18. “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift (2014)

The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.

I make friends easily. I mean, that’s sort of my job on this platform. I interview people, and if I’ve done it right, I get them to open up and tell me intimate things about themselves for an audience of strangers. But it’s my job to make them feel comfortable enough to do that, and I have to do it in a matter of minutes. But that’s not really friendship, just an outcome of the fact that I’m charming. So as 2024 has gotten underway, I’ve decided I want to make more of an effort to create real friendships with some of the fellow dads I see around the elementary school, but that means work. That means effort. That means putting yourself out there and possibly getting rejected.

When Kristin hosted a bunch of the moms a few weeks ago, I extended the invite to one of the dads by hijacking Kristin’s phone and texting, “Bring Ben! He and I can hang out and be brochachos!” It was a term I lifted wholesale from the recently concluded MJF/Adam Cole storyline in AEW. He came, we had a nice afternoon together eating cheese and fig jam with the moms, and at one point they started talking about Taylor Swift. I asked him what his favorite Taylor Swift song was, and he made a face. I recognized it. I used to make it too. Everyone has a favorite Taylor Swift song. Everyone. Even if you don’t think you do.

“I guess ‘Shake It Off’ is pretty undeniable,” he said. True that. But then he laid this on me, “My whole thing is… don’t you think at a certain point you’d get tired of singing about yourself?”

I mean, probably! But at this point, what other option does she have? She’s literally the only celebrity bigger than the National fucking Football League. She cannot possibly live a normal life being that famous, so she has to write about herself because if she wrote about her impossible level of notoriety, no one would ever be able to relate to any of her music. And I don’t mean to invoke the name of Britney here, but I think the key difference between Britney’s level of ultra-fame and Taylor’s level of ultra-fame is that Taylor seems to have an actual support system around her whereas Britney had money hungry trailer trash exploiting her at every turn.

Taylor Swift, as unfathomably famous as she is, seems to have retained a nice self-assured center around which all this other noise orbits. She’s even watched enough football to yell What the fuck?! at the refs for an apparent no-call. Stars… they’re just like us!

And here’s the other thing. I think Taylor knows it, too. Which is why “Blank Space” is my favorite song of hers. In my article for my 34th birthday mix, I wrote this about her, which, it bears mention, was the very first time I was aware of myself enjoying a Taylor Swift song. I’m an idiot.

This was Taylor Swift? This song that’s clearly a clever play on her public perception and turns the narrative on its head, but has just a hint of exhausted sadness at its core – this was Taylor Swift? This song that’s got a driving, head-nodding beat, but likely functions as a smokescreen obfuscating deep bruises and real pain – this was Taylor Swift? This gorgeous, delicate, powerful voice that contains equal parts innocence and world-weary cynicism – this was Taylor Swift?

Yeah, that was Taylor Swift, you fucking imbecile. I realized that nearly all of my favorite shit, no matter what it is, is also a comedy. We watched Die Hard this Christmas like always, and while “comedy” would never be your first descriptor of that movie, it has devastatingly funny beats. When Hans is jerking off the LAPD demanding the release of various imprisoned terrorists around the world, he asks for the nine members of the Asian Dawn, to which his chief henchman mouths with a confused look on his face, “Asian Dawn?” – like, who the hell is that? – and Hans replies, “I read about them in Time magazine.” He’s in the middle of a giant heist, and threw that one in for kicks.

“Blank Space” is straight up satire. Taylor Swift knows and understands how it must look from the outside. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t write a Minority Report about her next relationship before it even happens like she does in this song. You can’t really write something new about Taylor Swift at this point – and people try, even trying to extrapolate meaning out of her no-selling an unfunny joke from Jo Koy at the Golden Globes (as of this writing, 54 million search results for “Taylor Swift Jo Koy”) – so Taylor Swift metaphorically takes everyone’s guns out of their holsters, empties their bullets, hands their guns back to them, and goes, now what?

The song is cool, catchy, and fucking funny, dude. Sure, it’s not ha-ha funny, but satirically funny. Intellectually funny. Self-aware funny. And I think that’s what makes Taylor Swift the monolithic force that she is. She’s unquestionably the biggest goddamn star in the world, but she still seems like a good hang. Madonna was transcendent, but transcendent in her own unattainable space alien way.

And getting back to my new brochacho, yeah, I’ll bet even Taylor Swift is tired of writing songs about Taylor Swift. But until the rest of us are, I’m sure she’ll keep cranking out the jams that keep us all moving. Unless she wants to give up, what other choice does she have? And I for one am not ready for her to give up. This shit is too good, man.

Up next: Scrubs and bustas hangin’ out the passenger sides of their best friends’ rides everywhere.

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