Taylor Swift is getting (well-deserved) criticism for being nostalgic for the 1830s

I really don’t mess with Woody Allen’s films at this point, but I did see Midnight In Paris one time, and I sort of enjoyed the premise of modern people being so nostalgic for a different era, they sort of willed themselves into their preferred era at midnight in Paris. Owen Wilson’s character longed to see the Lost Generation’s exploits in 1920s Paris – Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, etc. I get that kind of nostalgia. What I don’t get is Taylor Swift seemingly longing for antebellum America??? And not even a particularly noteworthy or fascinating time in antebellum America either – like, you could make a historical argument for wanting to see the Lincoln-Douglas debates or wanting to meet Harriet Tubman. But 1830s America? You want to go back in time to see Andrew Jackson’s presidency??? So that’s where we are. Taylor’s lyrics in her song “I Hate It Here” have caused some controversy.

Taylor Swift released 31 new songs on Friday, but she’s facing some criticism for one line in particular. In “I Hate It Here,” track 23 on The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology, Swift says she wants to live in the 1830s. The full lyric reads: “My friends used to play a game where / We would pick a decade / We wished we could live in instead of this / I’d say the 1830s but without all the racists / And getting married off for the highest bid.”

The Tortured Poets Department double album runs more than two hours long and contains 10,663 words, according to a noble soul at The Ringer who spent 45 minutes counting them up, but this one line is standing out among social media critics.

Observers noted that it’s hard to separate the decade from “all the racists” or other atrocities of the time. Other listeners were quick to point out that the 1830s were best known, historically, for the Indian Removal Act and Trail of Tears, in which around 60,000 Native Americans were forcibly displaced from their homes, with many dying in the process. In Europe, it was also the time of a cholera pandemic that claimed tens of thousands more lives.

The 1830s were also three decades before the Civil War, and slavery was still legal in the United States. Some critics say that the lyric minimizes the struggles of the time, even with the “without all the racists” caveat.

One X user wrote, “I mention Taylor Swift once for a joke and now I’m getting news about her, and I gotta say: pretty astonishing to stipulate that she wants to live in the 1830s, ‘except without the racists,’ and not mention slavery, so slavery still exists but everyone’s chill about it.”

Others used the controversy as an opportunity to make fun of Swift, posting memes or making quips about her private jet. “My interpretation of Taylor Swift wanting to live in the 1830s has to do with the lack of environmental regulations and how economical it’d be to run a private jet,” said another user.

Added a third, “Taylor Swift name one thing that happened in the 1830s that wasn’t racism. Quickly.”

[From Us Weekly]

The private plane joke is excellent, lmao. Yeah – it’s bad. It’s an atrocious lyric. I get that she’s trying to analyze her own nostalgia and describe what it’s like living in her own romanticized interior spaces. But can she get some producers or friends she trusts to tell her “girl, you better change these f–king lyrics.” Does Taylor literally surround herself with yes-men to the point where everyone okayed this?

Photos courtesy of Backgrid, Avalon Red. Covers courtesy of Taylor Swift.

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145 Responses to “Taylor Swift is getting (well-deserved) criticism for being nostalgic for the 1830s”

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  1. Smart&Messy says:

    She just had a good long chat with Blake Lively one night when she had writer’s block.

  2. Shawna says:

    Yaasss let the historians chime in! Some people love that Taylor gets people voting; let’s love that people talk about the incommensurability of historical experiences and the intellectual bad faith of nostalgia!

    • AlpineWitch says:

      I’ve been in the Humanities for decades and to be honest, I don’t consider wasting my time analysing Taylor Swift’s lyrics a worthy endeavour 🤔 I don’t even get why others are wasting it…

      • Shawna says:

        To get others interested! I can get some students to wake up, as it were, if I mention pop lyrics.

        I used the whole Sophie Turner smart doorbell drama to get my big lecture class about digital society engaged with course content. I got dragged back in 2008 by a too-cool student because I dared to use another student’s love of Twilight to explain cultural materialism. Teachers do what it takes.

      • Savu says:

        @shawna you sound like an awesome teacher. I would’ve learned a lot through metaphors like this.

      • Shawna says:

        Thanks, @Savu! I get really excited about linking older literature to contemporary technology, and my students are so polite that I’m never quite sure if they’re just being nice or really do appreciate the links. Yesterday, I was linking the reduction of public trust in media due to AI concerns to the feeling we get when we read murder mysteries or watch procedurals. I was linking it from the fact that investigative / forensics media foregrounds how hard it is to establish the truth.

  3. Chloe says:

    My thing with taylor is that all her songs are supposedly exploring these deep thoughts and feelings and yet she manages to make it sound like the diary of a 16 year old

    • Eurydice says:

      I had the same thought. Like she’s writing with a floofy sparkle pen. Like she’s not nostalgic for 1830, she just picked a year that sounded really old.

      • manda says:

        I was thinking, maybe she wants to dress in the fashion from the time

      • Eurydice says:

        @manda – Maybe. I’d think that earlier Regency era fashions would look better on her. The 1830s were all huge skirts, big collars, wasp waists and giant sleeves.

      • Shawna says:

        @Eurydice, but Swift is tall. IMO Regency gowns are more flattering for middle height and even short women. I look like I have legs in empire waists!

        My real issue picturing her in 1830s garb is her hair. That would be so wrong.

      • Eurydice says:

        @Shawna – Lol, and now I’m picturing Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, who was 5′ 9″ and gigantic by standards of the time.

      • Joy Liluri says:

        I follow many historical dress making YouTubers. Many of whom make their own clothes and supposedly live in them full time.

