I remember I was starting my junior year at Hawaii Pacific University, and my roommate and cheer teammate, Danielle rushed into our kitchen. “Oh my god, you have to listen to this song!” It was “Tim McGraw” from a fresh-faced new country singer. I matched her energy and excitement. Though internally I thought, I was “too cool” for country music. I was in my era of The Postal Service, Death Cab, Jenny Lewis, and Regina Spektor. I fell into the “Taylor Swift is cringe” mindset as a young 20-something. I criticized her for faking a country accent, always singing about her exes, and if I heard one note of her song on the radio, I would switch the channel. I remember peeing my pants watching the Taylor Swift goat version of Trouble

I was a typical mean girl.

It wasn’t until I moved to Florida that I started dipping my toes into the ocean that is Taylor Swift. I remember leading an overnight for visual merchandising at my retail job when my team was blasting 1989. Shake It Off became the earworm of 2014, and I was not mad about it. After that night, I played the album on repeat. I was trying to crack the code to see which song was about whom. 

Then I met my friend Poly. Who wholeheartedly is probably the biggest T. Swift stan (a positive term for a super fan) I know. She has seen her perform in Tampa a few times and is planning a trip to catch her show in Lyon, France, this June. Poly and I would jam out together on our ukuleles and try to learn her songs. She helped me see the genius in her lyrics. 

With the switch to pop, I viewed Swift as a more “well-rounded musician,” especially after the release of Reputation and Lover. Then two grown work friends screamed “All Too Well” on a business trip in San Francisco, I was inspired to rediscover all her old music that, I initially, refused to listen to. 

All Too Well San Fran Sing Along

In 2020, during the pandemic, I flew fully into Taylor fandom. 

You see…folk is my weakness. 

How she weaved her real life into fictional characters throughout Folklore and Evermore had me gutted. I became an internet sleuth. I rewatched interviews and looked to understand her songwriting process. Seeing her in the Miss Americana documentary helped me see her humanity. She dealt with body image, people pleasing, high-demand religion, political fence-sitting, having the courage to take a stand and be an ally, and age discrimination, too!

She has always been honest and relatable to her fan base. My friend Shay met her in 2007 before she made it big. She took a picture with Shay’s group of friends at her concert. During the Fearless (TV) release, I was walking through Target and saw that the same photo popped up on the screens in the technology section. I immediately called Shay and freaked out for her. She was part of the Love Song music video, and I discovered it. 

Taylor’s clips of writing in the studio inspired me to write my own music. No matter what she was going through—falling in love, facing media scrutiny, navigating her mother’s cancer diagnosis, or experiencing a breakup—she could turn her emotions into art.

When I moved to Texas from Florida— I found out my grandmother had terminal brain cancer. I couldn’t cry for three weeks. I was stunned. I did as Taylor would and wrote a song about my granny’s life and legacy. I was able to sing my granny the demo before she passed. Processing her life helped me move through the grief cycle and give myself space to feel.

The release of Midnights was the first time I was 100% all in. I was out of the Taylor Swift closet and didn’t care who knew. She was no longer a guilty pleasure. I died dead over her TikTok bingo series, Midnights Mayhem, announcing each song. I stayed up till 12 am to hear the album from start to finish. I got lost in the TicketMaster fiasco. I was bummed when I didn’t get access to the Eras tour. When she announced the movie, I was so excited that I took one of my girls on a mommy date to see it. Now we rewatch it on Disney+ together. The twins put on their sparkliest outfits, and we jump on the bed and sing into hairbrushes.

I am still working on getting tickets to Eras, whether I fly overseas or try for New Orleans this fall. I am manifesting I will see Tay Tay live in the very near future. 

Look what you made me do, Taylor! I went from being a mean girl to investigating your life on the internet. My new guilty pleasure is fast-forwarding through the New Heights podcast to hear Travis Kelce talk about you. What a turn of events!

What I respect most about Ms. Taylor Alison Swift is her resilience and tenacity. She turns the pain of the human experience into a masterpiece and capitalizes on it! When her old label sold off her songs, she took the advice of Kelly Clarkson to re-record her albums and got every streaming service to play her version. She also sends Kelly flowers at every TS release. What a power play. She doesn’t play the victim; she plays chess. 

When The Tortured Poets Department launched this week, I continued my ritual. I stayed up until 12 am, listening from start to finish. Then, I woke up to 15 extra songs and hurried the kids off to school so that I could listen to The Anthology.

At first, I fell into the easy trap of figuring out which song was about Joe AlwynMatty HealyTravis Kelceor Kim K. Then I realized many of the lyrics applied to my life—my home relationships, family/friends, or work. I realized the truth in what T. Swift shared regarding her songs: “Now the story isn’t mine anymore… it’s all yours.”

Queen Brene Brown says, “It’s hard to hate up close.” My journey with Taylor is a testament to this. The more I listened to her music and interviews, heard my friend’s personal experiences with her, and started writing my own songs, the more I respected this woman. 

Whether you are a fan or not, you have to admit Taylor Swift has been building something huge over the last two decades and will go down in history as a Mastermind

Zana Carbajal
Zana is wife to Esteban and mama to her four children, Joaquin, Teodoro, and twins Roma & Rosalind. She is a Senior Retail Technology Manager and Co-host of The Strong Sunflowers & Los Girasoles Fuertes podcasts. She was a competitive cheerleader at Hawaii Pacific University, where she pursued her Bachelor’s in Public Relations and Advertising. She is currently working on an online Master’s in Global Strategic Communications from The University of Florida (Go Gators!) She advocates for whole-hearted living and constantly looks for ways to improve her mind, body, heart, and soul. She loves songwriting, singing, and musical theatre and has already warned her kids when they are all over 18+; she is moving to New York City to audition for Broadway.


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