Alex Blake knows students don’t have to love country to love Taylor Swift.
At his small private middle school, 2016 alumnus Blake rode the bus home with the other kids. Even though they all hated most of the country songs on the radio, when Swift’s “Our Song” came on, the students on the bus screamed out the lyrics at the top of their lungs, he said.
Swift has been a constant presence in some Bruins’ music libraries since their middle and elementary school years. Many of Swift’s fans began listening to her music when they were teenagers, the same age as Swift when she had her first major break in 2006. In the past 10 years, Swift and her fans have grown in tandem with her lyrics, relating to listeners on a personal level.
When you’re 15
Swift’s wholesome beauty coupled with the catchiness of classics like “Our Song,” “You Belong With Me” and “Teardrops on My Guitar” dazzled 11-year-old Morgan Kutzner, she said.
The now-second-year political science student and her sister immediately bought Swift’s first two albums after hearing the songs, she said.
Kutzner said she thinks the main reason Swift is so popular is because the country singer’s music captures common emotions, such as anger or heartbreak. Swift has a song appropriate for any situation or mood, Kutzner said.
“I love ‘Dear John’ or ‘Sparks Fly’ – you can rage in your car with the windows down and have fun,” Kutzner said.
The more Craig Lamb listens to Swift’s music, the more he feels like the lyrics are coming from her real-life experiences and can be applied to his own, said the second-year computer science student.
“Her music is so evocative of certain emotions, no matter what emotion she’s going for,” he said. “She talks about relationships a lot, and for me I can relate to that.”
Lamb has enjoyed Swift’s music for a long time, but only recently became open about it. When Swift went on tour for “1989,” he wanted to go, but didn’t know how to ask his friends to join him or if they would take him seriously, he said.
“I didn’t know how they’d respond,” he said. “I feel like I would’ve been ridiculed … Now that I’m older, I love concerts and Taylor Swift: You can either join me or do your own thing.”
Kutzner attended Swift’s “Red“ and “1989“ concert tours in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Swift talked about her process of writing the songs and what each song meant to her, Kutzner said.
“I know every song because I’ve owned every album she’s ever had,” Kutzner said. “It’s one thing to know the number ones, but some of my favorites aren’t the number ones.”
Richard Page, a second-year psychology and communications student, also attended Swift’s “1989″ tour. During the show, Swift talked about how she wrote her song “Fifteen” when she was 17 years old. Page said Swift had gotten so much positive feedback from her female fans that she felt it was now not only her song, but also theirs.
The best day
Blake got to perform alongside Swift, an opportunity her fans usually only dream of.
A member of the UCLA Spirit Squad at the time, he auditioned and was accepted into Swift’s music video for “Shake It Off” in 2014.
Swift, known more for her music than her dance moves, had to learn complex choreography in only two weeks, and Blake said he has never worked with anyone so dedicated to learning moves she wasn’t familiar with, he said.
“When we first got there, she came up to us and was like, ‘I love cheerleading!’ and did this really janky cartwheel, and we all just started laughing,” he said. “She was like your goofy friend who has no experience with the things you love.”
While filming the music video, Swift made an effort to get know her backup dancers by leaving her trailer to hang out with them, Blake said.
“(She’d ask), ‘Oh how long have you been doing this for, what do you like about it,’” Blake said. “She was really involved in trying to get to know you as a person.”
Normally people only see Swift as a pop star, but when Blake worked with her, he saw she wasn’t so different from him, he said. Swift told the performers how she got out of bed that morning with messy hair and came to the shoot in yoga pants, which many of the performers could relate to.
Haters gonna hate
However, not every fan gets the chance to work with Swift one-on-one.
Most fans only see the side of Swift depicted in the media – usually about her romantic life, said Jessica Vergara, a fourth-year psychobiology student.
“(Swift) admits that she didn’t date anyone for two years because the public had painted her to be this serial dater,” Vergara said. “She’s so young; she should be able to date whoever she wants.”
Now that Swift is on top, everybody is waiting to see her fall, and that contributes to the media’s close attention to her personal life and criticism of her girl-power feminism, Blake said.
“Instead of appreciating the good she’s trying to do (with her feminism), people nit-pick at it,” he said. “It’s like, stop, let Taylor Swift try to help the world. She’s trying.”
Swift comes across as a normal person who experiences all the same problems as her fans, despite her A-list celebrity status, Kutzner said.
Vergara thinks Swift’s wholesome image is not an act, she said. Kutzner even shares Swift’s music with the 6-year-old kids she’s nannied, she said.
“The reason why she’s maintained this innocent girl-next-door persona is because that’s genuinely how she is as a person,” Vergara said.
In August, Swift donated $1 million to help provide flood relief after the Louisiana floods displaced thousands of people. Swift rarely publicizes her donations despite the fact that they are often high amounts, whereas other celebrities make a point of flaunting their contributions to charity, Vergara said.
“She’s just a good role model,” Kutzner said.
With five multi-platinum albums to her name, Swift provides a lot of material for her fans to love.
Blake’s album of choice is “1989“ due in part to the glimpse that the deluxe version gives into Swift’s songwriting process, he said. Each track is prefaced with vocal commentary from Swift explaining how she came up with the ideas behind her songs. For “Blank Space,” Swift said she was playing around with a piano chord progression for fun and then became attached to it, he said.
Vergara and Kutzner prefer Swift’s older albums like “Speak Now” and “Red,” although they still love “1989.” Since Swift’s transition to pop music was gradual, Vergara said she wasn’t shocked when the singer came out with a purely pop album like “1989.”
Blake didn’t think the pop transition was too shocking either.
“I can’t tell you many country songs that are catchy and fun that don’t have a pop influence,” he said.
However, with the release of “1989,” Swift’s image changed a bit, Page said.
“Over the years, I’ve seen more of how she’s a very intelligent, savvy businesswoman, and good at controlling her image,” he said.
Page admires that she can market herself, even though some people think it makes her harder to trust, he said.
But no matter how much Swift has evolved through the years, the most important part is that she still writes from the heart, Vergara said.
“Her songs are so personal,” Vergara said. “Whatever music she lets out, you can tell that it’s really personal to her and she spent a lot of time working on it.”