taylor swift is an entertainer, peter gabriel is a musician

RE-Humanize Yourself: Life in the Cultural Wasteland of Taylor Swift

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Media, news, and celebrity are warping the minds of our culture. Taylor Swift as Time’s Person of the Year is interesting, but it’s an indicator of how far we’ve slipped into Celebrity as Hero.

Taylor Swift is Great

But she’s a young woman. A powerful young woman, I’ll grant you that. But watching her movie I was struck by several observations.

My 20-year-old daughter was next to me in the massive theater with three of her roommates. (Dad’s party favor!) She was singing all the songs at the top of her lungs. The others to her left were singing along with a little less vigor, but it was a moment. And behind me, in the crowd were tons of 12 – 16 year olds, boys and girls. They were selling concert chum and they were waiving light wands and sparkling devices. It was a moment. A big moment. A historic moment. The opening day of Taylor Swift’s blockbuster movie. We helped boost the ticket sales to new records. YAY for her.

Not so much for us as a culture. Let me explain.

If you think Superbowl Halftime Shows are the height of creative expression, we’re coming from different perspectives. Taylor is an amazing performer. Her songwriting, primarily lyrics, deals with the concerns and ecstacies of a teenage girl, and then a 20-something woman. Her classic breakup bash songs are legendary, yes, and she needs to move on, evolve. But how do you grow when you’re a billionaire? When a football star, a rockstar, and a movie star, are your choices. The Subway sandwich guy is great, and he’s a solid player, and her attention has been amazing for the Chiefs merch sales, but…

I hate to break it to you, but Taylor’s celebrity romances typically last 4 – 6 months. MAX! I hope she makes it beyond the Superbowl, but I’m not putting odds on her finding her super-soulmate in another celebrity. Most successful marriages have an alpha and a supporter. (Think of Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow. That didn’t work because their egos were always in competition.)

Back to the music. The Taylor show was very different than the current Peter Gabriel tour moving across the globe. And now, if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to highlight the differences. I think there is a cultural reference here.

Taylor’s show was about Taylor. The songs are a blur of HITS and FILLER. (My daughter would take offense at that, but…) And the focus is on her, her outfits and her super youthful figure. And boy do they exploit that one. The dancers and production of the show are pretty important too, but all lights and focus is on Miss “Amazed Expression in Red Lips” Taylor.

When some musicians actually do enter the stage it’s about 4 songs in. And while I do believe they are also performers, the soundtrack was canned. Just like the halftime shows, the performance is on tape. There were even moments when I wondered if her lead vocal was from tape. But the guitarist, the drummer, the bass player, the rest of the band, were not a band. And the music was an exact replication of the recorded versions. Are they playing or is it taped? Taylor’s band on stage is more of a Milli Vanilli show.

Peter Gabriel (from my eras tour – OK Boomer), had a very different approach. Still, an amazing stagecraft and story was being unfolded for his audience. An adult audience. Most of us on blood pressure meds or Ozembic. But his opening was about human spirit and the first creation of music. A small circle was presented on the stage and musicians appeared and joined in as the songs evolved and grew. Here’s the biggest difference. They were PLAYING MUSIC TOGETHER. A human experience of creative expression. With flaws, tempo shifts, and loving attention to each other and the nuance of music.

In Taylor’s show there were no musicians involved. There were dancers and musicians on stage. The focus, however, was on the Taylor Show. Not unlike a Super Bowl performance. It’s HUGE. It’s entertaining. And we get to hear the songs we know and love in their recorded brilliance. I wonder if the band is paid union wages as musicians? (Side note: I don’t know anything about the musicians on stage with Taylor, or their involvement in the music. This is more of an emotional response to the show. And LACK of human musicianship.

In Peter’s show, the musicians and their interplay WAS the show. Peter was amazing, but he gave the spotlight to each of his amazing bandmates. It was about all of them. It was about a musical experience. Taylor’s was a musical experience as well, but the focus was singular and prepackaged.

The audience for music is varied and wide. And Taylor is a god to many. And Ticketmaster and her parents are raking in the jewels. But Taylor needs to evolve beyond a halftime performer. And her public romances make for good media but are probably not healthy for her as a young woman trying to actually find LOVE. Not lust, sex, celebrity, and romance.

In our experience of life, we need to remember to return to the human experience. We are not scrolling, tiktoks, and soundbites. Re-humanizing means turning off our devices. Listening to each other. Learning to play an instrument and beginning the journey of creativity for ourselves. So much of Taylor’s world is UNREACHABLE. And I notice the same attitude with all entertainment. If we need another Marvel movie, I can’t think of why. Game of Thrones reboot? Sure. How about two Super Bowls a year instead of one?

More is not always better. Louder and bigger is not always the way forward. I am learning, in my not-famous life, to listen more. Listen and quit interrupting so much. And hear deeper than the surface of overwhelmed busyness we all seem to be caught up in. Pause. Find a moment in the quiet to reset yourself. Human communication is more important than social media. There is very little “social” in doom scrolling or performing a new dance for your following.

Re-humanizing Ideas

  • Learn a musical instrument
  • Write a poem
  • Walk in the woods
  • Have coffee with a friend and leave your phones in the car
  • Turn off your media earlier and earlier in the evening

Find activities that light your inner fire and follow the warmth. You don’t have to be famous or even recognized. What you want to be is heard. Even by ONE PERSON. Stop the rush. Slow down. Find a human to converse with. Listen more than you speak. Hear them. Hear what makes them happy, sad, confused. What are they working on? What lights them up?

The human experience begins with one other person, one moment at a time. Listen to their story. Be quiet.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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the little red book of mindfulness - john oakley mcelhenney

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