        The 1830’s are a notably hated time in fashion. Despised.

        Historically- the 1830’s were just a colonialist fever dream and a blood bath. And I hate Andrew Jackson with a passion. The evil this man achieved is awful.

      • Shawna says:

        @Eurydice, if Celebitchy had a book club, I’d start with Regency Buck!

        @Joy Liluri – ITA 1830s dresses were tragic! The neoclassic lines of the Regency were gone and the interesting addition of bustles had to wait for the future. Leg of mutton sleeves, yuck. The only thing I can give them is the charming patterning of cheap cloth and the intricate pleating of expensive cloth, which would look nice by candlelight.

      • Becks1 says:

        Yeah 1830s fashion were not it. LOLOL. No one wants to relive that era for the fashion lol.

    • Brassy Rebel says:

      That’s just it! She describes it in the lyric as a kids’ game. I don’t care about Taylor Swift one way or the other, but I really doubt that as an adult, she wants to live in the 1830’s. And that’s not what she was saying in the lyric. This really reminds me of the previous post about how people love to hate on Meghan because she is a strong, successful woman. Well, TS is that times 1,000. She is a misogynist magnet and a magnet for misogynist remarks from even political progressives who don’t like her for her music (and I’m not crazy about it myself). You can dislike TS without being a misogynist, but you have to be fair about it. Mocking her for saying she once played a stupid children’s fantasy game is being pretty picky and borderline misogynist.

      • Chloe says:

        Misogyny is not a buzz word. Stop throwing it around. I am not criticizing her as a person. I am criticizing her music and since she is a musician that clearly makes music for the masses, that’s fair game. It’s not just this song. So many of hef songs just sound juvenile. And most of the time it’s also not half as deep as people (particularly her fans) want to pretend it is. She has some catchy tunes, i’ll give her that.

      • Fancyhat says:

        Yep this is just nitpicking and twisting stuff out of context to bash Taylor. There is a portion of population that seems really invested in Taylor being a racist and this is just another stretch to make it fit.

      • Megan says:

        The 1830’s were only good for rich white people. Taylor is demonstrating a remarkable lack of social awareness and is rightfully being called out of her ignorance. There is nothing misogynistic about expecting a 34 year old adult to know better.

      • Lauren says:

        @ Fancyhat

        No one is nitpicking and twisting stuff out of context to bash Taylor. You not being able to or choosing not to recognize your privilege is why you believe it’s an attack.

        ( There is a portion of the population that seems invested in Taylor being a racist and this is just another stretch to make it fit. )

        What portion of the population are you referring to?

      • Juniper says:

        I used to (still do?) have a romantic thing for “the olden days”. Pick your era. I’m a nostalgic sap and can spin sepia-tinged fantasies about what it was like. I’m also not an idiot and realize on an intellectual level that it would suck in so many ways to live in pretty much any time before the mid 20th century. But that’s the thing with imagination and daydreaming: they’re not real life, nor are they supposed to reflect real life, nor are they supposed to be interpreted as some sort of gateway to a person’s innermost desires. I generally think Taylor gets too much credit for her supposed deep lyrics and songwriting ability, but people really need to lighten up.

    • SarahLee says:

      My thought exactly. When I heard this lyric, I thought she sounded like a bunch of high school girls at a sleepover saying what decade they would like to live in and the deepest these conversations would go is about fashion. Like – Taylor saw a pretty dress from the 1830s, and that’s why she wanted to live then. I don’t think the thoughts go deeper than that. Side note but somewhat related – as her relationship with Travis has played out, I’ve thought she seems to be living out a part of her life that most of us lived in our 20s. Going to football games in college – concerts with friends and boyfriends – parties. She didn’t get to experience those things, but I also think it stunted her maturity. In some ways, she’s so savvy, and in others, she seems clueless.

      • Chloe says:

        @sarahlee: the continued infantilism of this woman is what bugs me. She was very harshly criticized in her youth for particularly her dating but that had turned into a culture in where you can now not criticize her in any way. Her stans are her worst enemy in this regard because the way they talk about her sometimes would have you believe she’s a clueless 18 year old.

        I also more and more get the impression that she enjoys being infantilized and she just can’t take criticism at all. She was literally retweeting positive reviews of her album which for such a big artist comes off incredibly desperate

      • Eurydice says:

        An interesting thought. She was pursuing a career from age 11 and finished high school through home schooling so she could tour – so, it seems she missed a lot of “normal” life from middle school on. That’s not a bad thing, but very different from most people.

      • Amy Bee says:

        High School kids of today would never say something like this. So Taylor doesn’t get a pass for this.

      • Becks1 says:

        @chloe yes 100% to everything you’ve said. The “continued infantilism” of her is just insane. She enjoys it because it means her stans protect her and the industry to a large extent protects her and you are not allowed to criticize her. Even on her, criticism of her is dismissed due to being bitter or misogyny and sexism etc. And her stans don’t help.

    • SouthernCrone says:

      This is exactly it. If you pressed her, she couldn’t name single thing about the 1830s. It’s just superficial. Now if we want to talk about the superficiality of her lyrics, now that’s the conversation. But I am pretty sure, she is not making some deep statement about Jacksonian indigenous removal policies.

      • OriginalLeigh says:

        So we are supposed to accept that she is not capable of that level of thoughtfulness but also accept that she is among the greatest singer-songwriters of all times (as evidenced by her record 4 AOTY wins)? Okay…

      • Eurydice says:

        @OriginalLeigh – I don’t know about greatest of all times, but there’s this notion that if a person is hugely successful at one thing, they must also be a genius at everything else. Being a singer-songwriter doesn’t mean you’re also a historian.

