we were to have seats at all, given the ticket debacle. I reminded that, most importantly, we would be in the room same room together with Taylor, which is really all that mattered.
Around the time that I purchased tickets, I had a random idea, sparked purely from a place of joy. What if I hosted Taylor Swift Week at Hurley House the week of the concert? So many people were excited about the three-night concert weekend. Why not embrace the fun and go all out to celebrate the event in an outward-facing manner so that everyone could enjoy the magic?
Taylor Swift Week at Hurley House began as a silly idea, but it flourished into one of the most successful things we have ever done. Everyone got on board. The store was dripping in glitter and sparkles. We renamed all of our menu items with lyric-based names. We served Lavender haze lemonade. We printed out hundreds of lyrics, mounted them on glitter paper, and stuck them all over the store. We had a Cornelia Street sign. We hung disco balls. We showcased all of her record album covers with coordinating tinsel. We created five different era-themed mood boards and five different era-themed table scapes, one for each day of the week. We had a life-sized Taylor cut-out, a song bracket, and details like a picture of Jake Gyllenhaal pinned to the wall with a red scarf. We had a stuffed animal version of her cat, Olivia Benson. We had pastel balloons. We had her music on repeat. And we dressed up in theme every day. People showed up in droves just to see what we had created and to share mounting excitement for the coming concert.
I was so glad people enjoyed what we created. On a deeper level, I felt a particularly deep sense of connection to the other adult women on my staff who dove in and embraced the ridiculous level of fun. My children were in awe, begging to skip school so they could be there every day (which I did not allow). The social media response was record-breaking. I felt a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Somehow, this work mattered. It touched on something very deep, and I could not have been more surprised by what I was watching unfold. I would have gone to this much trouble simply for my own delight, but to see how others were also eager to step into the magic and taste the collective delight reminded me how powerful it is to create space and see what emerges. In this case, Taylor fever emerged, and the week was a hit.
All of this, and the concert still laid before us.
On the morning of April 1, I awoke early, eager to get the day going and to begin to set the stage for what I hoped would be a memorable 24 hours. I pulled all of our sparkly outfits and arranged them on a wardrobe rack in our dining room. I set our dining room table with a fun sparkly pink tablecloth and set out bowls of candy and snacks. I set up a mirror and makeup station for each of us at the table so we could get ready together. I brought in my speaker so we could listen to our favorite hits and get excited.
The process of doing our hair and makeup, putting on our outfits, carefully placing our glitter eyeshadow and gluing on our face jewels, was precious to me. We laughed together. We ate Panda Express. We filled our water bottles with ice water so we would have a cold drink waiting in the car for us after the concert. We made friendship bracelets to trade with other Swifties at the concert. We mapped out our route to the stadium, confirmed our parking pass, and made sure we were all wearing super comfortable shoes before we left.
And then we were off!
When we entered the stadium, we decided to find our seats first so we could get a lay of the land and choose what to do next. Our seats, no lie, were so high in the stadium there was literally only one row behind ours. We climbed so many stairs my thighs were shaking and we were all a bit winded. But then, with glee, high up at the top of the world, we discovered the magic of the big screen. Not only did our seats afford us a beautiful bird’s eye view of the entire stage, including a clear view of the background screen, the main stage and all of the extended stages, we also had a straight-on view of the giant screens hanging from the ceiling of the stadium. We could see everything, all at the same time! Without knowing it, we had scored what I would argue are some of the best seats in the house. I didn’t care much about seeing Taylor in person close up. I wanted to see the show in full, all of the special effects, all of the visuals, while also watching her sing, and somehow we managed this is spades. I’m not sure any of this would have been possible in any other section of the stadium. Call me crazy, but if you offered me floor seats or seats in the 400s, I would take the seats in the 400s ten times out of ten.
