Three of the top ten music video downloads on iTunes right now are by the artist Taylor Swift (which, by the way, tells us exactly who downloads the most videos: young girls.)
Parents love to love Taylor because her songs are clean and (as far as we know) she’s a sweet southern girl who doesn’t go out partying and has never sexted her boyfriend. But just because something isn’t dirty doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking at the messages it’s presenting to young people. The very fact that it’s so popular and parent-approved means we need to take a closer look.
Taylor’s newest song (and the top iTunes music video this week) is “You Belong With Me,” which is about a young girl who’s got a crush on her best guy friend. Of course the guy is clueless, and is in a drama-filled relationship with a cheerleader who doesn’t seem to know or understand him at all. The protagonist of the song basically outlines all the reasons why the guy should ditch his girlfriend and should be with her instead.
This song could easily fall into either the “relational” or “oppositional” categories that are taught in Rosalind’s Owning Up Curriculum. Relational works because I bet there are a lot of girls who feel the same way as the girl in song and who helped it get to #1 on the charts. But the song also has an interesting way of comparing the girl friend with the girlfriend that suggests it could be oppositional:
She’s going off about something that you said
‘Cuz she dosent get your humor like I do…
I’m in the room / It’s a typical Tuesday night
I’m listening to the kind of music she dosen’t like
And she’ll never know your story like I do’
She wears short skirts / I wear T-shirts
She’s cheer captain / And I’m in the bleachers
It’s important to realize that labeling people as “other” and therefore thinking they’re inferior doesn’t just happen from the “popular” kids toward outsiders; those on the outside can also think of themselves as better by the sheer fact they are not the in-the-box kids. I don’t have an answer about what Taylor is doing here, but I think it would be an interesting discussion with young people.
After checking out the lyrics and video for yourself, here are some questions to jumpstart a discussion about “You Belong With Me”:
How does the protagonist of the song (the friend) compare herself with the “girlfriend”? (ie: what characteristics does each have?) Why?
How do you think you’re supposed to feel about each of the characters? Does it work?
Why would a guy be with a girl who apparently doesn’t know or understand him?
What might prevent him from being with his friend who seems to connect with him better?
In the video, what do you think motivates the guy to finally get together with his friend?
Why does this song appeal to girls?
If you’re a boy, what do you think about this song? If you’re a girl, what do you think guys think about it?
Rosalind Wiseman is an internationally recognized author and educator on children, teens, parenting, education and social justice. Her work aims to help parents, educators and young people successfully navigate the social challenges of young adulthood.