        Still, I think a simple google of “1830” would be a less painful form of education than getting smacked around on social media, but maybe that’s her style. And maybe she’ll write a song about the experience.

      • Nic919 says:

        It can’t be both things. If you are a singer songwriter then there is some assumption that there was some thought put in the lyrics being written. At least that’s what the good song writers do.

        I do agree that she likely didn’t think of any historical implications of that lyric but I also think she gets over praised for her songwriting ability. That this lyric remains despite the lengthy process it takes for an album to be made shows sloppy work and no one to edit things.

      • Lemons says:

        She is a billion dollar brand! We’re OK with someone making that much money is totally fine with not doing any critical reflection of her lyrics? Like she is not the only person working on her album so it’s ludicrous to keep saying that she’s just oblivious. She AND her team were OK with these lyrics….so what does that really say about her?

    • meli says:

      Well you know what they say about celebs who get famous young…they basically stop maturing at that age.

      I enjoy some of her music but it’s becoming harder to take her, a 34yo woman, seriously, when she remains stuck in this Antonoff immaturity phase. She needs to stop. Travel. Make new friends. I realise that’s hard in her world but I dunno maybe write for others under a pseudonym for awhile. Try new things. Collaborate with totally different musicians.

      She’s like a gym bro who just does bicep curls all the time. Shake it up girl.

      • Ambel says:

        Yes, Meli, that is 100% correct. She is an eternal teenager.

      • Emcee3 says:

        I truly admire how the Grammy Queen of 2003, Norah Jones continues to evolve & do interesting things. She partners w/ a number of below the radar artists –many of them women– w/o making a big fuss about it.

        I enjoyed the podcast & musical segment she did w/ Questlove

    • Ameerah M says:

      Because she has the mind of a 16 year-old. She’s a 34 year-old woman who still acts like she’s in high school.

    • Nicky says:

      Taylor really has arrested development and is mentally forever 16 years old.

    • tealily says:

      This is so true. I don’t listen to her music. Every time I read her lyrics written out, I’m left scratching my head. This is our tortured poet?

  4. Dee(2) says:

    This is interesting to me because it ties into the more critical reviews I read this weekend about this album from the Times, Post, and NME. Some took a few shots at her but the general consensus seemed to be she’s not progressing lyrically and sonically they way her peers are, and if she wants to be accepted as one of the greats as she is being feted she needs to. So Kaiser has a fair point. I was watching the greatest night in pop documentary this weekend and this came up with one of the lines in we are the world. Where Smokey Robinson was saying that a line didn’t make any sense the way it was, and no one wanted to say anything because we’re talking immediate post thriller Michael Jackson. They weren’t trying to correct him at all in the song writing process, but Smokey was like I’ve known him since he was 10 years old and that line was stupid lol. Maybe she needs someone back from her Nashville days to just pull it to the side and say this would have never made it out of the writing lab.

    • Shawna says:

      I did actually listen to the first five or six songs of the new album, and I wasn’t impressed. Some really great hooks, but the verses are so mumbly and indistinct. Her lyrics aren’t disciplined enough metrically. Come take a class on prosody from me, Taylor!

    • GoodWitchGlenda says:

      “She’s not progressing” was my thought as well. This is the third album that sounds exactly the same. I hope she uses a different producer next time around.

      • Angie says:

        Yep regressing thematically. A disappointment. And watching smart people – my friends – fawn over her lyrics ugh. I appreciate several songs & lyrics but as Lainey noted, she needs an editor, bad. Also note musically it’s strong. Two different things. But we’re also in a phase of not only not criticizing her, but Antanoff & the National’s guy are untouchable too in those spaces right now.

      • GreenTurtle says:

        You think Evermore, Midnights, and Tortured Poets Dept all sound the same?

  5. Jenny says:

    Probably giving her way too much credit, but with an album title like Tortured Poets Department, I assumed it was a reference to the 1830s as the beginning of the Romantic movement in literature. But assuming it’s a Tennyson reference was probably far too generous a reading.

    • Shawna says:

      I’d put the beginning in 1798 with Wordsworth and Coleridge’s famous preface to Lyrical Ballads 🙂

      • Sunny says:

        Preface to the Lyrical Ballads is pure fire! It is brilliant and like hella ambitious which is paradoxical when you think about them moving the focus of poetry to daily life and the experience of the the individual. I mean, Jesus, “what we have loved others will love and we will teach them how.”

        God those poets were so good..also let me lol Taylor mentioning Dylan Thomas on the album and BBC running an article on who he was.

      • Shawna says:

        Yes, say it again! “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…. emotion recollected in tranquility.” Screw the neoclassicists like Alexander Pope 😉

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        And let’s not forget Blake? And Thomas Paine? Maybe she could also find time to have tea with Anne Lister, aka Gentleman Jack. I’d love to be a fly on that wall.

    • hexicon says:

      I was thinking Chopin and George Sand for the music and confessional literature (damn I love the movie Impromptu!) but it would not be for the hair or clothes. The fussy dresses and the little clusters of curls over the ears? No wonder Sand wore men’s clothing!

      • Shawna says:

        The hairdressing was an absolute crime. They called it “ringlets” or “soft wings of hair over the ear” or “fluttering” or “framing locks” etc etc, but it does not excuse the hairdressing crime!

      • Miss Jupitero says:

        Those hairstyles are pure sadism. NOBODY looks good in those ringlets and middle parts. Ugh.

