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In this op-ed, Teen Vogue's entertainment news editor Claire Dodson analyzes Taylor Swift's new song "Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince" using HBO's "Euphoria" and the current political ecosystem.
Across Lover’s 18 tracks, there’s obviously a lot going on. In “The Man,” she challenges the double-standards of patriarchy and calls out Leonardo DiCaprio in the process. “Soon You’ll Get Better” is a vulnerable pastiche of her experiences watching her mother undergo cancer treatment. Combine a cameo from Idris Elba and her love for boyfriend Joe Alwyn’s hometown and you get the seriously fun, boppy “London Boy.”
But Lover’s most interesting parts aren’t in the overt romance of “Lover” or the overt politicism of “You Need to Calm Down” or even the track fiveyness of “The Archer.” Instead, Taylor does what she usually does: hide the most complex song in the middle. Because for all the levity of Lover — and there’s so much to have fun with here — Taylor’s heart of darkness, the crux of what makes this album feel extremely 2019, lies in “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince.”
The first time I listened to the track, I recoiled at the very “old Taylor” references: high school hallways, senior superlatives, fight songs, football players, being 16. However, after several times through, it becomes clear that Taylor’s teenage dreams are layered with all the existential angst of the political and economic systems within the U.S. right now. The Guardian wrote of the song, “It takes a classic Swift lyrical trope – the Springsteen-y one in which two young sweethearts vow to leave their small town – and retools it to reflect the abandon-ship despair engendered by Trump’s America.”
On the song, she sings, “American glory faded before me / Now I'm feeling hopeless, ripped up my prom dress / Running through rose thorns, I saw the scoreboard /And ran for my life.” As Taylor herself then shared in a Spotify message, "This song is about disillusionment with our crazy world of politics and inequality, set in a metaphorical high school.”
Musically, the song is a clear descendant of Lana Del Rey’s “National Anthem,” and it takes some thematic cues as well (after all, who has been more Miss Americana than Lana, who frequently toys with classic film tropes, American flags, and patriotic iconography). But together, the music and lyrics feel like they exist in the same world as HBO’s Euphoria, though the song was likely written before the show came out.
In Euphoria, hallway gossip, body insecurity, and heartbreak exist alongside drug addiction, transphobia, and toxic masculinity. All of that is compounded by an unspoken political climate that hovers around the show’s glamour, infusing it with meaning its characters don’t always ask for. “American stories burning before me,” Taylor sings on “Miss Americana.” “I'm feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed. Boys will be boys then, where are the wise men?” Whether it’s Taylor Swift’s sparkly pink heart or Rue’s drug-fueled glimmering tears, all that glitters in their eye makeup is not gold.
Every track on Lover can in some way inhabit that rubric of using love stories, especially the idea of young love, as a way of dealing with the constant barrage of everything thrown at us every day, and as a way of learning how to prioritize what matters. “You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes,” Taylor sings on “Miss Americana,” and it’s not hard to imagine she’s talking about all the petty fights we embroil ourselves in that make us miss the larger ramifications of our actions.
Taylor, perhaps later than most of us would have liked, told Vogue in the September 2019 issue that she didn’t realize until recently that she “could advocate for a community that I’m not a part of.” Adding, “It’s hard to know how to do that without being so fearful of making a mistake that you just freeze.” In its best moments, Lover grapples with some of those fears and responsibilities amid the landscape of actual life. You can hear it on “The Man,” when amid all the masculine bluster she’s “so sick of running as fast as I can.” That it can be tempting, like the heroine of “Miss Americana,” to be “so sad” that you “run away.”
Maybe among Taylor’s past year of being a vocal supporter of LGBTQ+ equality in Tennessee, she has realized (like so many people with privilege have over the past four years) the inherent tension and occasional hopelessness of the fact that you can use whatever voice you have to empower marginalized groups and advocate for systemic policy change — and then still have to live in the world we’ve got.
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Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Taylor Swift's New Album "Lover" Is Out and Here's All the Hidden References You Missed
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue