Positive Cynicism – An open letter to Taylor Swift

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

Dear Taylor,

You hurt me. But I’ll explain that in a second.

First, let me tell you a little about me: I’m a 38 year-old, married, unemployed man. I have mental disorders that, for now, keep me from working. My wife works three jobs and we have very little disposable income. We’re struggling, like a lot of people in America are struggling right now, but we have a place to live and food to eat and the Internet, so we’re better off than we could be.

I know I don’t fit into the supposed demographic of Taylor Swift fans, but I certainly am one. I love your music, but more than that, I love you. I’ve been on Tumblr for years, and it’s such a kick right now to see you stalk your fans there. (In fact, you just started following my best friend on Tumblr, which made her life, which made me smile for her.) I admire you for being so kind to your fans. I admire you for saying nice things to them when their anxieties get the better of them and things aren’t going so well. As someone with generalized anxiety disorder, I take a lot of those words to heart, and it makes me feel less ostracized, less apart from the world, to see someone take time out of her day to be understanding and compassionate.

And I also want to say that I admire that you visit children in hospitals. My sister died of cancer eight years ago when she was 13, and it makes me feel good to see someone like you, in your position, brighten the day of a sick child. If things are so bad that I need something to pick me up, one of the things I do is go to YouTube and look for videos of your hospital visits, because I have a real problem sometimes seeing any good in the world. Ironically, a lot of that comes from spending too much time on the Internet. But for an agoraphobe, sometimes that’s our only contact with the outside world.

So, yes, I know people think it’s weird when I say you’re one of my heroes, because I’m older than you and you’re “only” a musician, but I wear the label of Taylor Swift fan proudly (and, according to my wife, defensively). When I grow up, I want to be like you. I want to learn to treat myself with the respect and dignity and love that you do when you reach out to fans.

But yeah, you hurt me. You didn’t mean to, I know. But when you took your catalog of off Spotify, that hurt me, because that’s how I listen to your music.

I took issue with something you said to Time about it recently: “With Beats Music and Rhapsody you have to pay for a premium package in order to access my albums. And that places a perception of value on what I’ve created. On Spotify, they don’t have any settings, or any kind of qualifications for who gets what music. I think that people should feel that there is a value to what musicians have created, and that’s that.”

Now, I do agree: music does have value. Creators should be compensated for what they do. I’ve spent many hours in my life with your music lifting my soul out of the doldrums, and the thought of you not getting paid for that really does make me feel bad. All artists should get paid for their work.

But you’re wrong about Spotify. They do have paid subscribers. If you don’t pay, you have to listen to ads, which is annoying, but something I have to deal with. (Hell, you have to watch a thirty-second ad to watch a clip on Hulu anymore; the whole world is becoming ad-supported.)

What bothers me about this whole thing is that it just feels like another record industry numbers game. Pulling your catalog from Spotify just as your new album comes out feels like a calculated effort to break records with 1989, because if only one percent of people who would have listened to the album on Spotify buy a physical copy instead, it’s a huge boost in sales. No short-term revenue loss. I know that no recording artist wants to blame their label or the music industry itself for how they’re being compensated for their music, but it still seems to me that half-a-cent per listen paid out over time wasn’t insignificant. And for as often as I listened to Red, I don’t think that devalued you at all.

Frankly, I don’t like being told that I don’t think your music has value. If I thought that, there are places where I could have just downloaded it.

And the way you said that just sits wrong with me. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but “any kind of qualifications for who gets what music” sounds too much like “if you’re too poor to buy music, you don’t get to hear mine.” Which is the whole reason Spotify exists: so I legally can. And in the same interview you said, dismissively, “Well, they can still listen to my music if they get it on iTunes.” I can’t afford to get it on iTunes. That’s why I listen to music on Spotify. Our monthly income is $1,300. Our rent is $900. We literally live in one of those “do we buy food or pay rent this week?” situations. I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the money to spend on anyone’s music. If I do, believe me, you’re first in line.

When you have people in your life telling you that not having money locks you out from enjoying the things you enjoy, it just hurts when things get taken away.

You’re a rare case in the music industry today. You had three million-selling albums in a row. You make millions from touring. 1989 is incredibly successful. You’re one of the few artists left who is selling a lot of physical CDs. You are incredibly successful, and you deserve it: you work hard, and your music is excellent. You’ve earned everything. I’m proud to be a Taylor Swift fan and I wish you only more success.

I hope once 1989 has broken a few more records, your music will show back up on Spotify and you can open up a long-term revenue stream, and I can listen to your albums when I feel blue. For now, I’m really gonna miss just turning on Red and pushing the darkness back.

Peace and love,

Aaron R. Davis

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Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com

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Comments (1)
  1. CJefferson November 21, 2014

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