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The moment Taylor Swift was announced the AMA Entertainer of the Year, my Twitter feed started coughing up a horde of “Is this what music is coming to?!?!” tweets. And I know, I know… she beat out Adele? Seriously?

The more I’ve thought about it, though, the more I understand why. I’m not denying that Taylor minus auto-tune isn’t cringeworthy. What I am saying is that Taylor gets people. More specifically, she gets teen people, and people who were once teens (which, for the record, is a pretty good chunk of people).

It’s been 14 years since I was a teenager, but her songs take me back to the way I felt then (even when I didn’t want to admit it: the angst, the first realization that people weren’t always who you thought they were, the uncrushable hopefulness of having your whole life ahead of you). There was the crush you were willing to cop to, but also the secret crush that you would never admit to, even to your BFF… either because you were too cool to crush on him or because you weren’t cool enough.

  • Taylor on secret crushes: “He sees everything black and white/Never let nobody see him cry/I don’t let nobody see me wishing he was mine/I could tell you his favorite color’s green/He loves to argue, born on the seventeenth/His sister’s beautiful, he has his father’s eyes/And if you ask me if I love him, I’d lie.”
  • On pretending to be someone you’re not: “Seems the only one who doesn’t see your beauty/Is the face in the mirror looking back at you/You walk around here thinking you’re not pretty/But that’s not true, ’cause I know you/Hold on baby, you’re losing it/The water’s high, you’re jumping into it/And letting go and no one knows/That you cry but you don’t tell anyone/That you might not be the golden one/And you’re tied together with a smile/But you’re coming undone.”
  • On the first jerk of a boyfriend: “Say you’re sorry, that face of an angel/Comes out just when you need it to/As I paced back and forth all this time/Cause I honestly believed in you/Holding on, the days drag on/Stupid girl, I should have known/I should have known/I’m not a princess, this ain’t a fairy tale/I’m not the one you’ll sweep off her feet/Lead her up the stairwell/This ain’t Hollywood, this is a small town/I was a dreamer before you went and let me down/Now it’s too late for you and your white horse to come around.”

Who hasn’t felt this way? (Don’t lie. You know you have.) I have. My inner fifteen-year-old relates to these like nobody’s business. A couple of years ago, I was at a weekend event for teen girls, and “You Belong With Me” came on over the gym speakers. In five seconds flat, 300 girls were singing at the top of their lungs: “You’re on the phone with your girlfriend, she’s upset/She’s going off about something that you said/Cause she doesn’t get your humor like I do/I’m in the room, it’s a typical Tuesday night/I’m listening to the kind of music she doesn’t like/And she’ll never know your story like I do/But she wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts/She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers/Dreaming about the day when you wake up and find/That what’re you’re looking for has been here the whole time…” Why? Because every girl in that room had sat on those blasted bleachers watching her boy friend and wishing he was her boyfriend. Every single one of them. And so have I. And so have you. This is the teenage reality.

As writers, I wonder if we run the risk of making our MCs what a teenager “should” look like – what we wish we would have been in high school. Our heroes tend to be tough and hard and never-give-up, and they would never sit around moping because some stupid boy didn’t like them (See: the writing world’s disdain for Bella Swan). I have a feeling that if Jane Eyre had been written today, Jane would have given Mr. Rochester a swift punch in the face and thrown a match onto Thornfield as she walked away. That’s all kick-butt and superheroine of you, Jane version 2011, but the problem is that it’s not really what we do in those situations (the last time I found out that my groom was hiding his mad wife in the attic, I sat down and cried). Right or wrong, Jane loved him, so instead she wanders around aimlessly, starving and homeless. Rational? No. Kick-butt? Definitely not. But the truth is that what we should feel and what we do feel are two different things, and that’s especially true for teens.

Taylor Swift is just about as good as it gets when it comes to the honest emotions of your typical teen. We would do well to learn from her. Remember all the insecurity that comes with becoming your own person, and infuse that into your MC. Your readers will respond.

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