  6. Katinka says:

    As the song continues with “Nostalgia’s a mind’s trick, if I’d been there I’d hate it”, this is a bit of an unnecessary discussion. She also mentions the book “Secret Garden” which she loved as a child (me,too) maybe that’s where the liking for that era comes from.
    Btw I’m a classical musician and for me the 1830s sound awesome as well- Chopin was a big deal, Symphonie fantastique had just come out, Mendelssohn was writing bangers… I love the furniture and art and clothing of that period as well. Can we not seperate that from what went down otherwise in history? Do we have to insist absolutely everything that happened at that time was crap and should be avoided?
    The song seems to be more about escapism in general and wanting to escape this particular time and place which I certainly get. Now the one critique that I do have that Taylor would have the means and the power to make this place and time a little nicer, and doesn’t use it. Just imagine all the swifties saving the climate and the earth. Please?

    • Brassy Rebel says:

      This is such a thoughtful comment, Katinka!

    • B says:

      “Mendelssohn was writing bangers…“

      • Katinka says:

        @ Brassy Rebel, thank you!
        @B, ever heard of a little ditty called the “Wedding March” (from Midsummer Night’s Dream)? Still extremely popular almost 200 years later (at least on certain occasions) so if that’s not a certified banger, I don’t know what is 😃
        Btw I’m from a very small, poor place that got passed back and forth between France and Germany depending on which country had won the latest war, and my ancestors at the time were breaking their backs in coal mines, so I wouldn’t want to trade either. But still- a fascinating time

      • B says:

        @Katinka- when I stopped playing piano I was practicing 8 hours a day and sight-reading Prokofiev.
        Also stuff on the organ and accordion.
        The Mendelssohn line generated straight up admiration, not mockery.

    • SussexWatcher says:

      I don’t really see how you can separate it though. Along with the music you like, there is also all of the horrible things. For me, as a black woman, there’s no way I’d want to go back or fantasize about music or clothing because of all the things that come along with it. You can appreciate the classical music now – why is there a need to yearn to go back? I feel like that’s what all of these white women (Taylor, Blake) getting nostalgic for these eras forget – they’d have absolutely no rights and would be considered their husband’s property. (Let alone if they were poor and not the plantation owner’s wife!) Let alone all of the other horrible things that come along with those eras.

      It just seems like a bizarre thing to yearn for because what’s the subtext?! Blake L wishing to be on her plantation porch sipping mint juleps? But that fantasy comes with the slave labor that supports that fantasy. You can’t separate it, that’s the point (for me).

      • Pittie Mom says:

        Exactly. “Can we not seperate that from what went down otherwise in history?” Well, no, especially since she mentions racists. She invited criticism of the historical context. It wasn’t racism, it was white supremacy.

      • Isabella says:

        You have to do jumping jacks to excuse the 1830s. You are right, you can’t look at history that way.

      • Bravo says:

        Most of them wouldn’t be wealthy enough to own a plantation.
        They were working poor, just like today. They dream of a time they wouldn’t be able to enjoy.
        Remember, only 1% owned slaves.
        Sold to the highest bidder? Lol, you’d be lucky if the poor boy down the street aka your peer wanted to marry you.

    • K says:

      This times a million.

    • Bettyrose says:

      Just here to upvote Secret Garden. That book was my entire identity for awhile in childhood. It’s the ultimate escapist fantasy.

    • Eurydice says:

      Nostalgia is about returning home, a longing to return to an earlier personally experienced time. So, what would be nostalgic for TS about 1830? I don’t know her history, but I’d guess probably nothing. This is more about romanticizing the past, which has a whole other element of blindness to it.

      • kerfuffles says:

        Very good point. The follow-up lyric about nostalgia kind of makes it worse. Or shows she does not know what nostalgia actually means.

    • tealily says:

      She could have used those following lines to evoke what drew her to the time period, but instead she acknowledged what was wrong. She was probably trying to ward of this kind of discussion with those lines, but instead it just seems like an extremely random line and invites the criticism.

  7. SussexWatcher says:

    I haven’t listened to the song but I don’t even understand what she’s saying she’s nostalgic for from that era? Aside from the slavery and genocide of indigenous peoples and lack of any sort of rights for women and lack of child labor laws and lack of birth control and no antibiotics or modern medicine. And on and on. Like, serious question, what IS she yearning for from that era? The fashion?

    I have never understood her appeal. I listen to popular music but could only name a couple of her songs. Plus she seems like a mean girl stuck in some teenaged state of mind. I don’t understand why it’s necessary to write so many tragic breakup songs to the point it’s her whole identity (in my opinion, as someone who is viewing her as not a fan). I only learned it after she started dating Travis Kelse but was shocked to learn she’s in her 30s because she acts so young and immature IMO.

    • VoominVava says:

      This is just people trying to build up some controversy. The lyrics are not about her pining for that era at all. She talks about a game her friends used to play (probably as teens or younger?) where they’d pick a time they’d want to live in, and when she’d say the 1830’s and talk about how it wasn’t a good time for women or people of colour, they’d not want to play anymore because she took the fun out of the game by being too serious.

      “My friends used to play a game where
      We would pick a decade
      We wished we could live in instead of this
      I’d say the 1830s but without all the racists and getting married off for the highest bid
      Everyone would look down
      Cause it wasn’t fun now
      Seems like it was never even fun back then”

      She is reflecting on dumb things she did when she was young.

      People can hate the writing style, art is subjective, but to manufacture and perpetuate this false narrative for clicks is not fair, imo. It’s cheap.

      • Dee says:

        You’re right. It’s taking the lyric out of context. She spoiled the fun of the game her friends were playing by pointing out the reality of that time period. I do the same on my Jane Austen forums. When someone says “Wouldn’t you love to live in Austen’s time? The dresses, the gentlemen, the manners,” I’m all, “absolutely not” and then I’m the killjoy.

