This IWD, these are the women who inspire me.

What inspires us can change over time. As our thinking develops and changes we seek new heroes who speak to the things we come to value. Every girl* should have more than one hero: your interests, values and pleasures are formed by your unique experiences, and you should have an idol for every one of them. A style icon; a political hero; a favourite character. Here are just a few of mine – you should definitely follow the links to be inspired.

the activistviola-gregg-liuzzo-370152-1-402
Viola Liuzzo has been a hero of mine since I first read about her. She is the ultimate ally: impassive, helpful, dedicated. As a cis-gender, middle-class white educated woman most fights for injustice are not mine – as a person who lives in the world, though, all injustices are mine. Luizzo used her power in the most effective way to benefit a cause. She didn’t step into the spotlight, she didn’t gain from it as an individual. Her actions taught me the lessons I hope to embody and shown me that the consequences of occupying that space can be profound and worth it.

the researchers200_karen.chapple
I don’t know much about Karen Chapple’s work. I’m not a geographer or a city planner – her academic interests don’t even fall into the same school as mine let alone overlap. But her fascination is fascinating to me, and her self-evaluation as she goes about her business is something I want to embody. Academia is not a high castle in which we can objectively state this and that, and Chapple’s attitude reminds me of this. It also reminds me that sharing your passion widely is more valuable and interesting than keeping it to yourself.

the entrepreneurCaitlin_Doughty_in_red_evergreen_background
Caitlin Doughty is, really, more of an activist or a philosopher than an entrepreneur. I hate entrepreneurs. I hate businesses that build themselves from nothing on the backs of workers just to stick a plaster over some problem they have noticed in the world. Doughty wants nothing more than her own business to fail due to a radical shift in mainstream Western attitudes. By asking profound, scary questions (and giving answers with warmth, humour and no judgement), Doughty gives control to people who never knew they were missing it. Using new medias she has shone a light into the strange (peculiarly interesting) area that is her home territory, and taken us with her.

the fictional characters


Being a girl used to mean liking pink or liking football. I remember that when I was growing up, liking makeup or sports or good grades were, by and large, considered incompatible, and it hadn’t yet dawned on me that hating ‘urban’ music or Kristen Stewart were performative (and unhealthy) cultural behaviours. Since last year’s IWD, though, we’ve had cultural behemoths showcase women with contradictions: girls who are cheeky and intelligent, women who are strong and sensitive. We have seen characters whose contradictions make them unique and dynamic and powerful. The reason I loved Shuri and Diana so much was that showed me the dichotomy within themselves. Real women don’t choose a single aspect of themselves, let us remember that.

the writerRankine_2016_profile-200
Claudia Rankine is, I think, our greatest living poet. Citizen is amazing, and thoroughly deserves all the praise that is heaped on it, but her book that speaks to me at the moment is Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Like Citizen, it categorises itself as ‘An American Lyric’, and it walks the line between prose and poetry and fiction and truth. It amazes me that these feelings from the beginning of the Obama era are so resonant with me now, but the power of Rankine is that her words depict both specificities and general feelings which can reach out and grab you any time. The creeping sense of dread in her work is something I am just coming to truly understand, and she is helping me come to terms with the world as it is.

*Girls, boys and non-binary children are included in this sentiment, but for IWD I will condense people to girls. These people can be your heroes whoever you are – even if you are a grown up like me.


Boots and the Morning After Pill

Today there has been a call to boycott high-street store Boots for their extortionate pricing of the morning after pill. With Tesco and Superdrug (as well as local chemists) selling it much cheaper, people have demanded a justification for Boot’s high prices, and their answer has chilled women everywhere. “We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product”, says the chain.

This is a feminist issue, a class issue, a social order issue. The Boots response to their pricing plan is outdated and devalues the autonomy of the woman and her male partner (after all, gay women do not require contraceptives, only barriers to prevent STDs) and infers that with the ability to pay comes responsibility. But you can read about this in all of the papers.

More disturbingly for me is Boots’ relationship with the NHS. Whilst the conglomerate dictates to us how we should be viewing women who take Emergency Contraception, it rakes in millions of pounds a year from prescriptions and pharmacy products. As it refuses to lower its price, we begin to understand how prescription services would work without the flat £8.60 per item (or free for children, pensioners, ex-soldiers, inpatients and the registered disabled) the NHS gives us – and we should be appalled by this potential vision of the future. We see that Boots views us – not just women, but all of us – as customers before people, and not even as valued customers but as possible cash cows. Until now they have been protected by market pricing and lack of public knowledge, but as the media net closes in over them the company’s actions are in for widespread condemnation. Probably even more widespread and vocal than the complaints they anticipated in their statement.

