Entertainment Music

Thursday 22 February 2018

The secret, grown-up Taylor Swift fan club

As a drummer in a rock band, Mark Hayes never expected to share the same musical tastes as his seven-year-old daughter. But he's not the only parent who loves '1989'...

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift
Mark Hayes and his daughter Kim

Mark Hayes

I have a confession to make. I've done a very strange thing. The other day, I had the house to myself and... deep breath... I chose to listen to a Taylor Swift song.

Okay, it might not seem so strange to most people, but it left me confused and - at the risk of sounding melodramatic - questioning everything I thought I knew to be fact in the universe.

I mean, if I could, whisper it, enjoy a teenybopper pop star like Taylor Swift, then all bets were off. What next? Me in the front row of a Kodaline concert, lighter in the air, throwing my best Y-fronts at that little blondie fellow?

Allow me to put this in context. I am a 40-year-old man. I like the normal things most men like - contact sports, movies with explosions, and noisy music.

In fact, I'm quite serious about music. I play it - I've been the drummer in various bands for about 25 years - rock bands, punk bands, punk-rock bands, avant-garde-improv-dadaist-post-jazzcore bands... you name it.

And I listen to lots of music too, most of it quite intense. The last album I bought was by a thrash metal band called Oozing Wound. I regularly listen to free jazz - yes, voluntarily. And one of the highlights of my life was meeting snooker player Steve Davis at a music festival and bonding over our shared love of obscure 1970s French prog rock weirdos Magma. A bit nerdy, I'll admit, but you get the picture.

So this Taylor Swift thing caught me unawares. The whole caper started in mid-December. At that point, I knew she was a country singer who was interrupted by Kanye West during some speech. But I'd never heard her music and had no desire to.

Then one day I was sitting with my daughter, Kim, who is nearly eight, watching a kids' pop music show on TV. Amid the usual trendy dreck, something leaped out at me... something you've probably heard, something called Shake It Off. The video was fun, the song was a catchy mix of brass and vocal melodies, and I liked the message, which could be paraphrased as 'Be yourself and don't let the bastards grind you down.' A fine lesson for a little girl making her way in the world, I thought. A mental note was made.

So when my sister asked me just before Christmas if Kim already had the new One Direction CD, I made an executive decision. I told her: "If another 1D album comes into this house, I will literally gouge out my own eardrums. If you want to get her a present, get her 1989 by Taylor Swift instead..."

I'm not one of these parents who tries to turn their child into a mini-me, with exactly the same interests as themselves. I've encouraged Kim to follow her own musical path, even though my ears were offended on a daily basis. Over the years, she got presents from well-intentioned relatives, and the sounds of Jedward, R5 and One Direction entered my life. She even bought a few albums herself whenever she came into a few quid. And I got to hear it all, over and over. And over.

For six months, every car journey was a Jepic Jedathon. But I actually found some disposable, kitschy enjoyment in the Grimes twins. This became all too apparent the day we took her to see Jedward doing panto - when we got home and watched the video clips I shot on my phone for her, they were all ruined by the low rumble of me unwittingly singing along, word for word.

So I always thought Kim would be about... oooh....45-years-old before we'd ever like the same music. But then, in the days after Christmas, I started to hear Taylor Swift wafting under the door and across the hall from Kim's bedroom. One day I heard it in the car, and I realised something unusual was happening to me. She played it more and more in her room, sometimes on a loop - when track 13 would end, track one would start and away we'd go again.

So I emailed my sister to tell her. "The TS album is a big hit. She's listening to it constantly. I can hear it now through the wall as I'm working."

My sister replied: "Poor you... I feel your pain" - she being a gnarled veteran of the Katy Perry wars.

But I wrote back: "No... that's the strange thing. There's no pain. I... I kinda like it."

It was time to come out to my wife. "Sit down. I have something to tell you. I think I like the Taylor Swift album. No... this is different to that time you caught me watching a Peppa Pig DVD at 4am..."

So later that day, with the house to myself, it came to a head. I could've listened to free jazz. I could've listened to Oozing Wound. But I listened to Taylor Swift's Blank Space. And I loved it.

Afterwards I was confused. Was this the start of my mid-life crisis? Or early-onset Alzheimer's? If I admitted I liked Taylor Swift, surely people would point and laugh? I did what everyone does when they have worrying symptoms they don't understand - I googled. And that's when things started to make sense.

The Guardian music critic said 1989 "deals in undeniable melodies and huge, perfectly turned choruses and nagging hooks". Rolling Stone magazine called it: "Deeply weird, feverishly emotional". The New York Times remarked that Swift was "making pop with almost no contemporary references" and "aiming somewhere even higher, a mode of timelessness that few true pop stars bother aspiring to."

And it hit me - there's nothing wrong with me, 1989 is just an objectively excellent pop album. In 30 years, we might look back on it in the same way we look back on Michael Jackson's Thriller, or, eh, The Pod by Ween. So, I'm writing this to help all those parents out there, hearing this album through their kids, confused by the feelings it's evoking and scared of the ridicule that might follow. You know who you are. I'd just like to tell you all - yes, the haters are going to hate; and I'm afraid the fakers are most definitely going to fake. But you already know what to do...

Irish Independent

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