  8. BQM says:

    Don’t come for me but I just don’t think is a great outrage. 🤷‍♀️

    She says she doesn’t want to be in that time because a) racism —the unpinning of slavery and the treatment of native Americans since they were judged and dehumanized by white supremacy and b) treatment of women ie sold off to the highest bidder because women were property.

    I doubt she’s a history major studying famine overseas. But I could see being a fan of the times in theory especially when you were younger. There were great scientific strides, people were getting vaccinated from smallpox, Darwin was researching, Dickens and Hugo were writing, Greece and Belgium fought and won wars of independence and France overthrew the Bourbons (the revolution is immortalized in Delacroix’s famous painting) , Wagner (problematic as he is) and Verdi were composing, slaves were uprising and the abolition movement was gaining steam with slavery being abolished in region after region.

    So, yes, it’s a pretty crappy time for anyone not a straight, white, Christian (but not Catholic) , landowning man. But every era has its virtues and value. (The show Timeless was great at showing this and discussing the unseen and unsung.) It’s just a brief lyric but it’s not romanticizing the period and she recognizes two of its main flaws. Trump always shrieks shouting making America great again. But every time has a lot to dislike if not hate. I’m sure history will look back at this era like WTF. But there’s also awesome stuff going on. I think most times would be awesome to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

    • VilleRose says:

      I feel the same way. Taylor isn’t unproblematic but to me this is making a mountain of a molehill. Nobody truly wishes to go back to the 1830s but it’s ok to be fascinated by certain things of that time period. Should Taylor have been more direct: “without all the slavery?” Maybe, there’s racists today as there there were back in the 1830s. But this song is really not that deep.

  9. Bumblebee says:

    Does this really need to be read literally? People use phrases or words in songwriting to convey feelings or imagery. I think Taylor’s mistake is she writes so many songs about real events in her life, so everything she writes people assume is straightforward. But this lyric was written by a 14 yr old, right?

  10. Fifty-50 says:

    The problem isn’t that she longs to go back to the 1830’s when she was playing games as a kid. The problem is that AS AN ADULT who is supposedly a “great lyricist” and should therefore know the importance of words, she chose to use the word “racism” instead of “slavery.” She chose to minimize that inhumanity. If you want to start making historical analogies, it’s like saying she wanted to live in Third Reich Germany except “without the antisemitism” instead of “without the Holocaust.”

    Antisemitism has existed for centuries. There is only one Holocaust.

    Words matter. Unless you’re Taylor Swift, apparently, who as a Great Lyricist and Prodigious Poet, gets a free pass from her fans every. Single. Time.

    • SussexWatcher says:

      Well said 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽

    • Dee(2) says:

      I agree. If you’re at the point where people have to explain that you didn’t mean to celebrate racism in a lyric, but were trying to reference Romanticism, or a certain musical period or art period, you shouldn’t have included the lyric. Again this usually applies to politics, but if you’re explaining you’re losing. This wasn’t her second album It’s her 11th, and she’s written hundreds of songs. And as I said in my other comment her songwriting prowess is really what people celebrate about her, her intuitiveness, and ability to use metaphors, and this was clunky.

      • Jais says:

        Yeah, this is fair. It feels clunky and mired in privilege.

      • Nic919 says:

        When a lyric needs to be explained or justified this much it’s not a good lyric.

        And if this was a last minute track she dropped in a day that’s one thing, but this was there for months and no one questioned that it might seem weird.

      • Nicky says:

        I didn’t agree with the criticism, thought people were taking it too seriously, until your comment. I agree completely. This isn’t just two girlfriends talking about things casually. She should have known better.

    • Eurydice says:

      Yes, words matter and certain words are front and center, no matter what you think you’re doing. At a lecture by the filmmaker Errol Morris, I remember him saying “The Holocaust is not a spice. You just can’t sprinkle it here and there and expect it to not take over everything.”

      • Fifty-50 says:

        I find that many people have difficulty contextualizing the breadth and depth of the atrocities perpetrated against POC because it has long been treated as a mere unpleasant background historical fact. If you find it distasteful that I used the visceral images of Holocaust to provide a point of reference, I find it distasteful that when I say “slavery,” most people think of Gone With the Wind and a few woodblock prints.

        It’s not the suffering Olympics.

      • Eurydice says:

        @Fifty-50 – I wasn’t criticizing your analogy of the Holocaust, I was agreeing with you. Perhaps I should have continued my post by saying – “In the same way, slavery isn’t a spice, you can’t be casual about it” – but I thought my agreement was obvious. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.

      • Fifty-50 says:

        Thanks for the clarification, very much appreciate it.

  11. Amy Bee says:

    Isn’t one of her best friends Blake Lively? Plus, this just proves that Taylor Swift is not a feminist.

    • Elo says:

      How does a friendship with someone prove that you don’t think women are equal to men?

      • Honey says:

        Agree. Shouldn’t we all try to have diverse friends with diverse perspectives? And doesn’t that only make one stronger in one’s beliefs? If I only “accepted” friends with my specific ideology, I would have no friends. Just my opinion.

    • atlantababe says:

      100%. i used to think she was a white feminist but she really only cares about herself and nobody else.

  12. Concern Fae says:

    Taylor Swift appears to have entered her 1990s Anne Rice era. Still good, but more in need of an external editor than earlier in her career, but completely unwilling to accept this fact. See any number of bestselling authors, male and female for similar examples.

