The few reviews I’ve read of Taylor’s song “Stay Stay Stay” from her album Red have been negative and I have to say I disagree. Strongly. I mean I get why, on an album packed with lyrically dense, heartbreaking ballads, this song wouldn’t be your favorite. I get why, after listening to “All Too Well” or “The Last Time” or even “Begin Again” you wouldn’t exactly be in the mood for the light-hearted, some may say sugary, perkiness of “Stay Stay Stay”. What I don’t understand, and what I strongly disagree with, is the idea that a) happy Taylor isn’t worth listening to because her talent as a songwriter only extends to matters of heartbreak and b) that somehow the entire point of the song is as silly and as easily dismissed as the breezy cuteness of the delivery and arrangement. I disagree with the underlying idea of negative reviews of “Stay Stay Stay” which are, essentially, that the concept is silly and simplistic and not worth your time. I love “Stay Stay Stay” and while I agree that it may take more than one listen I think this is an incredible and deceptively affecting song that has at its heart a certain vulnerability, fear, and hope that only Taylor could manage to infuse into something that is so…cutesy.
“I’m pretty sure we almost broke up last night. I threw my phone across the room at you.” So the song begins. It’s like the setup for a romantic squabble between teenagers that even the highschool chick flick the scene is from parodies. As one reviewer noted, “It’s not cute to throw things at people even if you are a leggy blonde.” But that’s the point. Taylor, or at least this version of her, the girl in the song, wasn’t being particularly nice. At least not in that moment. She was being petulant and bratty, childish if you like, and she knows it. The opening lines are sung with a smile but inherently they’re sad. I’m pretty sure we almost broke up…I’m pretty sure this is over, she says, because every time this has happened before, every time I lost my temper or acted like a baby it all went up in smoke. One dramatic fight and then BAM. Gone. I find it heartbreaking and tragically indicative of the transitory nature of this girl’s past relationships. I mean I’m no love expert but really? Really?!? One fight and it’s over? If you’re in 7th grade that kind of behavior makes sense I guess…. And it makes me wonder about all of the times Taylor has mused on the fleeting nature of love and why she does.
She’s an artist who seems to draw a certain breathless excitement from situations and relationships that are fragile, changeable, unpredictable even while highlighting the pain that such uncertainty can bring. Some part of her is fascinated by how quickly things can change or fall apart and, worst of all, some part of her seems to think that this is how love goes, that this uncertainty is inherent in the nature of any romantic relationship. Are we out of the woods yet are we out of the woods yet are we out of the woods yet are we out of the woods….Braced myself for the goodbye, cause that’s all I’ve ever know…Wondering why we bother with love if it never lasts…You and I walk a fragile line…And I guess things fell apart in the usual way….
For all of her starry eyed and romantic views on love, Taylor is actually rather pessimistic about it. I mean, you could say she possesses a heightened sensitivity to the nuances of romantic relationships and is at once fascinated and awed by their very fleetingness and you could argue that this only makes her a more interesting and perceptive songwriter. But sometimes I can’t help but think that she dwells a little too long and spends a little too long romanticizing what is essentially instability. Just long enough in fact to convince me that she doesn’t really buy it at all. That what she wants more than anything else is stability and certainty. Someone to love her “even when she’s mad, mad, mad”. Someone who stays. To me the most powerful line of the song is the saddest, happiest and silliest line simultaneously. No one else is gonna love me when I get mad, mad, mad… I say it’s the happiest and the saddest because the fact that she says this means that everyone else who came before didn’t love her when she was mad but in the context of the song it’s full of an almost giddy joy. Some dork in a football helmet agreed to talk about their fight “cause she read you should never leave a fight unresolved” and it’s the greatest and sweetest thing he could have done. Because, to me at least, that is the most quintessentially Taylor line of the entire song. Of course Taylor wanted to discuss it; of course she has read and will follow magazine tips on how to handle fights. It’s endearing and self-aware and completely serious all at once in true Taylor fashion. And that’s precisely why this imaginary guy, this complete and utter dork, couldn’t have done anything better than agree to stay and hear her out because that’s recognizing that a persistent and relentless drive for perfection is part of who she is and his agreeing to stay means that he’s brave enough to deal with the maybe sometimes not-so-nice parts of her personality.
It’s possible that I’m overthinking this. It’s possible that I’m projecting my own wishful thinking into a situation that didn’t actually mean that much to Taylor. I mean, if you think about it logically, whoever this guy was/is, she isn’t still with him. Obviously he didn’t “stay stay stay”. The song is purposefully placed directly in the middle of an album that chronicles dramatic heartbreak. It’s almost contradictory really. This is a song about staying in the midst of an album about a guy who clearly didn’t stay. But the reason I love it, the reason it means so much to me is because, however fleeting it was, whether it lasted or not, whether this guy existed or not, and I have my doubts, in this song Taylor gets what she wants. Somebody stays. And maybe the reason people dismiss this song is because they sense that it’s imaginary, that taken in context it must be a pure daydream. But it’s an important daydream. It’s an important reminder that stability, and not excitement, is what she truly wants.