If there’s one thing Taylor Swift knows how to do with her songs, it’s sparking conversation (and also writing ultra-catchy choruses. Let’s be real). The superstar has done it again with her controversial new single, “Look What You Made Me Do.” In typical Taylor fashion, her lyrics (while admittedly watered-down a bit from her country crooner days) draw you in with cryptic story-telling and a back beat that leaves you wanting more. But as a follower of Christ who was more than a little bit unsettled upon hearing this biting track for the first time, I had to ask myself, “Should I be wanting more?”
Ever since her arrival on the country music scene in 2006, I was a self-proclaimed Swiftie. I bought and memorized every song on every album, kept up with her on-again-off-again dating history, and sang along at every tour. Bless my poor dad for taking me… However, after attending her 1989 tour in 2015, my Taylor fever began to subside. I was disappointed to see my role model, “America’s Sweetheart”, prancing around the stage in the tiniest of skirts and crop tops, singing lines like “You can want who you want – boys and boys and girls and girls” and “His hands are in my hair, his clothes are in my room.” I know, I know. She’s not a little girl anymore. She’s her own person, so she can do what she wants, but for the first time, I was ashamed to call myself her fan.
Despite all of that, I was thrilled when I heard she’s releasing a new album in November. I had heard whispers that she wants to “revamp her image”, so I thought, “Finally! We’ll be getting the older AND wiser Taylor. She’s gotten this “edgy bad girl” phase out of her system, so I can proudly wave my Swiftie banner once again.” Upon hearing the revenge-fueled “Look What You Made Me Do” last Thursday, I realized that couldn’t be further from the truth.
As the ominous opening instrumental began to play and Taylor’s punchy vocals kicked in, something in me started to say, “Whoa. This isn’t right.” I brushed off the uneasiness that initially washed over me, reasoning that I was being too judgmental. “Cut her some slack,” I told myself. “This just isn’t the Taylor you’re used to.” As the song played on, though, I knew that something deeper than a dislike of an artist’s new sound was at play here. There was a spiritual undercurrent to the whole thing that I couldn’t ignore. The only thing I knew to do was to ask Jesus what it was about the song that was giving me spiritual red flags. What I realized next went far beyond melodies, rhythms, and drum tracks.
When it comes to music, the enemy knows he can’t get most Christians to listen to songs with tons of bad language, drug and alcohol references, or sexual innuendo because it’s too “in-your-face”. Instead, judging by Swift’s new song, he’s slipping in something we can all relate to that dishonors Christ just as much – vengeance.
Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and pray for those who wrong us, not to sing along wholeheartedly to lyrics like, “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me. I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams.” Granted, Ms. Swift doesn’t claim to be a Christian, so I don’t expect her to act like one (though my heart hurts for her because being angry and holding grudges can’t be a fun way to live), but those of us who are Christians do have the God-given responsibility of guarding our hearts and minds, and that includes our song selection. I’m a big believer in the philosophy “Garbage in, garbage out”, or, as Scripture puts it, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
I don’t want to give the impression that my music choices are perfect. They’re far from it, so I need this reminder just as much as anyone else. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 5:8 to stand guard and watch out because the enemy is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, and one of his weapons of choice is trying to get Christians to look nothing like Jesus.
Make no mistake about it – What you listen to becomes what you live for. The things the world tells you don’t matter are usually the very things that the Lord says matter most.
Am I suggesting that you should only listen to worship music until your dying day? Of course not. There are plenty of great songs out there in a multitude of genres, but we must remember that words have power, and song lyrics fall into that. If the music playing sounds nothing like Jesus, maybe we should just hit “skip”. And if we’re worried about what other people might think, we can take a much more solid piece of T Swift’s advice: Shake it off.