LISTEN LIVE: Loading...



In Taylor Swift’s songs, I hear my own story too

Taylor Swift performs onstage during The Eras Tour on March 18, 2023, in Glendale, Arizona. (John Shearer/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management )
Taylor Swift performs onstage during The Eras Tour on March 18, 2023, in Glendale, Arizona. (John Shearer/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management )

On Friday, May 19, Taylor Swift will play her first of three sold-out nights at Gillette Stadium as part of her Eras Tour. Even if you are not a devoted Taylor Swift fan, you’ve likely heard something about this tour. The demand for tickets was so overwhelming that it broke Ticketmaster’s website, drawing intense scrutiny into their business practices and prompting a congressional hearing.

I’ve been a “Swiftie” since her debut album came out in 2006 — to put it mildly, I am overjoyed that I will be one of the tens of thousands of people present at Gillette on May 19. I am anticipating an unforgettable night — from the costumes and the lights, to the dancers on the massive stage. But what most excites me, above all else, is the opportunity to be present and in community with other fans who love Swift’s writing and storytelling as much as I do.

Her music is often achingly autobiographical, and her lyrics reward close listening. Her fans are known to dissect her songs to find hidden meaning and clues about her feelings, relationships, and experiences. And over the years, the stories she tells in her music have become entwined with my own.

I can’t hear “Shake It Off” — maybe her best known song — without being transported back to the last year I lived in New York City in 2014, across the street from two of my best friends. From the day it was released, when I frantically refreshed my phone in the backseat of a taxi, the entire album served as a soundtrack to every dinner party and hangout we had that year — and, to be honest, in the 10 years since. When these same friends were married in 2019, our black-tie finery could not stop us from losing our minds when “Shake It Off” started to play during the reception.

“Cruel Summer” is a favorite among fans, and its incredible bridge opens with the line: “I’m drunk in the back of the car/ And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar.” For me, that line is forever intertwined with August 1, 2020, when I would have been at Gillette Stadium with a friend for Swift’s “Loverfest” tour. Instead, my husband Will and I hosted my friend and her husband for a socially-distanced barbeque in our backyard, as the tour — along with everything else that summer — was cancelled.

Outdoors and more than six feet apart, the four of us ate burgers, played the album "Lover," and made our own merch to honor the concert that wasn’t. Will scrawled his favorite lyric — “Like a baby coming home from the bar” — in fabric paint on the back of a tie-dyed t-shirt. Out of context, a lyric about the powerful emotions accompanying a secret romance became an absurdist image of a drunk baby, and it made the four of us laugh, and feel connected, during a frightening and uncertain time.

But by far the most poignant association, for me, is with "The Best Day," a song Swift wrote for her mother.

She’s spoken in the past about how deeply personal it is. In its second verse, Swift sings of being bullied at school when she was 13 — and being comforted by her mother. The lyrics are propulsive and in present-tense:

I come home crying and you hold me tight and grab the keys
And we drive and drive until we found a town far enough away
And we talk and window shop 'til I've forgotten all their names.

The imagery is specific, and it’s clear she is drawing from a real afternoon spent with her mother, one that I never had with mine. Still, the first time I heard the song, I was transported back to eighth grade, when my mom picked me up from a tough day at school. I felt friendless and alone, and my face was warm from holding back tears. I remember opening the car door, looking down at the passenger seat, and seeing a cylindrical package wrapped in white butcher paper: a sub from our favorite Italian deli. I remember my mom smiling at me from under her big sunglasses; somehow, she knew exactly what I would need at that moment.

The author and her mother, in 2016. (Courtesy Kat Read)
The author and her mother, in 2016. (Courtesy Kat Read)

Fifteen years after the song's release, that memory comes back just as vividly every time I hear "The Best Day." I still tear up almost every time I listen.

I played the song for my mom when “Fearless (Taylor's Version)” was released in April 2021, and she immediately related to it, remembering our afternoons in the car when I was an anxious tween. She loved the song so much that for Mother's Day that year, I bought her a mug with the lyric "I know I had the best day with you today" printed on the side.

Scarcely a month later, my mom sent me a text that read: "I had the best day with you today." It was one of the last texts she sent me before she had a severe stroke that significantly impacted her ability to communicate.

In 2022, Will and I sold our house and moved in with my mom to help care for her. Now, whenever I hear the song or even open the kitchen cupboard to see the mug I gave her, there's a new layer to its meaning: a reminder to find the best in every day we have together.

I am only one of tens of thousands who will be at Gillette on Friday. I know that every one of us will have our own associations with each one of Swift’s songs. And I’ll be looking around and imagining those thousands of memories, people, places and experiences that will be threaded together under one sky.

I imagine squeezing the hand of the woman beside me, one of my dearest friends. As close as we are and as much as we know about one another, there will be stories and associations for her with each song that I can't begin to know. And being there together, we will be making a new story, one imbued with the beauty of knowing that we are always there for one another.

To me, that's the power of great art — it can help us find commonality with and community in one another. And it’s an extraordinarily generous gift that Taylor Swift has given to me, and her many, many, many other fans.

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Instagram


Kat Read Cognoscenti contributor
Kat Read is a writer from Massachusetts.



Listen Live