The Anatomy of Style: Dissecting Taylor Swift’s Artistic Pinnacle

I well remember the High School times when my best companion and daily partner of daunting discoveries and intense first-time emotions was Taylor Swift, and 1989 was my holy shield against the odds of the coming-of-age.

Back in those days, the star that guided me in the nightwalks through my heart was Style: a pop anthem that subtly and almost discreetly made me question my perceptions about love. I remember bewitchingly listening the song on repeat for hours — as well as watching the video and being completely charmed by something I didn’t know what was.

Turns out, that’s intentionally the design of Style. Taylor Swift has a dense methaphorical approach when it comes to expressing what’s floating through her mind and heart, and Style is a museum piece of her artsy collectanea of simbolism.

Actually, that’s essentially what this song is about: an art piece architected to introduce a personal perspective of a feeling Taylor carries on her chest. Artists — specially singers — have a moral responsability to make their art relatable, so their audience identifiy with the material they’re presenting: it’s like giving a voice to things we don’t quite understand the origin of. This specific part plays a fundamental role in defining our collective views on different topics as a society — like how we deal with love, or missing. More than a singer, Taylor Swift is a spokeswoman to all of us.

Style starts evoquing ambivalence in its melody. For the first thirty seconds, like a courtesy introduction (or preparation?), Taylor leaves us with no voice or lyric — only a sequacious riff that establishes a “question and answer” format in its chords transition, following up through the entire song, unwittingly making you wonder: “what is right about this?”, as the guitar asks “where are you?” — and taciturnly answers: “I’m here”.

“I love that the song sounds the way that that feeling felt. […] The song speaks for itself” Taylor for Ryan Seacrest

On the music video, the first scene clearly states that: this is a translation of what’s being on Taylor’s mind.

If you’re into her work, you know Taylor has historically written about her relationships and lovers in the perspective of a hurtten victim — you can tell from All Too Well. In Style, this is different. As Taylor herself stated,

“I say “I’ve heard that you’ve been out and about with some other girl, some other girl”
He says “What you’ve heard is true but I
Can’t stop thinking about you and I”
I said “I’ve been there too a few times”
Lyrics of “Style”

Here, Taylor is assuming a position of maturity, still as a vulnerable persona: “I’ve been there too a few times”. In her previous work, she would write about being betrayed and her violated feelings, but here, she takes ’em to a silent walk in the cold of self consciousness.

She deliberately describes a crooked love, but this time from the perspective of an insider — she knows they both share the same feeling, just as both made mistakes.

“I would never have said anything like that on a previous album, my previous albums have always been sort of like “I was right, you were wrong, you did this, it made me feel like this”, kind of a sense of righteous, like right and wrong in a relationship, and what happens when you grow up is that you realize the rules in a relationship are very blurred, and it gets very complicated very quickly, and there’s not always a case of who is right and who is wrong” Taylor for Ryan Seacrest

And here’s where this feeling of ambivalance is intrinsically rooted in the song’s structure. In the first half of the chorus, you hear generally positive chords, matching the lyrical imagery of symbols that perpass the song:

[D Major :)] You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye
[G Major :)] And I got that red lip classic thing that you like
[D Major :)] And when we go crashing down, we come back everytime / Cause we never go out of style

However, in the second half, an oxymoron B Minor introduces you to a conflicting question: “is this really a happy song?”. In Taylor’s language, the question is: “are we really happy about this?”. Spoiler: “no, we are not!

And when we go [B Minor :(] crashing down, we come back everytime / Cause we never go out of style

More than that, it’s as if Style’s melody pulls you in and asks, “Do you know this feeling?

This leads me to the story behind Style. In its lyrics, Taylor describes an ethereal relationship that can’t be. The connection between them is so perfect and they’re obsessed about each other, but despite the connection, regardless of their attempts, they can never find sincrony.

This aery atmosphere is widely represented in the music video. Throught quick flashbacks of memories of when they were together (and happy and fragile) to scenes where they explicitly can’t be — and ravenously wish they were — the video doesn’t follow a storyline, for the crude reason of what this story is about: it isn’t over yet, and seems impossible to ever reach a conclusion.

Taylor in her fragmented reflection of herself.
Her video boyfriend reminiscing the good old times. In almost the whole video, they are never seen together at the same moment — as they can’t be — but still manage to see each other in everything.
Everytime they try to be together, one fades away — they can’t exist at the same time.
He’s driving in the middle of the night, looks in the mirror and sees her with a scared little girl look. He’s not surprised: he knows she’s there with him.
The imagery of the video goes beyond aesthetics: there’s a deep psychological meaning.

Constantly in the video, we see them replacing their own images of themselves to images of the other. If you ever had that kind of love, you know what Taylor is saying: you see that person everywhere and in everything you do, in the simplest things, even if you’re trying to just move on with life.

In spite of Taylor never naming names, she is also known for the easter eggs and clues she lefts to draw the connection between her personal life narrative and her work. In this case, she’s explicitly describing her relationship with Harry Styles. The first clue is the airplane necklace Taylor and Harry exchanged with each other that appears in the beginning of the video:

Later on the record, Taylor addresses the same symbolic reference in Out Of The Woods in its music video:

“Looking at it now
Last December (last December)
We were built to fall apart
Then fall back together (back together)
Ooh your necklace hanging from my neck
The night we couldn’t quite forget
When we decided (we decided) to move the furniture so we could dance
Baby, like we stood a chance
Two paper airplanes flying”

The “December” she’s talking about is the trip she and Harris took to ski in the mountains, where Harris suffered an accident and injured his chin.

“Remember when you hit the brakes too soon
Twenty stitches in a hospital room
When you started crying baby, I did too
But when the sun came up I was looking at you
Remember when we couldn’t take the heat
I walked out, I said, I’m setting you free
But the monsters turned out to be just trees
When the sun came up you were looking at me”

This time, she throws the necklace away, just before she jumps off the cliff on the journey of finding a new version of herself.

Taylor Swift and Harris Style broke apart in January 2013 in a trip to Caribe they didn’t finish together for unknown reasons. Thankfully, Taylor recorded her feelings about this timeless love for us to relate.

In Style, Taylor compares these loves to the garments that we affectionately store in our closets, even after years, after our bodies and tastes have changed and we are different people, hoping for the day when we will dress this up again in a toast to the old days: the trends that never go out of Style for us.

“The song is actually about these relationships that are never really done. You always gonna have that person, that one person who you feel that might interrupt your wedding, and be like “don’t do it, cause we’re not over yet”. I think everybody has that one person who kind of floats in and out of their life and the narrative is never truly over” Taylor for The Morning Show

In this artwork, Taylor again managed to loudly and visually represent a feeling that most of us feel at some point in our lives and is a qualia, and did it in the most raw material she could, using her best symbolic and metaphoric gimmicks to unveil it.

Style is about that one person who lands in your clothes and hair like raindrops in a sudden storm, and after the storm, even after the sun came back, you’re still there, wet, wondering how you’re gonna figure it out.

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