When you're seven you want something to believe in. Someone real to look up to. For me, that person has always been Taylor Swift. With her gorgeous, shiny dresses, wild, curly blonde mane, and a perfect blend of sass and sweetness, she was everything I could have ever dreamt of becoming.
It wasn't long before her face covered my walls and her honest lyrics filled my head. Having a role model was a feeling I hadn't known before. I didn't get a sense of aspiration from Disney princesses or other fictional characters like some girls I knew. I found everything I've ever loved in music, and Taylor Swift's was the first to have a real impact on me.
I would beg my parent to let me stay up until 11 p.m. on a school night to watch her take home Entertainer of the Year at the ACM Awards, or carry an armful of Grammys home. I watched and listened to her with amazement.
When I saw that she made the list of TIME's 100 Most Influential People, and as an Icon and not just an artist, it made all the sense in the world. Because, besides my mom, she's the most influential person in my life. And I don't see my mom making it into TIME any time soon.
Taylor Swift is the reason behind so much of what I do and who I am. She's why I'm completely honest with myself, why I allow myself to be vulnerable, why I'm not afraid to make mistakes, and why I believe in magic and in love even though I've never seen either for myself. And Shawn Mendes was absolutely right, I do think there's magic to everything she does. Nothing is a coincidence because she puts love and intent into everything she does.
She's also why I want to be a writer and why the truth is so important to me. I've seen what her words can do, and especially what they've done for me. I've chosen to carry that with me and keep that power inside me. People can tear you down and attempt to take from you everything you are. They'll attack the things you love about yourself and ruin your reputation. But no one can ever take your voice and the truth or power of your words. Through every song on every album, that's a lesson that has stayed with me.
I've always been willing to learn from her. She's almost exactly 10 years older than me, so she's experienced so much of what I've gone through and will go through. She's extremely famous and unbelievably successful, but she's still made mistakes I can learn from or make myself, and grown in ways I pray I can too. She's stood up for the things and people she believes in. She's shown strength through the countless times people didn't think she could prosper. She built the country's top-grossing tour off of every mean thing that was said about her. She's grown through heartbreak. She's shown kindness to the people who deserve and kept those who didn't at arm's length.
Every one of her albums comes from a stage in her life, a stage that about ten years later I'll be going through. I didn't know then how much every word would mean to me. But still, no feeling was ever as great as saving my birthday money every other October because I knew a new album was coming. Then going to the store to buy whatever CD it was--and of course making sure it was the Extended Version only sold at Target, or the Platinum Edition from Walmart. Then excitedly tearing the plastic off in the parking lot and making sure my mom played it in the car all the way home. That's a feeling that sticks with you forever.
I was seven at the time of the debut of her self-titled album, so I didn't yet know of broken hearts or crying on a guitar over a boy who doesn't reciprocate feelings. I hadn't burned any pictures of high school boys. But when I was old enough, I did. I burned things and cried and experienced so many of the things I had spent 10 years living vicariously through my superstar role model. It didn't make any of the experiences any less painful, but I had resources to make me feel better in other songs too. I felt how amazing it is to have perfect friends like the way she described in "I'm Only Me When I'm With You."
When "Fearless" came along, I was nine. Fourth grade wasn't nearly as hard as being "Fifteen" and "Fearless." I didn't know that yet and wanted so bad to live in the time of high school and riding in cars with boys and having a "Love Story" all my own. Until I walked through the threshold of the high school for my first day of ninth grade. It was so different yet so similar to the lyrics in "Fifteen" that I spent years memorizing and preparing myself for.
I didn't have that "Forever & Always" kind of love, it was more of "The Best Day" with my mom when I lost friends I thought I'd have forever. I spent three years of high school living the words in "You Belong With Me," chasing a boy who didn't like me back. But the "Fearless" album was like a bandaid to cover all the pain I'd feel, or a blanket to keep me warm.
The stage I'm in now is much like "Speak Now." I'm the age now that Taylor was when she wrote it, and it feels so much different now than it did on my iPod when I was eleven. The guy I thought for sure I was in love with, and who brought me "You Belong With Me" vibes, married someone else. Someone who I seriously hated. And now the song that reminds me of him is "Speak Now," which of all the songs, is one I hoped I wouldn't feel on a personal level. But it was there when I needed it. Just like "Never Grow Up" was when I moved into my own apartment at 18. I had my "Last Kiss" with a guy I thought made me feel "Enchanted." And the album's name even has a certain importance. Entering your twenties is a time when you need to speak up, and "Speak Now."
I still have three albums to fully experience and that leaves me with a lot to look forward to. And then she'll lead me into my thirties with whatever new project she's got for us on April 24th. Like a Fairy Godmother, she'll be there with her music to guide me through my every obstacle. I'll know her lessons of relentlessness and change. It's something I've seen her do for 13 years. When I was ready to explore all the wonders of life, like pop music, it was like she grabbed my hand with "Red" and led me on a personal tour through the magical land of upbeat sounds and party jams.
I'll never stop being grateful for all the lessons of life and love I learned from my Fairy Godmother, and of all the people I could have chosen to look up to, I'm glad I picked Taylor Swift. An influential icon with so much kindness, strength, growth, passion, and maybe even a little magic.