Beauty and Order
Taylor Swift, like all of us, lives within a created universe. A universe filled with beauty and order. A universe in which God created beauty for himself to enjoy, at the edges of the heavens and the depths of the sea, beauty that only he can look upon. We live in a universe that is ruled by the laws of mathematics and physics that we can discover but cannot manipulate for ourselves. A universe where music and language themselves are structured in a way that follows the rules laid out for them.
Considering music more closely, it is not only ordered, it is also good and beautiful for several reasons: it evokes emotion, it sounds pleasant, it is interesting. It doesn’t take a Master’s degree to know that it is good, but it does take years of study to understand exactly why it is good. Taking the time to understand the craft of music gives us a deeper understanding of the order of the universe. It helps us to see what makes a song catchy and popular. Swift has mastered these skills as she uses the musical arc of pop to take you on an emotional journey, and she does it well. The notes and instruments she uses are specially chosen to show the story she is telling.
Another artistic tool Swift has a grasp on is her understanding of language. Compared to Mandarin or Cantonese, English is less of a tonal language, depending on how we say things. In English, much can be expressed by word-choice and order. At the beginning of one of her songs, Swift sings, “Draw the cat eye sharp enough to kill a man.” She uses the word “sharp” as a double entendre: one word with two unique meanings. In this case, “sharp” refers both to her eyeliner and the knife used to kill. When you catch it, it makes you feel like you understand a secret, when really she’s just using the rules of language to create something pleasing to the mind.
One way to pull you into the beauty of a line is assonance. Consider the following lyrics:
From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes
I waited ages to see you there
I search the party of better bodies
Just to learn that you never cared
In this stanza from her song “You’re on Your Own Kid,” Swift creates assonance, and internal vowel rhyme, with the letter “a.” One of the unique things that she does is use a short “a” sound in the first and third line but a long “a” in the second and fourth. Your ear gets pulled into these lines because it is interesting, it is ordered, and it is a little unusual. She plays with the rules in a way that is unique, especially when she uses the “o” in bodies as a short “a” sound.
Yet another type of rhyme may be a little more familiar, that of the end rhyme. “Mastermind” is full of end rhymes, though slightly slant. It is actually the long “I” that gives you the end rhyme even though it could be argued the suffix “-ine” is the rhyme, though you will notice only mine is actually spelled that way.
What if I told you I’m a mastermind
And now you’re mine
It was all my design
‘Cause I’m a mastermind
To round out Swift’s accomplished word arsenal, we even have an alliteration in the first line of the album: “Meet me at midnight.”
God and His Co-Creators
When Swift writes beautiful lyrics, she is using the order and style already established by the English language. She can create new words, but she cannot start speaking out of her belly button. She is bound by the universe in which she lives. C.S. Lewis calls this phenomenon, ex hypokeimenon, which loosely translates to say that we create out of the underlying thing or out of something. God, on the other hand, can create ex nihilo, or out of nothing. Lewis says, “Creation as applied to human authorship…seems to me an entirely misleading term. We make ἐξ ὑποκείμενον. I.e. we rearrange elements He has provided. There is not a vestige of real creativity de novo in us. Try to imagine a new primary color…or even a monster which does not consist of bits of existing animals stuck together. Nothing happens…We are recombining elements made by Him and already containing His meanings.”1
We cannot create outside of this world of order which God has created for us to play, grow, discover, and sub-create within. When we create art, our imaginations are bound by the world and order we live in. We cannot create a new sound, we only use the sounds already in existence. As 1 Chronicles 29:14 says, “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” When we create, we continue in the creation and recreation that is already taking place.
We can look at the “lavender haze” of a sunrise or the “maroon” in the sky at sunset, and know, as Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” We are also given the opportunity to be co-creators with God in the work that he is doing. In the book of Genesis, God creates man to be his image bearers. As image bearers, we are called to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). We have a responsibility to care for all of creation around us and to contribute to the development of culture. This can play out in a myriad of ways. In the Old Testament, many people were given gifts of artistry to add beauty to the temple (Exodus 31:2-5). God can also call people to make music and songs for his glory and honor (Psalm 98:5). Our work of co-creation is one of the ways we fulfill our role as image bearers.
Swift lives in God’s ordered world, and the way she uses language is beautiful (though not everything she says is edifying). In her new album she speaks of affairs, grief, love, and revenge, touching on some of the strongest human emotions. While we shouldn’t imitate her actions, we can imitate her writing style and the way that she weaves a song together. Even more, we can learn from the world God has placed us in to see and create beautiful things everyday.
*Please note this album does include some expletives.
By Elizabeth Tomaszewski
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