Settled and cooled off from our aerobic stair workout, so satisfied with the view these seats afforded us, and ready to dive into the scene, we ventured out to Swiftie Land. The scene did not disappoint, and it was some of the best people watching ever. We traded bracelets. We complimented costumes. We took photos. We purchased snacks. The pre-event tone was fun, joyful, light. Everyone seemed so excited to be there, eager for the show, and strangers have never seemed more kind or supportive.
Then, its was time. Let me set the scene for you. 70,000 people, most of whom are in costume or sequins, sitting in their seats, watching a giant clock on the main stage backdrop begin to count down to, you guessed it, midnight. On one side of the stage, being pushed up the side ramp by three or four stage hands, a giant black box appearing to be a cleaning cart, but to all of our knowledge, the secret delivery vehicle carrying Taylor inside, is rolled backstage. The crowd squeals and cheers, Swifties alive with the realization that Ms. Swift is now backstage.
The clock hits the two minute marker, and the entire stadium hums. We are all getting butterflies in our stomach. I am furiously tapping my legs up and down. The clock continues to count down. Thirty seconds remain, and the crowd is counting along, and then three…two…one…the lights go out. Everyone is screaming, on their feet, feverishly ready for the concert to begin.
The concert opening was one of the most beautiful visuals I have ever seen. Colors and flags and lights and dancers. An musical intro composed of song mashups, each one hinting at a beloved hit song. And then she was on stage singing to us.
When Taylor came out on stage, it was one of those moments that still gets me choked up. Not necessarily because of her, but because of the magnitude of the moment. The gravity of it. The weighted expectation and full realization that it was actually happening. We had made it, here, together. We were stepping into the magic we had been hoping for. We were happy. Her presence on the stage and on that giant screen was unreal. We were squeezing each other and screaming, and I, unabashedly was weeping.
The three hour concert was more than just a great performance by a talented artist. I have seen Adele, U2, and Elton John in concert, and each of them gave gold star performances. But none of them did what Taylor did for me. She did more than perform.
The first thing that struck me was how she created different worlds for us, each one representing a different era. She didn’t just sing the songs from her different eras, she designed them all around us and then stepped into the reality she created. The stadium became part of her stage, our wrist bands lighting the periphery into solid red or glittery gold or a colorful rainbow or a pulsing sea of blue. Every surface of her set delivered a visual element that contributed to the vibe of a particular song or era with screens and videos, props, trap doors, elevated surfaces. Visually she created glitter, a snake pit, a forest, an ocean, a dining room, an office, a house, a fire, a dance party. It was stunningly beautiful and jaw-droppingly excellent. The attention to detail was overwhelming.
The second thing that struck me was the energy of the audience. This wasn’t merely an arena full of cheering fans. This was a stadium cradling an ocean of collective emotion that swelled and followed Taylor’s every move. The room held an enormous crowd, but she seemed to be singing to each of us personally. The scale of production was massive, but her connection to each of us was singular. She managed to perform on a large stage while making it seem like she was singing just for you. And then, like the pied piper, she would gather us all together and we would unite under a chorus or bridge, bellowing out the words in unanimous song. We were each with her while still being connected collectively.
It occurred to me that most importantly, Taylor wasn’t singing to us, she was singing with us. She had lead most of us through large swaths of our lives with her songs. She had been with us in middle school, in high school, in college, through break-ups, through friendships, through being the ugly girl next door and the magical princess at the ball. She had ushered us through leaving home, getting dumped, and finding love. In a lot of ways, we all grew up with Taylor as she grew up, and tonight felt like a giant reunion.
