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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

Never miss a thing!

 

Redemption (Taylor’s version)

‘This writer is of the firm belief that our tears become holy in the form of ink on a page.’ 

No, it’s not a reflection on the psalms or prayer journalling – it’s Taylor Swift’s description of her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department. Released a fortnight ago, it has already broken records, not least becoming the first album to reach one billion Spotify plays in a week. Taylor Swift’s lyrics continue to be catchy, powerful, and distressingly relatable for anyone who has ever loved anything at all. 

There’s plenty that can – and has been – written about her songs. She is notorious for penning songs about her ‘long list of ex-lovers’, her ‘bad blood’ with other artists, and her overall ‘reputation’. She writes about what it means to be human in the world today – to love and be loved, to have your heart broken and to try and find your own identity amid the world’s noise. 

And in a post-Christian culture, where romantic love is often not only the goal but a god in and of itself (‘even if it’s a false god / we’d still worship this love’ – False God, Lover), Taylor Swift is perhaps the closest secular culture has to a modern-day psalmist.  

Introducing her latest album, Swift then goes on to write that ‘once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it. And then all that’s left behind is the tortured poetry’.  

And that’s the reality of a post-Christian culture, isn’t it? In a world where love is an ultimate goal or even a god, all people can hope for in the face of heartbreak and longing is that they would be able to ‘speak their story’ and have something creatively beautiful to share at the end of it. Taylor Swift certainly manages that in her album… but ultimately, she’s still asking the question of ‘How Did It End?’ (track 21). 

Taylor Swift seems to be searching for redemption for her pain and heartbreak (‘and at last / she knew what the agony had been for’ – The Manuscript, track 31) by making it into beautiful art. A laudable aim, very relatable and beautifully executed… but Taylor’s version of redemption – and so often ours as well – is ultimately too small. Our pain and our heartbreak can be redeemed, but not through our own ‘tortured poetry’. Instead, it is through – as the old hymn goes – that ‘love that wilt not let me go’.  

 

Alianore Smith
Associate Speaker for LICC and Church & Theology Manager at International Justice Mission 

 

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