In 2010, I started crying every time I heard Taylor Swift’s song “Mine.” They were tears of relief, tears of deep need that would well up at this climactic scene:

And I remember that fight, two-thirty a.m.
You said everything was slipping right out of our hands
I ran out, crying, and you followed me out into the street
Braced myself for the goodbye, ‘cause that’s all I’ve ever known
Then, you took me by surprise
You said, “I’ll never leave you alone.”

Taylor Swift at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards
(Photo by Kevin Winter)

The fantasy of unconditional love. Find that one person, and never be alone again. Never worry or feel afraid. No matter what.

Something in me yearned for that possibility of security, that assurance.

Much has happened since then, both in Taylor Swift’s life and in my own. She released “Blank Space” this past November, which has a very different climactic fight scene:

Screaming, crying, perfect storms
I could make all the tables turn
Rose garden filled with thorns
Keep you second guessing like oh my god
Who is she? I get drunk on jealousy
But you’ll come back each time you leave
Cause darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream

I don’t cry to this one. When I play this song (which is quite often), I cheer and dance and toss my hair as I sing along, fiercely, in the bathroom mirror.

There is no unconditional love here. This song is her fantasy of a fling that goes down in flames, (which is even clearer in the video). This song, too, is more explicitly in the genre of fantasy: she meets him at the beginning of the song, and then proceeds to imagine what could happen between them.

Judith Butler writes that fantasy points us beyond reality, and, in doing so, allows us to challenge the limits of reality itself. What is the critical work being done by Taylor Swift’s fight scenes?

When Taylor sings that she is “a nightmare dressed like a daydream,” the implication is that she looks like a (straight, wealthy, white, stereotypical) man’s daydream: conventionally attractive, very put-together, simultaneously sweet and seductive.

But then. Then comes the nightmare. The fight. All the feelings. She names jealousy in particular—a feeling that connotes insecurity, pettiness, drama. But it’s still a feeling. Furthermore, it’s a feeling that almost all lovers need to address at some point. Addressing jealousy doesn’t mean giving into it, letting it dictate what can or cannot happen, but it does mean recognizing it, caring about it, maybe even talking about it to learn more about its size and shape and significance.

One of these fight scenes is a tear-jerker moment of unconditional love, the other a furious rampage. But in neither scene is Taylor (or the narrator, however you want to think about it) seen and heard on her own terms.

This is not about some man’s daydream or nightmare.

This is Taylor Swift’s very own daydream-turned-nightmare.

This is feminist fantasy work.

In the first scene, the unconditional lover comforts her by reassuring her. He will always be there. He won’t leave, like her father did. But he doesn’t talk to her about what’s going on. He covers up her feelings, and sidesteps the conflict between them, with this paternalistic savior-move.

But hello, she still has all the feelings. Why won’t anyone talk to her about her feelings?

Somewhere in the semi-autobiographical celebrity fiction of Taylor Swift’s life between 2010 and 2014, she accumulated “a long list of ex-lovers, who’ll tell you I’m insane,” as she sings in “Blank Space.”

Yeah, people are “insane” when they have feelings. Especially women. Women and their feelings—be warned.

But she owns it. And “Blank Space” is such a great bathroom-mirror-worthy anthem because she owns it. The fantasy is about her chance to express her feelings without apology—acting on her jealousy, showing her rage. Letting people call her crazy.

In this fantasy, the guy doesn’t shut her up by saying they’re fine. In fact, he fans the flames by fighting back. She rages even more in response, and we see in the video her aggression and desperation getting worse and worse.

It’s a nightmare for both of them.

She’s spiraling. She’s not OK.

She spirals because she is still not seen. She is not insane—not at first, anyway. Her feelings and fears are valid. But the feelings and fears get worse and worse and bigger and bigger the more she is left alone with them.

Even in “Mine,” her fantasy of unconditional love, she is still alone with her feelings. Maybe that’s what made her “insane” to begin with. The man who said he’ll fix everything by staying with her, but did not slow down enough to address what she was actually experiencing—that could have started this spiral. Men telling her she’s insane, dismissing her valid feelings as insanity—that could have made her even more “insane.” And, at some point, it’s easier to agree with them than to argue and resist and try to be understood as anything else.

The feminist move here is not in the apparent reclaiming “ha ha, oh yeah, I’m insane.” The act of fantasy, rather, is what takes us to these extremes to show us our lived reality in a new way—the labels we hurl at each other, the spirals we fall into, and the persistent lack of actual connection. The way in which fantasy can reveal these truths—that is the feminist move in these fight scenes.


Someone should write a parody in which he listens to her patiently and addresses her feelings with respect and compassion. Then, when she asks for his perspective on the conflict they’re experiencing, maybe he shares some feelings and fears of his own. But the whole thing would rhyme, obviously.