The collective energy behind every verse, every chorus, every opening line was more than simply fandom. Each song was an invitation to go back, to dip back into a specific time and place, to remember and recall and revisit wherever we were when we first sang these songs. It was Norah, screaming and grabbing my arm so we could sing together, “You call me up again just to break me like a promise,” because she remembered our shared experience around these lyrics. It was reliving the midnight texts back and forth with Annie as we listened to Bejeweled and Vigilante Shit like we did that first time late at night. It was dancing with Lillian to Blank Space because it’s her favorite and embodies so much of her playful personality. It was gasping when she sang Enchanted in a beautiful ball gown because it was a fairy tale come to life and joyfully singing Love Story because it’s every little girl’s dream. It was dancing and singing every lyric to Shake It Off because it was so freaking fun. It was me, involuntarily letting out a gut-level roar when I saw the visual of a snake flash on the screen and then make it’s way down the stage and heard the opening bars of Ready For It because Reputation was the era when Taylor came alive for me and connected me to my inner rebel. It was Annie, looking at Rachel when Love Story started playing and saying, “When this came out, you were the same age I am right now.” It was watching a crowd sing along so loudly that at times it was difficult to hear Taylor over the roar. It was laughing at her casual banter when she talked in between era sets, being mesmerized by her acoustic songs, feeling amazed by the display of so many different creative expressions, and all of them happening at the same time.
The concert was more than music, more than a performance, more than seeing an artist live. It was a full display of all that is possible when a person fires on every single creative cylinder in their arsenal. Taylor put it all out there. She went all in. She expressed herself fully, stepping into the position of artistic privilege she spent her lifetime creating for herself. She put in the work. She made the details matter. She created magic and excellence and fun. She was big and unapologetic. She took up space, showed us what she can do, and led us on a journey back in time. And we, gladly, giddily, eagerly, followed.
If I sound like a fool, putting too much stock in a concert, I’m ok with that. There is something unmistakably beautiful about watching someone go all in, to bring all they have and leave it all on the field. To watch someone hold nothing back and show up in their work as the fullest expression of who they are, and then to see that work weave its way into your life and become attached to specific memories and moments so that when you recall their work you recall your life with nostalgia and a sign of delight….is there anything more powerful?
The evening was better than I could have expected, and meant more to me than I ever anticipated. I loved watching my girls, their faces alive with delight, their mouths singing every word, their eyes dancing with wonder and joy. I loved going to trouble beforehand, protecting time and resources, incorporating the concert into my work, sharing all the love and fun with my girls and with a greater community. I loved the memory of getting home so late after the concert, and being so tired I could barely stand up, yet completely unable to sleep because of the electricity still coursing through my body. I stayed up for hours after we got home, exhausted but on a high. I loved crying the next day as I told Timm about the concert, realizing how much it meant to me, how many big feelings I had in response to it, and knowing this was part of the beauty of the experience, the part I get to carry with me going forward. My girls and I will always remember this concert together, but I will also always be able to taste the poignant flood of emotions that live right below the surface when I recall how deeply this experience touched me and left me changed.
I’m not sure we will ever get to see Taylor Swift again in concert, but I do know that even if we do, it won’t be like this. We will all be in different seasons and stages of life. This was the one time we all got to be together, connected with our inner child, embracing every aspect, enjoying all the fun, and realizing how one artist’s work has tied us together in memorable, magical ways.
It is good to enjoy art and experience it individually and collectively. It is good to have great respect for a player and to see them at the top of their game doing what they do best. It is good to show up for yourself in ways that right the wrongs from your past and to shift the patterns of behavior in ways that positively impact your children. It is good to create memories with those you love, to be intentional about sowing seeds for future nostalgic remembrances. And it is good to have fun. When all of these endeavors converge, when so much good is crowded around one event, all the good becomes transformative. I have been transformed, and I am grateful.
For the work of a talented artist, brave enough and bold enough to put on display all of her colors and creations, I am grateful.
For a community who showed up and rallied around a week-long pop-star-themed party in a bakery, celebrating a concert and enjoying all of my glittered decor and punny menu items, I am grateful.
For daughters and friends willing to partake in the childhood wonder of a once-in-a-lifetime concert experience full of costumes and glitter and singing until we are hoarse, I am grateful.
For a younger me who longed for pop music and concerts and all the frenzied fun that comes with being a fangirl, for the way she patiently waited until she knew we were safe and ready, for gently grabbing my attention and leading me back into hard places so that she and I could move forward together better, healed, restored, I am grateful.
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