    She’s stuck in the trap of if she produces what her fans want, she’s not working at the level that people who take music seriously demand from musicians. She encourages her fans to search for Easter eggs and see her music as clues to her real life, so something lazy like this feels far more intentional than it was probably meant to be. If she had said why, say to have met Emily Dickinson, and then lamented the racism and no women’s rights, it might have hit better. On the other hand, pop songs don’t work if you put the sort of qualifications on everything that modern discourse demands.

  13. Kate says:

    A friend of mine asked a group of us this question once as a discussion topic (as adults), and the answers were mostly superficial based on fashion and how you perceive a certain time period based on books you’ve read. Me being way too literal couldn’t come up with a time period in history I’d like to spend much time in as a woman because, ya know, not being autonomous humans for most of history (plus no modern medicine, air conditioning or pants). But that kind of game isn’t really meant to be that serious!

  14. SamuelWhiskers says:

    I couldn’t name more than about three Taylor Swift songs but it’s pretty obvious that the entire point of the song is calling out modern society’s tendency to whitewash and romanticise the past in order to live in comforting fake nostalgia, and how dangerous that is. I mean, literally the very next part of the lyrics (which the article conveniently leaves out) are very explicitly saying that women were property and that modern day women who romantisise the past are engaging in a “mind’s trick” because they would hate the reality of the past, and that nostalgia is dangerous.

    “Nostalgia is a mind’s trick
    If I’d been there, I’d hate it”

    It’s just crazy to me that Swift writes a song saying that nostalgia is wrong and dangerous because extremely racist and misogynistic structures of the past get whitewashed, that people who say they want to live in 1830s would hate the reality of it because of racism and women being property, and everyone misinterprets it as “OMG Taylor Swift says she wants to live in the 1830s!!” Like… nostalgia for the 1830s is literally the exact polar opposite to what the song is about. Did people just not bother to read the next paragraph??

    And now I have to go and look at myself in the mirror and ponder how I became the kind of person who defends Taylor Swift online.

    • Fifty-50 says:

      And yet here she is, whitewashing the slavery of Black Americans and genocide of Native Americans as racism.

      • MaisieMom says:

        There is a difference between whitewashing and over-simplifying though. I think she is using the term racism in part to refer to those injustices. They can’t be fully described in one word or even in thousands, but this is a song so she distilled it.

        I haven’t listened to the album. But just reading the lyrics as some have supplied in more depth here, it seems she is critiquing nostalgia for the past, not indulging in it.

    • sevenblue says:

      I think, that is the point of criticism. It wasn’t just “racism” in those times. It was more than that. She just compressed all of it (slavery, human trafficking) under that word. Why would you even include something like that on a song if you are not competent enough as a poet to express it skillfully?

    • Lisa says:

      No they didn’t bother reading or listening to the song, they heard this one line and ran with it. Just like people won’t read your comment, or will swear the entire album is about her being in love with Healy and not actually listen to it and what it’s clearly saying and how most songs are blending multiple men together because she was at the time.

      But no people aren’t listening or reading.

      • Imara219 says:

        @Lisa, I want to just say I read the entire song, and even with full context, it makes the song worse. The dismissiveness of using the word racism flippantly after providing such a strong visually allusion to 1830s was so searingly painful I got whiplash. She should know better as a poet and do better lyrically and metaphorically. There were much more responsible ways to invoke the message she was trying to deliver, and the pay-off wasn’t worth the emotional turmoil she put a certain demographic of listeners through. It’s a very surface-level line; one that doesn’t take into consideration any other perspectives and what they would envision

  15. sevenblue says:

    Taylor has never been not a literal writer. There is a very obvious reason that she felt the need to add this to her song: Matty the rat. The album wasn’t a joe-over era as many swifties hoped to be. She didn’t reveal Joe as a bad guy because he isn’t. If that guy had a dirty laundry, Taylor would scream it from the rooftop. It was an album dedicated to Matty, her love and now hate relationship with him, how years and years she longed for him (yikes! Good for Joe not proposing, I guess), he was her twin. So, when you basically publish love letters to a guy who likes to watch black women get sexually abused or laughs and mocks a WOC on podcasts, you would feel the need to emphasize how “actually” unracist you are. That is the reason this line made to the finish line.

  16. Steph says:

    I think the white commenters saying they can separate the bad from the good of that era really need to analyze your privilege. We (BIPOC) would not have had access to any of things you celebrating. Not the fashion, not the music, not the writings (we weren’t allowed to learn to read), not the medical advancements (we were the guinea pigs). When you say you can separate it all what your saying is you would have enjoyed being white. So TS is basically saying she would have enjoyed a time when she wouldn’t have been able to reach a section of her fan base and the caveat of racism is treated like an annoying fly. Inconvenient but not a big deal.

    • Dee(2) says:

      @Steph that’s the real uncomfortable truth in a lot of these comments and I hope it’s taken to heart.

      • Lauren says:

        Yes blinders are on and the ears are covered so they wouldn’t have to sit with this truth.

  17. Alix says:

    I think everyone should calm the hell down. I’m sure she’d also like to live in the 1830s with modern dentistry, painkillers, tampons, flushing toilets, and air conditioning. How is this any different from people who swoon, oh, how I’d love to live in Jane Austen’s England! It’s a silly fantasy, nothing more. Such a kerfuffle over nothing.

    • Fifty-50 says:

      “How is this any different from people who swoon, oh, how I’d love to live in Jane Austen’s England!”

      It’s not, which is why Bridgerton is extremely problematic, and why it has been rightly criticized. Taylor Swift is extremely popular, especially with young listeners, and has a wide reach.

