Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that I am thoroughly and unashamedly obsessed with Taylor Swift. Ask any member of my NET Team and they’ll readily admit, probably a bit begrudgingly, that whenever I had control of the music in our van, I would always throw at least one T-Swift song in the lineup or just give up choosing altogether and indulge in a lengthy Taylor jam session complete with belting out every word and dancing as full out as possible in such a confined and crowded space. I like to think I was teaching my team a thing or two about unconditional and sacrificial love, but they may tell the story a little differently… Haters gonna hate, am I right?
Anyway. As you can imagine, the recent release of Taylor Swift’s new album Reputation brought with it a kind of hysterical euphoria I have not experienced in a very long time. Not only do I now have fifteen new songs to sing along to at the top of my lungs in my car and in the shower and basically wherever and whenever is even somewhat socially acceptable, I also have fifteen new stories to process and fifteen new sets of beautiful, angsty, heartbreaking, and painfully raw lyrics to decipher and internalize.
It always takes me awhile to coherently consolidate my scattered thoughts and opinions regarding a new album, and my experience with Reputation was no different. During my first listen, I heard a whole lot of anger, and that’s about it. I instantly clung to the bitterness and the brokenness and the longing for revenge that seemed to thread its way through almost every song, prematurely concluding that Taylor may be holding on to some grudges a little bit too tightly. But with each successive listen, this defensive wall of resentment began to crumble with the discovery of underlying hints of deep-seated hope.
Behind her self-deprecating façade of being “the actress starring in your bad dreams” is clearly a human being who has been deeply wounded, whose name has been dragged through the mud for over ten years, who sometimes seems more like a collection of gossip columns than an actual person, and who, in the midst of all of this judgment, longs to be seen and known and loved for who she truly is, not for who others have made her out to be.
Does this longing sound at all familiar? This longing to be known and loved for who we truly are? It should. Because it is the deepest longing of the human heart. Whether we realize it or not, everything that we do in this life is motivated by the desire to be deeply known and deeply loved, despite our failures and our flaws. Surface-level, conditional, and temporary love will not do. We were made for something redemptive, unconditional, unfading, and eternal.
Once you start to listen for this deeper sense of human longing throughout Reputation, evidence of it practically spills out of each one of Taylor’s new songs. In “Delicate,” for instance, she indicates how warily she must enter new relationships for fear that she is being pursued for her public persona alone, and how relieved she is when she finds out otherwise, stating simply, “My reputation’s never been worse so you must like me for me.”
Similarly, in “Dress” she describes the beauty of being loved exactly as she is through the lines, “Even in my worst times, you could see the best of me. Flashback to my mistakes, my rebounds, my earthquakes. Even in my worst lies, you saw the truth in me.”
And finally, in perhaps the most strikingly pure-intentioned of all songs on the album, “King of My Heart,” Taylor pays tribute to a love that she seems to believe will last forever and will satisfy the deepest longings of her heart: “And all at once you are the one I have been waiting for, king of my heart, body and soul. And all at once, you’re all I want. I’ll never let you go, king of my heart, body and soul.”
If ever I were to have the opportunity to sit down for a warm cup of coffee and a long life chat with Taylor Swift, I would first and foremost thank her for so eloquently vocalizing over and over again each and every human being’s thirst for a love that will eternally satisfy our innermost longings. But then, ever so gently and ever so lovingly, I would tell her that she is seeking this love in all of the wrong places, for earthly love cannot possibly satisfy the longing placed in our hearts by our Heavenly Father as an invitation drawing us to Himself.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church writes, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC I.27).
Each and every lyric of longing ever written by any artist, Taylor included, is truly a longing for God, for only God can know us perfectly, love us perfectly, and through His love guide us on the way to perfection. Human love is, by nature, flawed because humans are flawed, and if we expect to be perfectly fulfilled by a human relationship, we are bound to be disappointed. Instead, we must seek the source of the call to love written in our hearts by falling onto our knees before the Father and begging Him to renew us in His everlasting love each and every day. For it is only once we are firmly rooted in our identity as the beloved of the Father that we can more fully give and receive love here on Earth.
Let’s return to the lyrics Taylor wrote for her song “King of My Heart”: “And all at once you are the one I have been waiting for, king of my heart, body and soul. And all at once you’re all I want I’ll never let you go, king of my heart, body and soul.”
The only fitting king of our hearts is the King of the Universe. He is the one we are waiting for, the perfect love that will sweep us off our feet, affirm our worth, see past the lies and rumors and false perceptions constructed by the world, and utterly quench our innermost thirst for love that surpasses all earthly limitations. He is all that we want, and we must never let go of His love, for it is strong enough and pure enough to wash away the bitterness and the sorrow and the regret that can so easily weigh down a heart too used to putting its hope in the wrong hands.
I pray that one day, Taylor can come to know this all-consuming love of the Father. And I pray that from this day unto eternity, you can know it, too.
Stefanie Palmer, NET Alumna