Taylor Swift has been a force in music since the release of her self-titled album in 2006. With each successive album, her fame, allure and cultural impact has grown. On October 21st, 2022, she released her latest album Midnights which has already sold over a million copies and shattered Billboard records where the entire top ten was ensconced by songs from the album. And if that was not enough, her latest tour that begins in 2023 is selling out stadiums and crashing Ticketmaster servers.
Just in case there was not enough for Swifties to devour, Taylor has been releasing remixes of her first single from Midnights, Anti-Hero. Being the fan I am, I’ve of course bought these tracks and been listening to them. But in the listening, something began to stand out to me, Taylor is actually saying something very interesting in Anti-Hero, in fact it is actually a Truth as old as humanity. Let’s walk through the song and I’ll show you want I mean.
She begins, “I have this thing where I get older, but just never wiser”. Who can’t relate to this. How many of us have promised, “Oh, I am never doing that again”. “That was the last… hit, drink, one night stand, look at porn…”. The list is endless. We like to pretend we’ve changed or evolved and yet we are like a dog returning to its vomit. Gross right?! But it is the truth.
She continues to diagnose the problem,
Midnights become my afternoons
When my depression works the graveyard shift
All of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room
I should not be left to my own devices
They come with prices and vices, I end up in crisis
(Tale as old as time)
I wake up screaming from dreaming
One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving
‘Cause you got tired of my scheming
(For the last time)
Her inability to change or grow works itself out in depression, leading her to remember all the ways she’s mistreated others. The fear of being rejected that has lead her to see others walk out the door, because she cannot stop scheming and just be herself. In fact it is that scheming to try and hold on to someone that has lead them to leave. As she says, it is a tale as old as time. We want people to love us, know us and yet we can’t seem to stop hurting them and ourselves in the process. It is a never-ending carousel of relational sabotage we can’t seem to get off.
We’ll get to the chorus in due time but the next verse accentuates the problem.
Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby
And I’m a monster on the hill
Too big to hang out
Slowly lurching toward your favorite city
Pierced through the heart but never killed
Did you hear my covert narcissism
I disguise as altruism like some kind of congressman?
(Tale as old as time)
I wake up screaming from dreaming
One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving and life will lose all its meaning
(For the last time)
No matter how thin she is, not matter what she looks like on the outside, she knows intrinsically it is never good enough. Even her “good works” are a lie. She echoes Isaiah when he says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.” And what dives this? It is her fear of rejection, her desire to be know and loved.
If that was not bad enough, she goes on.
I have this dream my daughter-in-law kills me for the money
She thinks I left them in the will
The family gathers ’round and reads it
And then someone screams out
“She’s laughing up at us from hell!”
Even her subconscious knows she is not good enough to the extent that it places her in hell! Which leads us to the chorus where she brings it all together and labels the problem correctly.
I’m the problem, it’s me
(I’m the problem, it’s me)
I’ll stare directly at the sun, but never in the mirror
It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero
Taylor nails it. She’s the problem. In fact, even at her best, she is even the hero of her own story, she’s an anti-hero. And if we are being honest, at the worst she and we, are villains in our own story. In so many ways, this song echoes the Apostle Paul when he says in Romans, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Paul in Romans also talks about how we all innately know that God is there through his creation and how even the Law only points to our deficiencies, unable to save us because we can never keep it perfectly. Hi, it’s me, I’m the problem, it’s me.
Taylor is famous for her songs about failed romance. Anti-Hero encapsulates her desire to be known and loved when she says, “I wake up screaming from dreaming, One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving and life will lose all its meaning”. Relationships are her god. But again, she’s the problem. Timothy Keller paints the picture well when he says,
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
What Taylor is looking for cannot be found in a human being. Not person can sustain the weight of being everything to another person. No matter the person, they are going to let us down. Heck, she even rightly points out, we will let ourselves down, so much so that we’re not heroes, we’re at best, anti-heroes. The Psalmist points this our perfectly when they write, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.”
The Apostle Paul helps answer the question Taylor is asking in Ephesians 2,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
She gets part of the answer, she’s the problem, we are our own problem. We are dead, but we know this is not the way things are suppose to be. Not only are we dead, but we are enemies of the only one that can fix the problem we know is there. You see, we are not meant to be the hero of our own story, but the problem is, we all try to be. Genesis helps us by reminding us, “In the beginning, God”. We’re not the hero of the story because we’re not the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, God is. And this is comforting news, because otherwise we will spend our lives, toiling away, trying to be what we were never meant to be.
Then Paul gives us the answer, with the best words in the Bible, “But God”. You see, he loved us before we first loved him, to paraphrase the Apostle John and he sent the one person that could make right what we could not. Not only does he save us, but he promises the very thing Taylor longs for the very most, to never leave us. Jesus promises, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Ultimate love from one who ultimately knows us better than we could ever know ourselves. Jesus is the hero we need, want and long for. Jesus knows our villainy, our anti-hero natures, yet he still freely offers everlasting love, acceptance and salvation. Talk about good news!