      This discourse is important, especially now when white supremacy is increasingly normalized in the general population. State governors in the US run on platforms centered on banning books, eliminating critical race theory, and glossing over the fact that the United States was built on slavery.

      Eliding slavery as mere racism is unacceptable. As I said above, it’s not the nostalgia she had as a child that’s the problem, it’s her deliberate word choice as an adult with a huge platform to continue to look away from difficult historical truths just because they’re are uncomfortable for her.

  18. Meredith says:

    I don’t see where she said 1830s *America*, but the 1830s were full of POETRY and literature on both sides of the Atlantic. Coleridge, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Browning (both), Longfellow, Pushkin. It’s exactly the aesthetic she is going for. This is the era of Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe. James Fenimore Cooper. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Dickens. Thackeray. Victor Hugo. Dumas. Balzac. I know she didn’t go to college, but she may still be somewhat informed on the point.

  19. Grant says:

    I’m no historian so apologies if this is a stupid question — when was the Regency period? I could see Taylor waxing poetic because of romance! and Bridgerton!

    • Becks1 says:

      The regency was before that, the 1810s. It was when George III was declared incapacitated and his oldest son served as Prince Regent. Generally when you hear the term you think of the first 20 or so years of the 19th century in England but officially I think it was just the 1810s.

    • Innie says:

      In terms of eras, the most generous interpretation of the Regency era is from 1795-1837 (when Victoria took the throne). The regency itself was from 1811-1820 but the time period (distinguished by hideous fashion, good architecture and music, and decent poetry) is longer than that.

  20. Truthiness says:

    Reading the lyrics it says “Nostalgia is a mind trick, I’d hate it there.”Agreeing with a few above that the full song appears to say she’s not desiring the 1830s. Except the joke’s on me because the internet made me look up lyrics to a Taylor song. Curses!!

  21. Annoyedandexhausted says:

    As a woman of color, I’m exhausted by all the white women crying racism on my behalf. Read all the lyrics, before you comment. Also, I wanted to live in the 1860s when I was young, because of the little house books. But without all the murdering of my people.

    • Fifty-50 says:

      Who said anyone was doing it on your behalf?

      • AnnoyedandExhausted says:

        White women on behalf of women of color, obviously. Not me, personally.

    • Honey says:

      As a woman of color also, I completely agree with you, and well said.

    • Lauren says:

      @Annoyedandexhausted and Honey

      Not everyone here who is criticizing the lyrics is white or doing it on your behalf. Those of us non-white people have read the lyrics and are criticizing it.

      • VoominVava says:

        Criticizing lyrics is fine and it’s great to have discussions about our point of view of art, but you’re not criticizing the whole lyric. That’s like watching half of a movie and declaring you know what it’s about and saying it sucks.

      • Honey says:

        That’s quite fair, and while it was not my intention to throw shade on an entire race, I thank you pointing it out that words don’t always express your feelings. Maybe like the very lyrics off Tay Tay we’re discussing here. Blessings.

      • Lauren says:

        @ VoominVava

        We have heard the song and read the lyrics (even the whole album) and still find them problematic . The people criticizing the lyrics don’t need you and others “mansplaining” the song and lyrics. Telling us that it’s unproblematic and how we just don’t get it when we do and still question it.

  22. Jenny says:

    The song is about The Secret Garden, which is set in 1800’s in England. Hopefully that gives some context. I think this lyric was a miss. I don’t think it’s as dramatic as it’s being made out to be.

    • Becks1 says:

      Secret Garden is closer to the turn of the century than the 1830s.

    • Nic919 says:

      The book is set in Edwardian England which starts in 1901, so almost a hundred years after the 1830s. Plus the two movies about the book make the time period clear because she goes to British India, which was not something they would have done in the 1830s.

  23. GrnieWnie says:

    I mean, every decade has its atrocities. I’m not sure that there’s an ideal one to pick.

  24. KeKe Swan says:

    Shoutout to @Eurydice for name-checking Georgette Heyer. The Grand Sophy was one of her funniest!

  25. First Time says:

    It’s not a great line because she’s using 2024 logic to defend a naive argument of a child.

    Please remember she was a child in the 90s likely in a predominantly white school system that taught us that slavery was terrible, but popular culture said Dickinson and the Victorian age were romantic.

    Think huge kids movies like Huck Finn, Secret Garden, Little House, Wish Bone story vibes. She is using the song to say we cannot romanticize even the romantic period of writing but it’s very clumsy. She also mentions Emily Dickinson who was born in 1830.

    I would think an album about British men who fancy themselves Tortured Poets should include romanticism in its references, but most of her critics want to reduce it down to the fact that she hasn’t gotten beyond AP high school lit, when in fact, she is writing about men that haven’t gotten beyond it themselves.

    The without all the racists line is the caveat that stops her friends from playing because she made it no longer fun by bringing up the realities she wants to escape even though she can’t.

    However, because people don’t listen to a whole song and because Stans on both sides need to give their favorite artists 10 out of 10s and their “media rival” 0 out of 10 it’s something her team should have said no to, considering Matt Healy and Blake Lively associations and more, but Jack Antonoff is not pushing her enough and this kind of Stan Vs. Hater has seeped into critical reception of the album and media literacy meets a new low.

  26. Skyblacker says:

    I don’t see the problem. Half the Founding Fathers owned slaves but we still cosplay the American Revolution.

    I think she’s focused on the 1830s because it’s not Bridgerton nor pointedly antebellum. It’s a random, forgotten decade that actually did have a few positive developments, like the construction of the first railroads. And if you’re Mormon, that’s when the church was founded.

