Taylor Swift: Pop Star or Preacher?
A few days ago, I joined 15,000 people at the first of two sold-out Taylor Swift concerts in Nashville. Her 1989 World Tour is a spectacle, to say the least. As most everyone knows, Taylor began her music career in Nashville. Almost ten years ago, she came here as a wide-eyed but deceptively together 15 year old with a guitar. On Friday, she was an authoritative pop star, in complete command of a sold out arena. Country newcomer Kelsea Ballerini, Rock legend Steven Tyler and the most Grammy Award winning female artist of all time, Alison Krauss, all joined Taylor throughout the evening to sing their most well known hits. It was clear that no expense was spared in the production and execution of this show.
But what was most interesting was that the lights, videos, dancers and intricate staging, though remarkable, were not the main reason that most of the attendees were there. Most of these people (largely young females) were there because they truly believe that Taylor Swift can relate to them. She has forged a monolithic career out of crafting songs that speak to every day experiences. Some people balk at a woman this wealthy and well-known being able to relate to an awkward girl in Junior High. But the truth is, Taylor was that awkward girl at one point in her life and she wisely mines those experiences to create songs that become a part of her fans’ lives. Her best songs pinpoint exact moments in her life and pair those with exact feelings, specific to her, but relatable to almost anybody.
I honestly believe that we in youth ministry can learn a lot from Taylor Swift. At one point, we all went through the life-shaping experiences that come as a teenager. It is easy to forget them because many of us want to forget them! After all, who wants to remember being picked on or being shot down when asking someone to a dance? Who wants to relive acne or puberty or our first heartbreak? But if we would be willing to revisit those experiences, there are students all around us, practically begging for someone to find them and say, “I’ve been there. I know it is tough. But you will get through it. And here are some ways to start.” As teenagers, most everything feels like a world-encompassing event and Taylor Swift treats those emotions as such, without cynicism or condescension. In the haze of bills, family, world events and second jobs, it can become easy to dismiss being teased in the locker room as not being a huge deal. But to that student, it might truly feel life-altering. Judging by the reactions to the songs performed on Friday night, there are literally thousands of young people looking for someone to relate to them right where they are.
During one of her many speaking breaks, Taylor took on the role of benevolent big sister, addressing her audience with genuine care and concern. She coached us through heartbreak and encouraged us that though it’s easier to be cynical, it is more rewarding to open ourselves up to optimism and love. Sure, she wasn’t preaching the gospel but she was doing her very best, if only for one night, to encourage the people there who were hanging on her every word. And with the piano softly playing in the background, it honestly almost felt like a worship service.
Your students are likely more excited by Taylor Swift than by you, but trust us; they look up to you and care about what you have to say. What if we treated every youth group meeting as a chance to impart the love of God into our students’ lives, as it relates to their everyday experiences? What would happen if we treated the things that are most meaningful in our students’ lives as such and applied the Word of God to said situations? The Bible is chock full of wisdom and guidance relating to handling rejection, guarding our hearts and finding our worth and identity in Christ. Why are we leaving the life-coaching to our pop stars instead of the Bible? It can be very tempting to show young people, often unintentionally, that the problems they regularly face are nothing compared to what’s coming in adulthood. But instead of being dismissive, let’s listen to our students’ life events with fresh ears, doing our best to relate and understand their individual importance.
The truth is, your students are listening to Taylor. And Katy Perry. And Rihanna. And Selena Gomez. They are soaking in their every song, relationship change and Instagram post. We have to engage them where they are, using those artists’ music and life choices as a springboard to navigate this world through the lens of the Word of God, which will truly shape and define lives. We have the resources to help you do that. Check out our Mainstream Artists section to educate yourself on current music and join Youth Leaders Only today to find discussion starters for various songs to help walk your students through the minefield of current mainstream music.
Check out this video (and the comment section) for an example of one of Taylor’s many inspirational speaking moments to the crowd and get an idea of the impact she is having on her audience members. Young people are starving for encouragement and validation. Let’s be the conduits through which God can give it to them.