I’ve been boycotting Boots for over a year now, for their relationship with tax, and I can tell you it’s much easier than I thought it would be: I’ve gone from someone who bought makeup, toiletries, snacks, medication and accessories ranging from travel plugs to tights in there, who popped in there to conveniently exchange their goods for a bit of my dollar nearly every day and who was doggedly loyal to their Advantage Card scheme, to somebody who hasn’t set foot in a Boots for over a year. Once in that time it has become an issue: I was elsewhere in the UK and needed makeup remover because I had forgotten mine, but an ordinary (albeit larger than local) supermarket came to my rescue. That is why I believe that a customer boycott will be an effective pressure on this particular high-street retailer. Not only is there a direct competitor whose reasonably-priced alternatives can easily replace Boots’ wares, but also because ordinary supermarkets charge similar or lower prices for the same things. If we stop going to Boots, we will not become deodorant-shunning, Goop-reading snowflakes. We can keep all the conveniences we’re used to at the prices we’re used to whilst we bypass this high-street parasite.

If public opinion really is the problem, Boots will lower the price of Emergency Contraception, but it has gone beyond that now. We should be boycotting Boots because of their attitudes to not only women but all sexually active people, all people in need of healthcare (which, after all, is everyone at some point or another) and all people who need financial aid to access services. This is all of us, and we are all far more instrumental in creating a harmonious and dynamic society than one company that behaves like shit.

Why I voted for Jeremy Corbyn.


I voted for Jeremy Corbyn to fight the gradual creep of society to the right.

I am a socialist. The Labour Party is supposed to be a socialist party. Socialism is not the centre-left, it has grown from Marxism, it is at odds with liberal and conservative policies, and this is what I want to vote for. The reason the party system has evolved the way it has in our nation is because traditionally there has been a space for each of those stances to have a voice – whether you agree with party politics or not, it’s the role the Labour Party was conceived to play.

Maybe it’s because I’m young and I don’t yet have anything I’ll be asked to share, or maybe it’s selfish because I can’t see a path to security through any other means, but regardless, I want my vote to be for something which is properly socialist, not just wearing a red coat.

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn because compromise is not worth fighting for.

Could I have rallied behind Owen Smith? Liz Kendall? Andy Burnham? Could I have done anything except shrug my shoulders and said ‘fine’? Jeremy Corbyn reminded people of their passion for politics – newspaper columnists, grime musicians and grassroots campaigners stood behind him. If this was to be a ‘last hoorah’, it was not worth fighting for something cooked up to be inoffensive, half-believed in by all and fully believed in by nobody. This was an offensive move in the sense of battle strategy, not in the sense of political correctness. I would rather be the Light Brigade than the Trade Federation.

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn because compromise is not guaranteed to win.

One of the most common narratives played out in the media before the election was the fervent hatred of Corbynistas by Blairites, and vice-versa. Let me tell you now this is not the case – I’m not afraid to admit that Tony Blair did a great deal of good. His focus on education, Northern Ireland (although obviously we all know this was brought about by Mo Mowlam), and the minimum wage were excellent moves which were truly in the spirit of the Labour movement. I was too young to fully understand the Iraq war at the time (and thus it is with the benefit of hindsight I say) but I believe it was a dumb idea and the nation was given false facts to ensure that it happened. But the discourse from the other side of the party was far more simplistic.

Blair won.

The main accusation thrown at Corbynistas was that of not being motivated to win in a GE. Perhaps if I had been guaranteed a parliamentary majority by one of the other campaigners it might have changed my vote, but politicking ‘appropriately’ to tradition was not guaranteed a win. Could Owen Smith have pulled this morning’s results out of the bag? Liz Kendall? Their work in their constituencies ought to be applauded, and each has issues that they have campaigned hard for, but that does not mean it is worth voting for a slight increase in likelihood over a wildcard that fights for what matters to me, you… all of us.

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn for integrity.

I don’t believe money has a place in political campaigning. An individual donor ought not have the power to influence the amount of leaflets that are delivered, adverts that are broadcast or newspaper coverage read.

This was made much clearer by the aggressive campaign run by the Liberal Democrats in my seat: focussing on our (admittedly widely disliked for her views) local MP and their challenger, they attempted to discredit the entire Labour Party using endless leaflets showing her with Nigel Farage (admittedly this upset me) and using tabloid-style spin to take policies out of context (i.e. ignoring the published costings) and push their own (which were also costed but which were not fairly compared). If your ideology fits on a leaflet, it’s dog-whistle politics designed to undermine your opponent.

I also don’t believe that the parliamentary Labour Party has more commitment, knowledge, or life experience than the electorate, but I firmly believe that they think they do.

All around my social media I see people sharing images of Tories who voted against fundamental rights, claimed too much on expenses, have said scandalous things or associated with scandalous people with no mention of any Labour MPs who have done similar things. A vote for Jeremy Corbyn seemed, to me, a vote to acknowledge and address anti-semitism in the Labour Party, a vote to move to attacking voting records from slander campaigns, and against the PLP’s view that they, not the electorate, are the ones that matter. Corbyn’s record as a backbencher and protester, as one of the lowest-expense-claiming MPs, and as a popular local figure in his constituency seemed, to me, an antidote to Westminster’s faith in the system. The system has not helped us.

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn to lead the opposition.