    • Lauren says:

      “Half the Founding Fathers owned slaves but we still cosplay the American Revolution.”

      Who is we?

    • Imara219 says:

      And some people speak up about that and don’t like it. Marginalized communities talk about how problematic that is all the time. Just because the mainstream and contingent of white people don’t hear it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It’s not a random forgotten era by a long shot. In US American History, 1830 is a pretty significant time (hello, the massacre of the Indigenous people) + The seriousness of the slave laws that were being created at that time (this is full-blown Antebellum South) + is discussed in higher-level literature classes due to the Romanticism period of poetry within historical context. It’s not some forgotten period. And the issues can’t be summed up to “whelp people were racist, and that’s bad, amirite”ism

    • GrnieWnie says:

      I mean people still literally re-enact the Civil War, to say nothing of the Revolution. It’s not like anyone is tearing down statues of George Washington. Accept it: US history is racist, get over it. There’s no whitewashing it, no denying it, no saying “Washington was a slave owner, we can’t celebrate him.” No, he WAS a slave owner and we CAN celebrate him as the first President. We can do that because hey, THAT’s how prevalent slavery was! It wasn’t just evil slavemasters…it was every average seemingly “good” person who owned slaves and that is the history of this country. Accept the reality: it’s not a particularly great country and it’s exceptionally violent. The end.

      I personally think every public memorial/street name/etc. anywhere for a pro-segregationist or a Confederate “hero” should be eradicated. Why? Because that’s memorializing people who, if they had succeeded in their cause, would have ended the country as it exists today. Makes sense to eradicate all of it (and there’s SO much of it).

      But you can’t take the same approach to the people who actually created the country. Makes no sense, yet that’s life. It’s complex. Can’t crucify everyone who celebrates George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. Better to grasp the complexity and move forward. You know who was great at that? Martin Luther King, Jr.

  27. Lisa says:

    She lives in a soap bubble! It will pop eventually! Not a fan and am tired of having her shoved down my throat! There are other things more important in life! I delete any article about her in my feed.

  28. Chelsea says:

    You all realize you’re flipping out on her for singing about a game she and her friends used to play when they were kids… literally decades ago. it’s not like she’s referencing a discussion she and her friends had recently. 1830s minus the racists and being married off for the highest bid… that’s the whole line. She even states later on in the same verse that that “nostalgia’s a mind’s trick” and that form of thinking isn’t healthy. I think it’s being blown out of proportion. But whatever.

    • Fifty-50 says:

      If she and her fans want to call her a master wordsmith, then the world is going to judge her on her words.

      If the line doesn’t clearly communicate her intent and undermines the entire point of her song? Then that’s shitty wordsmithing.

      • VoominVava says:

        But it does clearly communicate her intent if it isn’t cut off before the thought is done. People are cutting the lyric off to make it more impactful to get clicks and stir up controversy.

      • Fifty-50 says:

        I criticized her choice to characterize slavery as racism. Not the lyric about her realizations regarding nostalgia. I’ve read your comments—would you not agree as a songwriter that there is a material difference between the words “attacker” and “rapist”?

        Consider “the woman was attacked” versus “the woman was raped.” One sentence elicits a different emotional response because of the specific nature of the attack. This is the same.

      • VoominVava says:

        Hmm, you’re assuming she was characterizing slavery as racism. Interpreting lyrics differently I guess. That’s why art is so subjective and personal.

      • Fifty-50 says:

        Thank you for outing yourself as a racist.

      • VoominVava says:

        I was really upset at your false accusation but upon further reflection, I see how my response could be misconstrued. As a songwriter, I was only defending how lyrics are interpreted but ended up in a conversation about characterizing racism. It was not my intent to try to characterize slavery or racism or anything and I apologize if it came across that way. I just wanted to defend a songwriter (as a songwriter myself) and reiterate my point about how art is subjective.

        I can’t speak for Taylor, so I am taking myself out of this conversation because those are her words to defend, not mine. I sincerely hope you have a good day.

  29. Imara219 says:

    I want to say I read the entire song, and even with full context, it makes the lyrics even worse. The dismissiveness of using the word racism flippantly after providing such a strong visually allusion to 1830s was so searingly painful I got whiplash. As a Black woman, the emotional journey I had to go through when moving through that lyric was just…not cool. Evaluating the lyrics through the poetic lens means we can constructively criticize the quality of the song. Taylor should know better as a poet and do better lyrically and metaphorically in what she’s projecting. There were so many more responsible ways to invoke the message she was trying to deliver, and the pay-off wasn’t worth the emotional turmoil she put a certain demographic of listeners through. At the end of the day she said “hey remember when, wouldn’t it be cool…SIKE…not really because of like racists, you know.” I mean, duh, Taylor, so what was the point here? It’s a very surface-level line that doesn’t consider any other perspectives and what they would envision, and that’s just poor craftsmanship poetically.

  30. AC says:

    On SM, some of her hardcore fans are having a meltdown because of Taylor’s mediocre reviews. All I can say is That’s Life, their favorite is not always going to be on top. And they better get used to it because there’s so many talented artists that can very well take her place at any time.
    Btw.. I did also actually enjoy the movie Midnight in Paris 😀

  31. Honey says:

    I’m not mad at her for this. The specific lyric may have been a misstep, but for those of us on the left, Taylor has done more for the Democrat party than any campaign. She may not be political in her music (which I personally appreciate), but part of public image is to encourage young millions of young women to vote and she’s somewhat outspoken on the issues she supports. Just my opinion.

  32. Saucy&Sassy says:

    She wrote a song for the patriarchy? All of those white men must be so proud.