Don’t Hate Taylor Swift: A Painful Lesson of Fatherhood

Photo by Sarah Zucca via Wikimedia Commons

In a world full of Minajes and Cyrii and Artists-formerly-known-as-Ke$ha, I don’t mind that my 14-year-old daughter likes Taylor Swift. For the most part it would not give me the willies if my daughter were to emulate Ms. Swift’s wardrobe, and we rarely hear about @taylorswift13 tweeting venom at enemies. But what about the music?

Part of having young kids is enduring the stuff that is designed for their brains and not yours. I pity the poor parent whose preschooler falls deeply in love with “The Chica Show” or something equally abominable. Sometimes we get lucky (I was always the first in the mosh pit for “The Backyardigans”), but we endure regardless of our own taste, because it’s fun to see them like stuff. Who wants to get in the way of that?

But when they become teenagers (as my kids have, despite my clear instructions not to do so), the dynamic changes: they’re choosing much of their own entertainment. We judiciously expose them to our own music as they are growing up, and we don’t find out if it “stuck” until they’re listening on their own time. So I managed to successfully insert Pearl Jam’s “Ten” into my boys’ brains, but not so the daughter: she is an avid listener of pop radio.

Okay, just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s bad, right? So during those times when we’re in the car and the playlist is hers, I’m listening dutifully, and trying to concentrate on what’s good within each song so I don’t go insane. Sometimes it’s hard to find the “pro” needle in a haystack of “con,” but sometimes the search is worth it,

Because here’s the thing: I’m okay with Ms. Swift. Yes, some of the early songs are a bit saccharine, but she started when she was 17, and everything I did at that age was pretty saccharine, too. Yes, some of the arrangements are relentlessly poppy, but they are fastidiously constructed by a team of expert cyborg engineers, so I’d expect nothing less. And, yes, the break in “Shake it Off” is wretched and unsupportable, but… well, I can’t really argue with myself there. But the point is, I’m going to listen, and dwell on the “pros.” And if I do share my opinion, I’m not going to do it in a belittling way. No one wins the “whose music is better” battle: the critic is a bully, and the one being criticized for her opinion feels bad.

And so I submit that all of us ought to back off a few notches when it comes to criticizing the taste of others. It’s perfectly fine for you to like something that I don’t like, particularly when we’re talking music. I don’t know the sum of your experience that leads you to like what you like, and I don’t have a right to make you feel weird about it. Of course comparing likes and dislikes is one of the ways humans get to know each other, but I think we do it wrong: we get defensive about our likes and aggressive about our dislikes, and we go sparring. That’s lots of fun when you’re talking trash with your friends, but when yours is the stronger personality, you’re always going to get that “win.” Congratulations. But if you’re a dad, you’re probably just being a jerk.


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5 thoughts on “Don’t Hate Taylor Swift: A Painful Lesson of Fatherhood

  1. My daughter started being interested in listening to pop music when she was 9 or 10. The conversation was much less about whose music was good or bad, but about content. We considered much of the lyrics inappropriate for her at that age (i.e., sex, words we would prefer our 10 year old not get into the habit of saying, and misogyny). But the worst part was the radio stations that broadcast the songs. Their ads and trash talk DJs were much, much worse than the songs.

    We did find one station that broadcast cleaner versions of the songs, and very little DJ madness. Thank goodness for the internet. That was several years ago before the music subscription services really took off. Now there are even more choices and we get to have different kinds of conversations with our now teenage daughter. Although a bit more of the same – Mom, “You do know they are talking about sex and drugs, right?” Daughter, “Mom!”

  2. Well said, Mike. I can’t imagine my mother enjoyed driving around town listening to Anthrax and the Dead Milkmen during my formative years, but that’s simply part of being a parent. Whenever possible you encourage (or at the very least endure) the varying tastes of your children as they develop into individuals. It’s our job to make them confident and independent, not simply manufacture carbon copies of our own tastes and attitudes.

  3. I try to remind myself that I’m modeling behavior for my kids fire when they encounter people with different preferences than them.

  4. I’ve been pretty lucky with my daughter. Sure, she’s got a thing for boy bands, what teen girl doesn’t, but aside from that her tastes steer clear of pop music.

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