I voted for a man who would stand up in parliament and challenge the government about the effect of their policies. Nobody can deny that I’ve had that, when at PMQs we have seen the voices and concerns of ordinary people elevated to a position that demands an answer. I voted to give a backbench MP permission to make trouble on a much larger scale – something which will become more important in the coming months. I gave permission for Corbyn to pressure May to resign twice this week alone.

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn because I, personally, have been betrayed by politics.

When I was 16, I skipped school to see Nick Clegg speak. I folded and delivered leaflets for the Lib Dems and saw each of the policies he pushed as right and good fall by the wayside. As he was unseated last night, we saw the effect of that: the copy of The Communist Manifesto that was passed around my school in the wake of it, the distrust of the Lib Dems courting a particular group (then: students; now: Europeans and Europhiles), his coalition friendships.

When I was 10, I used to tell people who asked what I wanted to do when I was older that I wanted to be Prime Minister and all of them – every, single one – gave the response “what, like Margaret Thatcher?” At the age of 10, having grown up in a house with two politics graduates for parents, I knew that the answer was ‘no’. But who did I want to be like? The issue was mainly one of representation – as the only female Prime Minister, that’s who a little girl ought to aspire to (god knows who children of colour must see in our system). But the issue was also – for me – who to look up to. Corbyn has pushed Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti to the front despite the obvious sacrifice to his own credibility, has more women (and his election also allowed dissenters like Jess Phillips to become more powerful) than May. He has also largely populated his cabinet with allies, which deserves some level of criticism, but I would rather vote for somebody who will allow others to come up through the ranks and positively discriminate against the ingrained racism in our system than choose proteges and yes-men.

I voted to unite the fractured left.

One of the major problems in the left is factionalisation. This has always been the case – Sparticists splitting off from Socialists, Bolsheviks against Mensheviks – and probably always will be, as it is inherently more principled on this side of the political compass (we want a better world, but what does that look like?). What I saw in Corbyn was a leader who shared views with the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, the WE party. Not all views, of course, but ones that would allow a meaningful coalition and allow the fringes of the left – and the right, of course, but if people vote UKIP their voices must be heard – into the debate.

How do you defend the indefensible?

That’s what supporting anyone but Corbyn would have meant. It would have meant putting the last gasp of the Labour Party into something I didn’t believe in, didn’t believe could win, would stoop to levels I didn’t want to go to.

I am not naive. I am not stupid. I knew exactly what I was voting for when I voted twice  for Corbyn to lead the Labour Party and once to lead the country. I am not blindly following anybody to the dinner table, and I understand that I was also voting for instability and an uncertain future. So did the British people – they saw the benefits I did: that chaos can only hurt those benefitting from the system, that it was not worth compromising if it was our last stand. They, and I, were not blind to the hints of cronyism, the disorganisation and the people who were not willing to stand behind the leader, but we all made a conscious choice and took the rough with the smooth, as we do with all decisions.

That is why the impossible has been done. But it is also why I didn’t care if we lost this election more decisively (let’s be real, a hung parliament with somebody else as the larger party is not a victory). I’m proud of what we have achieved, and it has invigorated me to keep moving forward. This is the first time in a long time I have been proud to be interested in politics.

[old rant] How the fuck do you expect us to afford uni?

To take out a student loan, you must agree to the terms and conditions, like any financial contract. However, the terms of the student loan state that you must agree to any retrospective changes made to the loan. What other financial obligation, ever, would change after you’ve already taken it out? Tracker mortgages, endowment investments and any volatile fiscal arrangement all operate within the parameters agreed to by both parties, in their success or to their detriment, the contract binds.

Let’s look at the alternatives to taking out a student loan: you could take out a bank loan. These are far more expensive than student loans, with much higher interest rates and you are required to pay them back immediately. You might be sponsored: in the US, where student fees are notably extortionate, many bright pupils are funded by companies who they then go and work for. There are very few programmes like this in the UK run by private companies, although it is possible to get funding through the army or certain branches of the NHS. There are very few of these, and they are only suitable if you are prepared to sign your life away before you know what for. You might have wealthy parents. This option is only for the select few: my daddy-kins certainly does not have a spare £27,000 to pay my tuition up-front, neither does my darling mummy have the dollar to give me all my spendoes whilst I’m here or to pay my accommodation costs. And there is always prison. I am seriously considering committing a crime that will get me 7 years and using that time to live rent-free, capitalising on our prison education system for my MA and PhD. It can’t possibly be worse than some London digs.

It is, for these reasons, not optional for most people to take a student loan if they want to enter higher education. Because of this, it is not optional to agree to the terms and conditions therein. It is not difficult for student debt to reach £50,000 nowadays, and knowing that we won’t have to pay it back until we have the money was the only reason some people (particularly those from less financially well-off backgrounds) accepted this horrendous state and went to university. What other occasion would you not simply let but encourage a young person to live beyond their means, to take on a mantle of debt as they are just entering life?

