“Blank Space”

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Adam R. Holz

Album Review

What do Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal, Connor Kennedy and Harry Styles have in common? They’re all high-profile entries on the “long list of ex-lovers” Taylor Swift breezily brags about on “Blank Space,” her confessional, self-skewering No. 1 hit about her well-chronicled penchant for building up to a bad breakup.

But don’t shed too many tears for Swift. ‘Cause this time around, she’s not playing her familiar role as the naive ingenue preyed upon by a cunning charmer bent on pilfering her purity. No, Taylor Swift is now embracing her inner bad girl, exchanging idealistic dreams of true love for a flammable fling with a “playa” who’s likely to become the latest addition to her infamous list.

Taylor wastes no time jumping from “Some Enchanted Evening” sparks to suggestions of something steamier. “Nice to meet you, where you been?” she begins. “I could show you incredible things/Magic, madness, heaven, sin/Saw you there and I thought/Oh my god, look at that face/You look like my next mistake/Love’s a game, wanna play?”

Gone is any hint of longing for lasting love, sacrificial commitment, soul mate bonding or any other such happily-ever-after romanticism. In its place is a newfound willingness to play the game of love on the playa’s terms. And those terms are all about the smolderingly passionate moment, never mind if Swift suspects surrendering to said passion is something she’ll later say was a mistake. “Grab your passport and take my hand,” she instructs her new beau. “I can make the bad guys good for a weekend.”

After that, well, who cares?

“You can tell me when it’s over,” Taylor continues tutorially, “if the high was worth the pain/Got a long list of ex-lovers/They’ll tell you I’m insane/ … ‘Cause we’re young and we’re reckless/We’ll take this way too far/It’ll leave you breathless/Or with a nasty scar/ … Cherry lips, crystal skies/I could show you incredible things/Stolen kisses, pretty lies.”

When the preordained breakup comes, we get our only hint that our heroine’s heart did get involved in all that breathless sin, despite vociferous proclamations to the contrary: “Screaming, crying, perfect storms/I can make all the tables turn.” And turn they do, as Taylor recasts herself in the lyrics and even more so in the song’s video as a scorned woman gone crazy: “Rose garden filled with thorns/Keep you second guessing, like/’Oh my god, who is she?’/I get drunk on jealousy/But you’ll come back each time you leave/’Cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream/ … Boys only want love if it’s torture/Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn ya’.”

The video amps up all these themes with Taylor playing (or, more accurately, not playing) the role of a hyper-rich young woman courting and connecting with a megawatt hottie who’s got no idea what he’s getting into. As he pulls up to her mansion in a suave vintage convertible, Taylor sits singing on her bed in cleavage-baring lingerie, more than hinting at what’s to come.

There’s an almost circus-like quality to this couple’s love affair. We see Taylor painting and hanging her new man’s portrait, and they laughingly ride bikes inside where there are also two white horses in the bedroom.

It all hyperbolically illustrates the utterly unreal nature of their relationship.

And then things go bad. Really bad. Psychotically bad. We see Taylor screaming, bashing the dude’s car with a golf club, sticking knives in the portrait, burning his clothes, etc. We don’t see her bashing away at her victim, er, boyfriend, but that’s apparently what’s happened. We watch as she kisses his unconscious (dead?) face, biting his lip as she does so … right before the next contestant in Taylor’s game show of “love” arrives in his sports car.

All in all, the video’s even more self-satirizing than the song itself. It skillfully delivers an elegant, ridiculous and oh-so-meta wink at the life and loves of Taylor Swift as imagined by the tabloids. She takes every gossip rag story ever written about her romances and playfully lobs them back in her haters’ faces. It “works” because Taylor’s mocking herself . Still, there’s little doubt in the end about whether her “long list of ex-lovers” is a fictional construct—because everybody knows it isn’t, even if the video itself is.

Taylor Swift seems deeply self-aware when it comes to how perceptions of her love life have been broadcast in the popular culture. So instead of rejecting those stories and stereotypes, she responds by suggesting she’s now become one of the romantic villains she once scorned so earnestly. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That seems to be the message here. And it’s a damaging message indeed for scores of young fans whose innocence hasn’t (yet) been as trammeled by all those playas as Taylor’s apparently has been.

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.

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