Taylor Swift: Mirrorball Spirituality

disco ball
 on April 11, 2024

I got the idea to have a Taylor Swift music night at our Wednesday evening Advent Café service. Advent Café is one of our worship offerings, and its setting, evening time slot, and musical offerings allow us to be creative in a different way from Sunday mornings. Although Swift has made passing reference to considering herself a Christian, her music isn’t faith-based, so our planning team was a little surprised by my choice. I made my pitch though, and Tracadie Cross, one of our Advent Café bands, began rehearsing.

My daughter and I have become increasingly committed and adoring fans of Swift’s over the years, almost despite ourselves. We don’t generally consider our taste to be mainstream. However, as people enamoured with the power of words, we can’t help but be won over by the finely drawn stories which form the backbone of her songs. As music lovers, and my daughter as a song writer in her own right, we marvel at her mastery of melodies, hooks, different musical genres, and especially her jaw-dropping bridges.

It’s because of our experience of moving through the world as women that has made our devotion most fierce. She opens up the multitudes our female experience contains in a way that has rarely, if ever, been tolerated on a mass stage. In the world of Taylor Swift, there is room for women to be lovesick, calculating, regretful, vengeful, funny, self-deprecating, proud, ambitious, petty, loyal, fickle, warm, cold, sexy, excluded, dominant, bullied, insecure, confident, wise, silly, try-hard, and hopeful.

She is the ultimate good girl, socialized to be humble about her talent, quiet in her opinions, and apologetic of her ambition— a “Pathological people pleaser” as she labels herself. This construct has crumbled over the years before our eyes as this woman, who was originally signed as a fourteen-year-old song-writing savant, has had to respond to the never-ending criticism of her success, failed romances, and mass marketing genius, by learning to speak up, act out, and lean into all of her massive talent for the business of being in music, all while continuing to make her song writing talent central and to offer a transparent window into the basic human need for belonging, affirmation, loving and being loved.

The reaction to this evening in our church circles has been mixed, to say the least. There has been excitement, of course. Swift is the biggest pop star on the planet. It is hardly surprising to say that there are fans out there, even in our decidedly “not pop” Anglican congregations. But there has been opposition too. No doubt there are those who puzzle over having this music in a worship setting, but the opposition is primarily of a different sort. They see her and her music as frivolous. They are resentful of her vast, record-breaking success. They think she and her music aren’t serious enough to warrant the kind of popularity and attention she has gained. They don’t like her “complaining” about her privileged life.

Their reasons for their opposition are closely aligned with my reasons for wanting to explore Taylor Swift and her music in a worship setting in the first place. As the woman with the brightest spotlight in the world shining on her right now, she doesn’t just tell her story, she tells our story. In her song Mirrorball, she imagines herself as a sparkling reflective object, showing “you every version of yourself tonight.” It’s this mirrorball that she offers, this reflection that she forces us to see—of ourselves, of our attitudes and assumptions about women—that is first in the list of the things I want the church to consider. Swift might have achieved unparalleled success, but she has also been the subject of constant misogynistic commentary about her body, looks, relationships, heartbreaks, ambition, and her failure to conform to the prescribed roles women are supposed to want for themselves. Her talent has been widely overlooked for much of her career in favour of belittling the romance about which she writes and judging the very female experience she details as being inconsequential, unworthy of serious attention.

I know a little bit about the way the spotlight can be glaring, distorted, and more reflective of those looking at me than it is of myself—both in the good and the bad things that get projected on me. I know about having my looks and wardrobe choices picked apart and about learning to balance my need to be affirmed and liked with also trying to find my own authentic voice. I know that the vulnerability and transparency I bring to my writing and preaching can be received with equal measures of gratitude and discomfort. I know what it is to be a woman who has a natural affinity with the gendered assumptions for what is “feminine,” while also bristling against the many ways that my interests and abilities don’t fit the mold.

The church has a lot for which it must answer in terms of its silencing of women’s voices and its affirming of female experiences only as they fit into the tightly prescribed categories. Although I have lived my whole life in a world where women can be ordained in the Anglican church, and certainly my challenges as a woman in leadership are nothing compared to what the women who went before me had to navigate, all women with a voice in our church today are still regularly running up against the weight of two thousand years of the church and the patriarchy being the coziest of bed fellows.

And at the same time, the history of the Christian faith is shot through with the ultimately uncontrollable, unstoppable energy of women who refuse to conform, of women who have figured out how to lead and speak from the sidelines to which they have been relegated, and of a God who is also experienced as offering motherly care, powerful Sophia Wisdom and fire-breathing, shape-shifting feminine Spirit. There is something relentless about female power, about an arc of history that will eventually force us to contend with the offerings of women in a real way. This is as much true about the ascendency of Taylor Swift as it is of the history of the church.

I have political and cultural motivations for offering our Taylor Swift Night. But as we have been rehearsing the set list and preparing for the event, I have come to realize that there is something simpler and holier about why I think Swift’s music can be considered in the context of worship. What has kept me in the church is not unlike what I imagine has kept Taylor Swift in the music business, even though she describes such levels of discouragement that she hid in her apartment for a full year and seriously toyed with quitting. I stay because the Spirit is at work. Because I can’t help experiencing each and every day how the Spirit is at work in the mundane, flawed details of all of our lives, because I can’t help seeing beauty and truth in the stories of our lives, because I want to give that beauty and truth expression in my own small way, in the stories that I lift up, in the offering that I can make. That’s my job as a priest: to lift up. And I look to a variety of sources and inspirations, both inside and outside of the church, to teach me how to be more tuned in and braver in this work.

Taylor Swift is many things. She is one of the most successful business people in the history of music. She is a trend setter, a record breaker, a target of the paparazzi, a singer and performer, a lightning rod for criticism and adulation. She knows that the spotlight comes and goes and that the precipice on which she is currently standing will at some point shift. She has had a particular experience of navigating fame because she is a woman, and she has gained the courage to reflect back to us the misogynist and patriarchal dynamics that still hold such cultural currency. Ultimately what has made her the legend she is, what will outlast the gossip and the scandals, the hero worship and the public scapegoating, is her songs and the careful way she attends to the nuances of emotions, the shades of colour, the smallest details of what we see and value in one another, how we feel and what we take away.

That can’t help but feel holy.

  • Martha Tatarnic

    The Reverend Canon Martha Tatarnic is the rector of St. George’s, St. Catharines. Her second book, Why Gather? The Hope & Promise of the Church, will be published in June 2022 by Church Publishing, and will be available at https://www.churchpublishing.org/whygather. The Living Diet is also available through Amazon, Church Publishing and the author.

Skip to content