This is not a party political issue. How is it fair that any government can make a promise, a brutal ‘compromise’ and then go back on their word? Did you think it was excessive, that students were living it up, that the stories of only eating baked beans and dried noodles were cultural capital for gap yah kids? Let me tell you that this generation (like every other) is hardworking, determined and innovative, by and large. We have swallowed internships and ‘work experience’; we have earned and borrowed and some of us have taken from our parents, when they could give; we have agreed to your incredible deal under pressure – do not make it any worse for us by changing our terms.

The changing of the loans is not a student issue. It is a student example. I do not think that the government ought to operate as a private company: the state works for the good of the many, it protects us and we should hold it to different (although NOT lower) standards than the private sector. But this is the same issue as teachers’ and firemen’s pensions. This is the selling off of Royal Mail and the ending of free school meals for infants. This is a problem with the rich, who do not know the security these things give to the common working person.

Imagine not knowing that your pension is secure after having worked twenty-five years expecting it, especially in a role like fireman where your life is on the line daily, you require levels of specific training and fitness unfathomable to the normal person. You are under intense psychological pressure (I have never seen a mutilated dead body, or a desperate mother whose child is in a smashed-up car), and there is a time limit on the job you do. Perhaps some firemen can work past 50, but these brave souls ought to be able to relax into the physical changes of older life without fear that their terms of service are changing. And so firemen are striking for continuity.

Media coverage of strikes is appalling, with Unions like the RMT being painted as villains, dragons who won’t back down and are getting in the way of honest working people. In contrast, I regularly hear friends talking about finishing work at 9pm, not getting lunchbreaks, living below various poverty lines and, crucially, not being members of a Union. Anybody who looked at anything the striking tube workers said would know that it’s not money (not always, although many people ought to practise what they preach) but changes in contract that they were protesting. We would still have child labour, dangerous working environments and incredibly limited suffrage if not for the Unions and the collective power of those who actually do things. Working people.

To my mind, the government is exerting its power over the NUS – a well-functioning, high-profile Union which has a significant amount of members – as an example to us all. Nobody is immune from austerity (except people whose independent wealth happens to cushion them), nobody is immune to changes (except the bankers and journalists who remain unregulated), and they are making unquestionable, entirely legal changes. Students cannot strike, academics were striking just last year, and who has sympathy left to spare for the young?

Fundamentally, we the taxpayer are getting a worse deal if we let this happen. We the ordinary workers, we the working and middle-classes (for these changes affect everyone from dustmen to doctors) who keep the country running. We whose purchases are allegedly the lodestone of the whole economic system, whether they are taxed or helping growth of small companies or bringing big business to the UK. We who the welfare state is protecting – we are at risk of our basic right to get what we have agreed with the government (because what is a contract if not an agreement?) removed. MPs have forgotten their place – the reason they are waged is so that any man, regardless of his standing, may enter the House. The reason their wage is so high is to keep them above corruption. But they have forgotten, if they ever knew, what it is like to be young or vulnerable.

In the aftermath of everything we’ve been through and have yet to go through, let me ask on behalf of the younger generation who stand in solidarity with workers everywhere – how are we supposed to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps when we’ve had our shoelaces taken away so that we don’t hang ourselves?

On Education (I)

Working as a school librarian, I am currently in an interesting place in the education sector. I am able to work on the front line for the benefit of our nation’s children, without being hampered by pressure for results or the oft-criticised National Curriculum. Because of this, I sometimes see places where we can march forward to a better standard of universal education. So, I would like to bring up the issue of mobile telephones.

Like everybody else I know, I read and shared the articles this week citing a report that “PHONES IMPEDE THE PROGRESS OF OUR CHILDREN” and “SCHOOLS THAT BAN PHONES GET BETTER RESULTS”. However I would like to question, if not outright disagree with, the survey’s findings. Is the reason for this is that we are not using the technology to its fullest effect?

Obviously if you’re texting in class and not getting enough sleep because you’re up late on tumblr then that’s not helping your education. Obviously the selfie is not a classroom media revolution. But suggesting these are the only ways to use your phone in class is the same as saying pencil & paper impede your learning because people pass notes.

Phones are a vital part of modern life: I’m sure Swallows & Amazons, or even my own parents, didn’t have to send a text to say what time they’d be home, but by my adolescence in the noughties my parents would have been furious if I hadn’t done so. Schoolchildren are more likely to own a smartphone than a book – not actually that surprising given the social and safety security they bring. Your child would be considered illiterate if they could not navigate word-processing, spreadsheets, the internet and generally communicate effectively using modern technology. The best way to ensure your child’s social and intellectual wellbeing, as well as their freedom and safety, is to procure for them a smartphone – historically the most effective hire purchase you can make (although, of course, there is no choice: library provision is FREE across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. You do not need to own books to have them in your house and provide them for your children).

