I was already spending my week thinking deeply about music when a friend texted me yesterday to suggest that I give a listen to Taylor Swift’s just-released latest, starting with the song “Guilty As Sin”. . . which is titled in a way that would spark the curiosity of anyone who is endeavoring to navigate the path of Christian discipleship and nurturing children and teens to do the same. And with the marketing genius of how her latest album was released, fuel was on the fire of excitement that left Swifties young and old spending time yesterday. . . lots of time! . . . immersed in The Tortured Poets Department and its 31 tracks.

Truth be told, the only pop music phenomena that might compare with Taylor Swift’s seemingly being everywhere all the time with a strong impact on culture, would have happened 60 years ago with the Beatles. But even then, I’m not sure that the comparison even comes close, as the 24/7 presence of smartphones, social media, and streaming music have occasioned a kind of cultural omnipresence for Swift, along with everyone and everything she touches. Take for example, the Kelce brothers, who a year ago were only professional football players.

By the time I had a chance to pull up and listen to “Guilty As Sin” yesterday, the internet had already gone berserk with reviews, lyrical analysis, and speculation about the many veiled references to who knows what which are embedded in Swift’s music, including this song. Fans worked to decode messages about past lovers, which is part of the ongoing Taylor Swift story. This needs to be noticed and talked about with our kids as they learn to navigate a world and cultural narrative telling them what to believe and how to behave when it comes to one’s relational feelings, desires, sexuality, and love.

There was one other social media reaction that I saw yesterday from youth worker peers and many Christian parents that made me sit up and take notice. I found the reaction a bit troubling as it seemed to respond to the arrival of Swift’s latest offering by going no further or deeper than a kind of celebratory “This is awesome!”, “I love it!”, and “I’m so happy for my Swiftie kids!” That kind of knee jerk reaction happens so fast that it can only indicate a lack of commitment to the kind of careful discernment and wisdom needed as we evaluate anything that comes from the loudest voices which “map out” life for our kids. Those voices are always leading kids – either into truth or into lies – about the way life is and how we are to live it.

As we say here at CPYU, culture is always a map, especially for our vulnerable kids who are trying to find answers to the most basic developmental questions: “Who am I?”, “What do I believe?” “Where do I belong?”, and “How am I to live in this world?”

My concern is over how the voices of those called to lead and nurture kids into embracing and living out God’s good design for life so often easily ignore or write off the nurturing power of the pervasive, compelling, and convincing cultural voices that are embraced by our kids, including Taylor Swift. “Oh, it’s just music!” is a dangerous and might I say foolish posture to hold. No, ideas matter. And, they matter the most when we aren’t thinking that they matter, because that’s when they are most apt to shape or mis-shape our lives as we mindlessly consume them without using any sort of critical thinking, discernment, or wisdom.

I have yet to go through all the songs on The Tortured Poets Department. It will take time. . . lots of time. . . to do that carefully. But I have given some initial thought to the tune “Guilty As Sin.” If and when the video version of the song drops we’ll have a greater ability to know what Swift is telling us. And, in the coming days, I’m sure more hints and insights will drop regarding the song’s message.

But at this point it seems pretty clear that in the song, Swift is engaging in a lusty bedroom fantasy of “being with” someone other than the one she is now with, which is not only not surprising coming from Swift, but something that we are all prone to in life, aren’t we? Jesus knew this, and that’s why he warned us against such things in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-30).

In a way, “Guilty As Sin” also serves as a mirror, reflecting how confusing it can be to navigate relationships and love. But don’t forget, it’s also a map, letting us and our vulnerable, curious, and questioning kids into the mind and life of Swift, a role model who so many are following. Yes, she’s wondering out loud whether or not this kind of sexual fantasizing is right or wrong, but no answer is given other than the answer we get from listening to and watching Swift live out her life before us 24/7. . . which, I think, it’s fair to conclude what her answer at least functionally actually is.

Can I encourage you all who are loving and leading kids to step back and take your time to think critically and Christianly about all the media you and your kids consume? Can I encourage you to see media consumption as an act of discipleship and worship? Can I encourage you to move from the default posture of mindless consumption to one of mindful Christ-centered critique? If you’ve got little kids, think for them. . . knowing that there will be times. . . many times. . . where counter-cultural Christian living requires a “no, that’s not something we’re going to be listening to” along with an explanation. When your kids enter into that adolescent stage where their brains are developing the ability to think more critically and abstractly, think with them, helping them to see how cultural artifacts like a song or an album speak truth or speak lies. Direct them into making God-honoring decisions regarding their media choices and consumption. We do this so that we might release them into a lifetime of thinking for themselves, critically and Christianly to the honor and glory of God.

These are my initial and admittedly incomplete thoughts on this day after we’ve received the latest from Taylor Swift. I hope that you’ll take the challenge to move forward cautiously with an engaged mind that views this and all other musical offerings through the lens of God’s Word.

Ideas matter. These things matter. And, if you’re looking for a way to teach and practice these skills in Christ-centered media literacy, we’ve got a helpful tool for this in your home, youth group, or classroom. Check out our How to Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart: 3(D) Media Evaluation Guide.

3 thoughts on “Taylor Swift’s Latest Map and Mirror

  1. As a 25 year veteran in youth ministry and as a parent of a college age son and daughter, and even an aunt of a 16 year old “swifty”, I thank you for your caution to other youth workers and parents and your constant pursuit for holiness. I pray that we all take some time to reflect on the influence music and artists have over not just teenagers, but us adults too.
    I try to use Phillipians 4:8 as the standard…”whatever is true, whatever is noble,whatever is right, whatever is pure …..think on these things”. This should affect how seriously we take it that some teens are basing their identity on worldly things and not from their Creator who loves them so much. It should also cause us as leaders to pause and think about how we reach teens where they are while pointing them away from culture and toward the cross.

  2. I grew up in church. Both my parents worked in the church. I believe Jesus Christ is my lord and savior.
    I’ve listened to Taylor Swift, but I’ve never been with someone in a bedroom and been thinking about someone else. And just because I listen to Taylor swift doesn’t mean I will.
    I get it – you want to comment on something culturally relevant. But maybe just skip that song with your 8 year old until you feel like they are ready to have a conversation about it.
    Because Taylor Swift has given enough money to provide food to millions around the country as she gave to food banks throughout the cities she has visited. And unbelievably smart business woman. And she has unintentionally created community with people who are fans sharing friendship bracelets in amazing ways.
    I promise you, there are FAR worse people your kids could look up to.
    Give young people some credit.

    1. “Someone told me there’s no such thing as bad thoughts; only your actions talk.” I don’t think I am going to let Taylor Swift put all of those bad thoughts into my kids’ heads. Contrary to her lyrics, those bad thoughts tend to come out with…every human that ever lived, with the exception of one.

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