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Pop Promises: In Defense of Taylor Swift

Each year Rebekah Goode-Peoples writes an end-of-the-year wrap up of her experience of the year’s music. Check out her 2012 and 2013 editions as well.  “Marriage,” the second album from her band Oryx and Crake, comes out June 2015.

Pop heaven: Iz gets Taylor Swift tickets for Christmas

Pop heaven: Iz gets Taylor Swift tickets for Christmas

by Rebekah Goode-Peoples

I bought my first cassette tape at Turtle’s Record Store in Roswell, Georgia. Belinda Carlisle. She was in the Go-Go’s, but I bought her solo album, “Heaven On Earth.” It was 1987, and I’m not sure why I bought it. I was nine.

I shook my hair in the shower while listening to that tape on my turquoise boom box, as I washed the dishes, in my head as my dad drove around listening to Schubert.

“Heaven is a place on Earth” played in my head as I sat in my pew at church. And not just normal Sunday morning church. Five times a week, floral dresses to the floor, don’t-talk-to-anyone-at-school-because-they’ll-make-you-sin-so-hard church. White-haired men intoned about heaven as a goal I was supposed to aspire to. As a maybe. As a reward in the future if I didn’t screw up. If I was perfect.

Heaven is a place on Earth. A thing you could have now. Here. A thing I’d never considered.



Sweet Belinda sang about finding heaven in the now, through love, and allowed me to question what I’d been taught—that life was all about plain work, sacrifice and subservience that might pay off in an eventual heavenly existence, after Armageddon. At the bare age of nine, I found out there was another way. A better one for me.

It wasn’t until I left my family home for college that I was able to officially leave the religion, but part of me left in 1987, humming Belinda Carlisle under my breath as I knocked on doors to tell strangers the good news I didn’t believe anymore.

I think I love pop music because of Belinda. I’m not saying pop music is equivalent to Proust or that one silly pop song saved me—certainly I would’ve found my way eventually—but I am saying that the saccharine flowing from Top 40 radio isn’t necessarily completely worthless. It is silly, but it can be powerful.

So it is with no shame that I admit that Taylor Swift’s “1989” was my top album of the year.

Because I am lucky to have a spunky five-year-old music loving lady named Iz who is susceptible to the charms of “Shake It Off,” I downloaded the album the day it came out. After a solid month of my daughter’s pseudo-rapping and shake-shaking, she finally let me play the rest of the songs. After 1.5 listens, we both knew all the lyrics and knew it was just the album to crank up while tooling around town with the windows down or booty-shaking doing the dishes.

But our love of T-Swift was not an accepted one. My partner rolled his eyes and sighed. “Why do you let her listen to that crap?” he said.  Iz and I had to wait to until we were alone to listen to our girl.

The resulting clandestine Gilmore Girls-esque listening sessions were epic and no doubt adorable, but I worried that giving in to the Swift might cause irreparable harm, might make my girl a boy-crazy ditz. I worried, but we kept listening together and cutting all the rugs. The album is straight-up addictive.

Turns out, Iz has a mad “crush-love” on a 2nd grader, but I don’t think it’s Taylor’s fault. And when her heart breaks one day, maybe she’ll be able to shake it off. Shake, shake it off.

Who knows what good she’ll get from it?

Recently I took a writing workshop at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, and the instructor read a bit of Anne Sexton’s “Admonitions To A Special Person.” Sexton’s words grabbed and nudged me, and, for some reason, good ‘ole Belinda popped into my head. I keep learning the same truths. Over and over again.

There is value to pop music. It’s fun, and you can dance to it. It’s fun to know all the words and sing them loudly. And sometimes you might find a message in that glitter pink bottle that you needed.

So I let Iz listen to Taylor Swift as much as she wants. And when the “1989” tour comes to Atlanta, Iz will go to her first concert. I’ll give her what I didn’t have. Whatever her heart wants.

Other 2014 lovelies:
San Fermin- San Fermin
Chad VanGaalen- Shrink Dust
Jhene Aiko- Souled Out
Jessie Ware- Tough Love
No Devotion- 10,000 Summers
The War On Drugs- Lost in the Dream
Grouper- Ruins
The Afghan Whigs- Do to the Beast
TOPS- Picture You Staring


Admonitions To A Special Person

by Anne Sexton

Watch out for power,
for its avalanche can bury you,
snow, snow, snow, smothering your mountain.