This post is not about safeguarding children online. Even one child being harmed is too many, and so safeguarding is and I’m sure will continue to be the major issue for schools regarding technology; but overblown fears of online bullying or grooming are being used as an excuse to not move with the times. 90% of the children we work with are carrying around better technology than the school can afford to equip them with. Most students have smartphones, and many providers expect you to upgrade yearly and provide packages tailored for you to do so. It would be much easier and extravagantly cheaper to have a ‘hardship fund’ for the two or three children in school without smartphones, and for the government to strike a deal with a company (for example, Nokia, who are flagging behind the market leader despite their advances) to give a renewal discount to school pupils, than it would be for each school to buy iPads, or even a class set of hideous and clunky RM laptops, and need to replace them every three years as is inevitable. For once, by simply rewriting a single policy document, the public sector could be on the same footing as private schools who have money to burn, regularly, on hard and softwares, books and photocopying when all these things could be hosted or downloaded at a fraction of the cost if we utilised what the pupils, in most cases, already have. In addition, because people would inevitably be working on different operating systems the whole class would learn to be intuitive rather than instructed. Bonus.

We underestimate the maturity of our pupils and the skill of our teachers when we refuse to let them adapt to the modern world. We deny teachers the right to be creative in their lesson delivery or to vary their teaching – or not, nobody would be forced to use technology, just like not everybody is forced to use mini-whiteboards or worksheets or smiley face stickers when they’re marking. We deny teachers another privilege to revoke and another way in which we might equip the future generation with the skills they need to make them rounded and also employable humans. We treat children like children and, as a consequence, they behave like children. We treat every child and group of children without discrimination and we dismiss the skills that they already have and could learn with.

I do not suggest ‘carte blanche’ phone use in schools, by any means: I am fully aware of the potential for harm pupils can do to both one another and teachers, but we need to assess which functions would cause more harm than good (example – cameras) and what would benefit a class full of pupils (example – pupils can be quizzed at their own pace, without needing to book out an IT suite or waste time with inevitable problems logging on) and alter our policies accordingly. Perhaps information literacy should become like maths, where you must learn to do things both with and without a calculator. Such as it is still possible to do sums wrong on a calculator, spellcheck isn’t always right and signal isn’t always there. We should be teaching children how to learn and think, not spoon-feeding them information, and they ought to be able to problem-solve on a computer and IRL. The thing the media as a whole really appear to have not grasped or even noticed is the difference between directed and non-directed ICT use: a teacher telling you to look at an article online is not the same as a cheeky peek at facebook, which isn’t any more or less conducive to a pupil’s learning than it is to you keeping your phone in your top drawer and checking buzzfeed or texting your SO. Directed ICT use is encouraged by groups as varied as OFSTED and Pintrest’s teacher community – the only difference with mobile usage would be the platform.

In an ideal world, perhaps the government would write an app for schools, or lead-line school roofs and force children to use schools’ safety-monitored wifi, but they normally deal with these things in such a ham-fisted way I am loathe to suggest that. Instead, smartphones ought to make it onto the lists of things parents are expected to buy – uniform, dictionary, textbooks, revision guides, scientific calculator, homework planner (all but one of those replaceable by an internet-enabled phone).

School technology is overpriced, generally of a poor standard and rarely updated because of the crippling expense. Despite the inherent difficulties, I really think phones in class is the answer – somehow.


Computers/phones are bad for pupils: BBCGuardian

Popularity of phones vs books: Telegraph

Proper report, like (secondary reading): LSE

Statistics (probably out-of-date but still relevant): Royal Statistical Society

Thanks to Darren Flynn and the School Librarian Network for their insightful comments on directed/non-directed IT use and the other functions of mobiles.

The Definitive Guide to Taylor Swift’s Complete Works (circa 2015)

Do you want a long read to ease your bank holiday weekend hangover?

here's one


Let’s make this clear: I have never listened to Taylor Swift. I know some of her songs, on the grounds that I don’t live under a rock, but she’s previously been the kind of artist that would make me switch the radio off; however, I am not naïve, and 2015 has clearly been Taylor’s year. With her current album causing the surge of support for Taylor’s music and public persona (and, whisper it, appearing to be quite good!), now seems to be the time to jump on the Tay-Swift bandwagon.

Never one to do things by halves, I couldn’t just buy the new album and call it acceptance of the new, pop Taylor: I bought all of her albums* (all deluxe), watched all of her videos, and am now here, objectively reviewing her complete works and assessing her growth as a person up to this point. I am the perfect person to write this review: I am a young, white woman (Taylor’s demographic), I have excellent music knowledge and taste (indisputable, sorry) but am not averse to some proper pop (context: I fucking love Girls Aloud) and can write a pretty mean song myself, making me hyper-critical of other writers (subtext: resentful of people more successful than me). At this turning point in Taylor Swift’s career I am offering a full and frank evaluation of her work so far, good reading (I hope!) for fans and newcomers alike.

  • Taylor Swift (2006)
  • Best Song: Teardrops on My Guitar
  • Worst Song: Tied Together With A Smile
  • In a nutshell: I gather quite different from the competition? Shows diversity, skill, potential blah blah

If I were going to listen to country music it would be The Eagles, and I would be switching the hell off at the first sound of a banjo BUT in the name of musical exploration, fairness and impartiality, and remembering my love of English folk music (and previous excitement at gigs by Paul Simon and Robert Plant when some old white man gets out a lute or an African zither), I grudgingly take my first foray into modern country pop.

