On October 21, Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album, Midnights and, 3 hours later, came the 3am deluxe version with seven bonus tracks. Of the seven, the penultimate track “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve” became an immediate fan favorite. The song, which appears to be inspired by her relationship with John Mayer, seemingly explores Swift’s regret for getting involved with him, stating, “I can’t let this go / I fight with you in my sleep / The hurt won’t close / I keep waiting for a sign / I miss you all the time”.
A little like Speak Now“Dear John,” “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve” notes their 13-year age gap when Taylor was 19 and John was 32. Now 32, Swift’s lyrics explore how, despite the 13 years that have passed, she is still reeling from the aftermath of the relationship and her inability to move on from the trauma experienced during the partnership.
More from SheKnows
Naturally, fans immediately understood the connection between the two songs and it became a trending topic on Twitter shortly after its release. I even tweeted a joke about John Mayer pay again for his crimes and the pushback I received was alarming. Many responded with the same tired criticism of Taylor – that she only writes about her failed relationships and can’t keep a man down, so she should look at herself in the mirror. What was troubling were the criticisms that Swift shouldn’t write about it anymore because it happened so long ago.
For years, music has been used to express and process trauma. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, music therapists offered music-related activities – composing, singing, and listening to music – to reduce stress and treat the trauma associated with the tragedy. When it comes to singer-songwriters in the music industry, songwriting helps the artist find the agency to tell their own stories by safely reflecting on experiences.
Click here to read the full article.
This raises two questions: who is allowed to make music about their emotions and experiences and is there a time limit so they can just “get over it”?
Artists like Drake, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran and others have notoriously written about their successful or unsuccessful relationships. The aforementioned artists are praised for their songwriting, while the female songwriters are referred to as “confessional”. During the album cycle for 1989Swift spoke about the double standard that female songwriters face, telling the Australian radio show Jules, Merrick and Sophie, “It’s a very sexist angle to take. Nobody says that about Ed Sheeran. Nobody says that about Bruno Mars. They’re all writing songs about their exes, their current girlfriends, their love lives, and nobody’s raising the red flag there.
This norm has impacted female songwriters — from new artists like Olivia Rodrigo to industry legend Joni Mitchell — for years. Mitchell has a strong disdain for the term “confessional” songwriter, stating that to confess usually means someone is “trying to beat you to something from outside”. [..] They are trying to get you to admit something. To humiliate you and degrade you and put you in a bad position. Singer Emmy the Great echoes those sentiments, saying, “A male singer-songwriter can play to the same themes as a female singer-songwriter and you might end up assuming the girl is singing from her diary and that the boy makes statements about the big themes of life. This contributes to the old binary that women should only write about their personal experiences, usually romance, and male artists can dance around a big motif more general.
At the time of the release of Acid, Olivia Rodrigo’s debut record, she was 18 and acknowledged sexist criticism of songwriters as her “being told they only write songs about boys” despite the album exploring a plethora of teenage emotions – from anger to jealousy to sadness. In 2010, when Justin Bieber released “Baby,” a “puppy love” song online with the same sheer naivety as Rodrigo, critics praised the then-teen idol. Both artists write about teenage love, but Rodrigo faces the same hurtful comments about boy craziness that have been thrown at Taylor throughout his career.
The binaries of what male and female artists can write about still exist in the music industry. Black female artists face this criticism on an even greater scale due to the intersection of sexism and racism. In particular, the country music scene has never been kind or inviting when it comes to diversity and genre. Despite having used music and lyrics to bring about change in the genre she works in, singer-songwriter Mickey Guyton has received terrible hate mail after her own music criticisms of the toxicity of country music industry as a black artist. Guyton explained during an appearance on Face to face with Becky G. that it’s a constant battle to “try to be who you are”.
Drake is known for being the emotionally sensitive “certified love boy” or a man who “easily seduces and falls in love with women” and his discography is the embodiment of this statement. Throughout his records he brings to light all the different ways women have hurt and abused him and now he puts them in their place.
In a 2011 interview with stereogum, Drake has publicly stated that his music has a “sex-oriented chauvinistic undertone” because that’s the stage of life he’s in right now. It’s fine to be self-aware, but it’s not something female artists like Megan Thee Stallion are entitled to without some degree of scrutiny. Megan claims sex and pleasure as something women are involved in and not something that is done to them with songs like “WAP” and “Body”, but is receiving extreme criticism for empowering women on the subject of sex.
In music, artists use their work to process their emotions, be it grief, joy, or trauma. It can be a powerful tool for safe expression, self-reflection, and a way to take what they’re feeling internally and make it tangible. That’s why songs like “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve,” despite being so specific to Swift’s own experience, feel universal and resonate with her listeners. Until we can finally start to accept that not all female songwriters are “confessional” and that male songwriters write about romance, breakups, etc., the next Olivia Rodrigo will enter the industry. , just like Taylor Swift did before her, and facing the same unwarranted, sexist ridicule for using art to heal and grow.
Before you go, click here for more documentaries on strong women in music.
Best of SheKnows
Sign up for the SheKnows newsletter.
For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.