Watch out for hate,
it can open its mouth and you’ll fling yourself out
to eat off your leg, an instant leper.

Watch out for friends,
because when you betray them,
as you will,
they will bury their heads in the toilet
and flush themselves away.

Watch out for intellect,
because it knows so much it knows nothing
and leaves you hanging upside down,
mouthing knowledge as your heart
falls out of your mouth.

Watch out for games, the actor’s part,
the speech planned, known, given,
for they will give you away
and you will stand like a naked little boy,
pissing on your own child-bed.

Watch out for love
(unless it is true,
and every part of you says yes including the toes) ,
it will wrap you up like a mummy,
and your scream won’t be heard
and none of your running will end.

Love? Be it man. Be it woman.
It must be a wave you want to glide in on,
give your body to it, give your laugh to it,
give, when the gravelly sand takes you,
your tears to the land. To love another is something
like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall
into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.

Special person,
if I were you I’d pay no attention
to admonitions from me,
made somewhat out of your words
and somewhat out of mine.
A collaboration.
I do not believe a word I have said,
except some, except I think of you like a young tree
with pasted-on leaves and know you’ll root
and the real green thing will come.

Let go. Let go.
Oh special person,
possible leaves,
this typewriter likes you on the way to them,
but wants to break crystal glasses
in celebration,
for you,
when the dark crust is thrown off
and you float all around
like a happened balloon.


Photo by Jenn Brandt

Photo by Jenn Brandt

Rebekah Goode-Peoples is a teacher and writer who lives in Atlanta, GA. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @goodepeoples and her band, Oryx and Crake, at @oryxncrake.


Pay attention (and then do something)

by Rebekah Goode-Peoples

It started off serious, this year. Long, late night drives listening to the modern spirituals of Phosphorescent and Nick Cave and writing in a pool blue basement room to Daughter. Last winter wasn’t particularly cold, and nothing particularly harrowing happened to me that season. Nevertheless, I hardcore wallowed. Stayed inside.

It didn’t help that I was finishing the last few songs of Oryx and Crake’s next full-length album, a concept narrative exploring commitment, from brief moments of comfort and security to long, bottom-of-the-well places. The chokehold of bondage. It wasn’t an easy story to tell. And I dreamt of summer.

Maybe I wasn’t the only one–seems like many folks in my circle had a tough year.

Things have been hard, right? Syria, Sandy Hook, the government shutdown, whatever other horrors make you shy away from the news stations’  Twitter feeds and turn to pop culture demerol.

So maybe you push play on Icona Pop’s “I Love It.” All flashing lights, so swirling that you can’t focus on anything for more than a fraction of a second. The neon, the thumping glitter distracts us from disaster, both our own and the world’s. Makes it unreal.

Rebekah's post-gif HDF8MUV

See, we’ve been hurt, and hurt again. We know everyone’s tragedy all of the time. So we run. Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent sings in my favorite song of the year, “Song for Zula, “I will not open myself up this way again…And I am racing out on the desert plains all night.” It’s a love story, sure, but it’s also our story. Of being too tender, too raw to handle it all.

rebekah twitter

Sometimes you need to take a break, but you have to be careful.

Stuff happens under the surface for all of us–that we try not to notice as thumbs slide away on Candy Crush or scroll through tumblrs of gif after gif of adorable dogs and sloths–that we don’t discuss, or even notice, because we’re so tied to our black screen holes.

We forget to look around, know each other. To feel things. We just follow the formula.

But we don’t have to.

We can pay attention. We can dance it off. We can be who we want to be.

This is the only life we get–yell loud and make earthquakes.

NFL Fans In Seattle And Kansas City Battle Over Who’s Louder– NPR Morning Edition, December 18, 2013:


PLAYLIST:  Five fingers of one hand (Spotify)


Daughter “If You Leave

Phosphorescent “Muchacho”

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Push the Sky Away”

CHVRCHES “The Bones of What You Believe”

Lorde “Pure Heroine”

rebekah goode-peoples profile picRebekah Goode-Peoples is a teacher and writer who lives in Atlanta, GA. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @goodepeoples and her band, Oryx and Crake, at @oryxncrake

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