I have to google who Tim McGraw is.

The song is fine, it works without knowing, but I was grateful for the context. This was Taylor’s first single and I gather it got radioplay, but on country stations rather than conventional radio. It’s pretty good, actually: a simple song about a love left behind but not forgotten. The chorus is the best bit, very relatable (who doesn’t want your favourite musician to be a pleasant prick of a memory to somebody you don’t know anymore?). I’m surprised by how well she conveys this complex emotion, and the song really does have a sense of nostalgia without a sense of loss – until the bridge, when she obviously gets him back.


I also find myself surprised by Teardrops on My Guitar: it clearly wouldn’t work in any genre but country, but I like it. It’s clever (“he’s a song in the car / I keep singing / don’t know why I do” is a perfect image), and heartfelt, and it knows its audience. The video is definitely aesthetically pleasing, sweet, and I find myself pleased that the story it tells doesn’t have a happy ending. I suppose we’re not yet rooting for Taylor to come out on top. I also desperately want to believe there’s a cloaked reference to female masturbation (“I’ll put your picture down and maybe get some sleep tonight”)… but I suspect that it isn’t really there. (Side note: country version is better than pop version. Huh. Who’d have thought it?)

Most of Taylor’s early songs are pretty plot-driven (by that I mean that the sentiment behind them is something people easily relate to and their appeal is their use of emotion to evoke, rather than tell, a story), and that’s no bad thing. Writing is definitely, obviously her skill from even this early point in her career. I’ve read that she wrote literally hundreds of songs before this album came out, that she would write every day about her experience at high school, which I think has helped the album.

One that isn’t too heavy on plot, though, is ‘Our Song’, which is sort of 21st-century La La La Means I Love You, taking the idea of the unspoken and making it into a jangly-pop singalong, with a strange sort-of metaphorical comparison between ordinary actions (“the slam of screen doors”) and teen life (“because it’s late and your mamma don’t know”) and big romantic gestures. Simple but sweet, and self-mocking enough for me to not hate it. Probably the best vocal on the album, too. Loses points for the heavy-handed god reference in the chorus – I’m sure that’s standard on country radio, but not on any British station.

Taylor Swift is surprisingly not bland or standard, and as a grown woman I didn’t find it too saccharine or angsty to listen to – more than I can say for any of my own writing from when I was that age. The subtle touches of heartbreak or love-at-a-distance feel true, as do the portrayals of young love as something that drives around in a truck listening to the radio rather than the all-or-nothing, totally consuming, locker-leaning Romeo & Juliet that tends to crop up in songs and movies (it’s OK to break up, kids!). A week after listening, however, I can’t really remember most of the songs on the album – it’s a fun, well-written album, but it’s not an opus.

  • Fearless (2008)
  • Best Song: Hey Stephen
  • Worst Song: Love Story
  • In a nutshell: surprisingly self-knowing

I’m not sorry that I hate ‘Love Story’. I hated it when it was new, I hated the video, I hate the sentiment, I don’t think it’s very well-written. I think it’s everything that her previous album wasn’t: babyish, unimaginative, with poor and generic references. I suspect Swift has probably actually read “The Scarlet Letter”, and definitely knows what it’s about, so why is she pissing about with innocent images that are transparently about saying yes to teen sex? With any other artist this young I would assume that their record label had pushed them in a direction of boring, uncontroversial teeny-bop-pop (which is why the country aspect is turned up to 11 – you have a USP, you stick to it), but Swift’s label is small and her drive is (allegedly) fierce, so I’m not sure. In the interests of fairness, though, I DID download a live acoustic version of the song so that I could listen without the country production and still found it a paint-by-numbers effort at an un-self-aware fairytale with a boring volta.

easy a gif

I found Fifteen a little self-indulgent: I’m aware it’s a bit of a fan-favourite, but how much of this is because of the glimpse of the real Taylor (in the form of the resurgence of red-headed Abigail from the Picture To Burn video and her uncryptic high school experiences)? I found it less honest than her earlier work, and less interesting. The hook is not ‘hook’ enough (“cause when you’re… FIFTEEN… sorry, what’s the rest of the line?”), the perspective is not fresh enough and the song is not upbeat enough to hide the unprofound lyrics. Fifteen is merely fine.

Hey Stephen, though, is fun, catchy and witty. It’s self-deprecating, which is a nice edge on the pop formula, and makes you tap your foot. Simple, but really effective.

I found You Belong With Me hugely endearing. I thought the country elements actually quite entertaining and found them toned-down enough to deal with as a mainstream listener. I liked the intonation and lilt in the singing (especially “you say you’re fine I know you better THAN THAT”), and I think she’s really grown as a singer in this album, able to show depth and emotion. It’s where the Swift persona as we know it is truly created – the ‘other’ that we root for, one of ‘us’ people who notices fashion (“your worn-out jeans”) but not enough to be self-absorbed (“I wear t-shirts”) – an archetypal girl-next-door figure, hung up on some guy friend. It also has a proper chorus, and is thus the advent of a slight change in her writing that enables many of the later period songs.

I liked Jump Then Fall, too – again, a slightly different structure to the previous album, with a simple hook and a focus on the first verse, which is much more conventional pop. I think it’s a really good opener that solidifies the Swift “je ne sais quois” – sweet country pop with subtle hints of sex (“I like the way you sound in the morning”), a good rhythm and some jangle.

As a whole, though, I thought this album didn’t ‘gel’ as well as the previous one. I thought it didn’t have an overall mood or theme, I thought it was a bit up and down, with a much more conventional outlook.

  • Speak Now (2010)
  • Best Song: Mine
  • Bonus best video: Story of Us (#librarianproblems their library is way nicer than mine)
  • Worst Song: Enchanted
  • In a nutshell: My least favourite

Not really sure why Taylor is obsessed with marriage. Are her parents divorced or something?

Mean: if I knew how to remix it without the banjo then I would. And who is the little kid in the white dress in the video? I have 100% seen her somewhere since she did this and I can’t work out where. But, yes, good song. Fairly average Taylor formula: emotive subject (the venom in “as if I don’t already see them” is subtle but astounding), self-othering with a sense of humour (mean as a word choice appears to be a post-modern playground image) and a stock image write large (“I can see you years from now in a bar… drunk and rumbling on about how I can’t sing”). Actually quite empowering – I can really see why the sentiment of being the bigger person appeals to Swift’s fanbase, because it appeals to me.

‘Speak Now’ takes Taylor’s self-othering to a whole new level, though, and it was hard to feel sympathy for her ruining her friend’s wedding whilst being incredibly snide about the woman he’s marrying, who is some kind of caricature bridezilla. There is no honest emotion here, no searing portrayal of their lost love or analysis of her own emotions. The song might be catchy, but it’s also simplistic and unimaginative. Enchanted isn’t even this interesting – it’s cliche city, living in the same world of high school Rapunzels as Love Story off the previous album, the whole song turning on the weary conceit of conventionally claiming to be “enchanted, I’m sure” upon meeting someone.

On the other side of the coin is Dear John, which is lyrically nice (“I took your matches before fire could catch me”) but sonically boring (it would be better acapella), and therefore less powerful, and Innocent (“wasn’t it easier in your lunchbox days”) which is a really good song, but drowns on an album of slow songs which all seem to focus on innocence/experience.

The album as a whole and the songs individually don’t hit as high as Swift’s efforts prior to this. It’s easily the most boring as a whole, and it holds up better when you don’t listen to it in one go. Swift is lucky that there were some beautiful videos and an acclaimed tour in this era which probably kept people interested, but I think this one is for proper fans rather than casuals like myself. It all sort of sounds the same, which is fine if you like that sound but it’s not my favourite.

  • Red (2012)
  • Best Song: State of Grace
  • Worst Song: The Last Time ft Gary Lightbody
  • In a nutshell: The strange case of the disappearing Nashville accent.

What I have learned by now is that Taylor writes a FUCKING CRACKING opener. State of Grace is far and away my favourite track on the album. It’s a signal of difference: straight up pop, no jangle, great bridge. Lyrically it’s typical Swiftian deep love with the ability to recognise it may not last forever (“we fall in love until it hurts or bleeds or fades in time”), but well-done, and fits really well with the energetic drums.

Red also sees the development of Taylor’s songwriting, in particular what I would call her signature technique, the metaphor. The title track explains what love feels like with a list of metaphors which are strangely compelling (“memorising him was as easy as knowing all the words to your old favourite song” – an obvious flashback to her earlier work). The country sound is back for this song, but mixed with a rock-pop sound that’s clearly aimed at breaking out to a wider audience, and probably testing out the waters for radioplay. I think this is an excellent song which explores why you fall for somebody and why it doesn’t work out, and I think it’s perfect for the teen girl market because it is simultaneously suggesting love is easy, natural and powerful AND that it is painful and life altering.

On the other hand, Taylor is here trying her hand at pop writing, and Red gets conventional and predictable in places. Mainly, actually, the collaborations (do you remember the days when nobody had really heard of Ed Sheeran? They feel so long ago).

taylor gif

These guest appearances are dirges in comparisons to the fresh, individual looks at exciting young love Swift has been showing us throughout her career.

To contrast this dullness, Swift has added ‘Stay Stay Stay’ and ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ – popsongs with not much fire lyrically but a much-needed upbeatness to save the album from the Speak Now-era dullness.

I’m definitely too old for WANEGBT. I can appreciate the ‘Mean’-esque playground taunts (“you go talk to your friends talk to my friends talk to me”), and the self-deprecating humour of the track (“some indie record that’s much cooler than mine”), and I can appreciate that even typing that has got the song stuck in my head, but the whole portrayal of a breakup like that just seems gauche and not particularly observational. Great video, though – that’s peak Swift.

‘Stay Stay Stay’ has a similar sense of humour, and a much more honest perspective on relationships. There’s a couple of great images (“you come in wearing a football helmet”) that are kooky enough to catch your attention, but somehow make a point (I suppose the point of that one is that talking is hard but you have to take the knocks?)

One last question: why is this album so LONG? I know it’s 22 tracks and you are 22 and the lead single is called 22 and whatever you’re probably superstitious about the number 22 but FUCK ME I could NOT listen to this album in one go! I also count a major loss of points for overt christianity in the Knew You Were Trouble video. Just get an ostentatious cross tattoo like all the other pop stars if you need to flaunt your religion, then we can ignore it if we are so inclined.

  • 1989 (2014)
  • Best Song: Welcome to NY
  • Worst Song: How You Get The Girl
  • In a nutshell: actual brilliance

I was slightly distressed to learn that one of my favourite tracks is apparently Zoella’s favourite song (Wildest Dreams), but we move on from that and into the nitty gritty. Wildest Dreams is, to me, the direct descendant of Taylor’s ‘plot-driven’ work from her first album: it’s not a ballad because it doesn’t go anywhere, but it works like a ballad by telling its listener how things ought to go (“let’s get out of this town”, “my last request is”).

By this stage, however, Swift has learned (or, cynically, begun working with people who know how – I see that Ryan Tedder has a credit on this album) to construct a formulaic and more than respectable popsong: this is the album where Swift has learned how to construct a bridge and use the traditional verse/chorus pop standard structure to put her images in a vessel that makes them more punchy and immediate. For all the hype about Swift’s ‘squad’, it is this pop power subtly masking the vulnerabilities we have seen in Swift before (“I wish you never hung up the phone… like I did”) that makes this stand out from the crowd. Her self-referential tendencies build on the weak images from earlier in her career (“we show off our different scarlet letters / trust me mine is better”) and show a more complete, complex image of Swift’s public persona.

This album barely has a weak moment. It’s cohesive and listens well from start to finish, but the individual songs are usually pretty good too. It’s not immune from being formulaic – lead single ‘Shake It Off’ and ‘How You Get The Girl’ are simplistic and rely on their catchiness credentials and Swift’s core audience of not-quite-alternative girls with crushes to carry them (‘Shake It Off’ is much more successful with this – ‘How You Get The Girl’ falls back into the genericisms of the ‘Love Story’ era and a boring boy-meets-girl story), but they slot well into the album and keep it upbeat and fun between the ‘Styles’ and the ‘Cleans’ that make are more mature explorations of relationships. Much of the speculation about Swift’s personal relationships ought to be considered a credit to the record – like Beyoncé’s ultra-relatable ‘Becky With The Good Hair’ moment, it is difficult to believe from a pop singer that what she’s talking about here is imaginary. I don’t think for a moment that’s accidental, or even unembellished – the press hasn’t exactly stopped the record selling. I also think that this record has allowed both Swift and her audience to grow up – there is a string to be drawn from ‘Teardrops on My Guitar’ to ‘State of Grace’ to ‘Out of the Woods’ and from ‘Our Song’ to ‘Red’ to ‘Clean’, both thematically in the lyrics and in a distinctively Swiftian sound that’s been there all this time. This is no longer the music of the gauche early/mid 2000s, but is pop for the YouTube generation that prides itself in not being fake whilst it covers itself in a thick slake of gloss.

IMMA LET YOU FINISH. (I’m not sorry. I had to make reference to it somewhere.)

I am transformed, and on Taylor’s side. Not without criticism: the video for Bad Blood deserved the hype less than a James Cameron movie and fell into lazy female stereotyping; it contains a RAPPER (?! why though? Why is Kendrick giving a couple of saccharine verses that add nothing? Go somewhere you can be more controversial, Kendrick), looks way too much like Toxic by Britney Spears and has the typical American attitude to the rest of the world (I find this in rap and urban music particularly) where you expect us to know who your celebrities are? Mate, I’ve got better things to do with my life than watch “Law & Order” or baseball.

I have not paid any attention to her songs on film soundtracks and I don’t particularly care about her relationships or her squad or her live performances. I only listen to what I deem to be the best songs: mainly the singles, and not quite all of them, but a few of my own favourites too. I am not a fan enough to care about the rest of her catalogue. I still hate Love Story, the song that originally turned me and my radio off from Taylor Swift, but I accept that this song is, essentially, in her large collection of published juvenilia.

I appreciate Taylor’s songwriting and persona creation. I am wholeheartedly convinced that the face the public sees IS a persona, so I would be cautious about discussing anything regarding her personal life (except to say congratulations, if I were a celebrity I would bang all of the attractive men too. Own it.) I find myself listening to her music, sometimes. I think I might have become a fan?

But where is the shame in recognising talent?

I was surprised to find not merely well-crafted hits, but songs I connected to on an emotional level and genuinely good writing (I do love a good metaphor). Even avoiding difficult subject matter, Taylor’s work occasionally conforms not only to its genre but to conventions in the American poetical canon – though it is most often like a good, all-American high school movie: cynical, funny, self-mocking and trope-heavy, but fundamentally to be recognised as more than just entertaining, and to be unironically liked.

breakfast club

*NB: an EP is not an album, and I draw the line at christmas music.