just because i am SO curious to hear your thoughts as a catholic swift fan (or really just a person), what did you think of Dress?
Thank you for asking this question Ella! It’s a really good one and kiiiind of broke my brain, hence my long silence. (For reference, she sent this November 10th.)
I have a TON to say about it and not that much at the same time. Generally, I dislike and disapprove when musicians (or movies or books) are too explicit in their discussion of sex. For one, popular culture and media are already completely saturated with everything sexual (to the point where it’s a real problem and causing a lot of harm) and we just don’t need anymore of it. There is not a lack of people willing to talk about it at length and in detail (too much detail for far too long). It’s funny that comedians still think they’re being edgy by making a sex joke. I just…how. How do they think they are being original when they are literally being the most unoriginal they could be.? HOW?
Secondly, I believe (personally, artistically, most of all morally) that sex is a deeply personal, sacred, and intimate act that shouldn’t be joked about or discussed too freely and definitely not too publicly. Sex is not not a big deal. It’s a huge deal, a big part of being human, and to some degree a mystery. Without proper parameters it becomes wild and uncontrollable and dangerous. Does that make sense? I can’t say it any better than this: people need to be careful about sex and when they aren’t people get hurt.
Now obviously, sex is usually a part of romantic love stories so I get why it comes up when artists sing about their love lives or when authors write a romance or screenwriters develop a movie with a romantic storyline. But I don’t think it needs to be as much of a part (nearly as much) as artists have and do make it.
All morals aside (an oxymoron, I’m Catholic we don’t put our morals aside) I really, truly don’t think that it’s necessary in art. I think that any love story in any medium is better served when its focus is on something besides sex. When telling a story about a marriage, sex is a given (for example.) Why not spend that time keeping the focus on all the other parts of a relationship (there are a LOT)? Why not keep that one thing private, just for the couple alone, even in a story? Doing that makes any romantic narrative stronger because it’s true to real life. Couples don’t go around talking about their sex lives and if they do well they shouldn’t. On a really simple level, it’s just not anybody else’s business.
The best love stories and the best romantic comedies and the best songs are nEVER explicit about sex. It may be present but it’s never the focus. As a culture- especially in America- we’re pretty hung-up on sex. It’s all anybody seems to want to talk about. I really wish collectively we all got over it and moved on. I mean this as genuinely as one person can: sex is beautiful and natural and sacred. But it’s not everything and it can’t be everything. To paraphrase good ol’ G.K. sex becomes a problem where it is treated as a master instead of as a servant. In today’s world, it’s continually treated as the master, as, in fact, one of the only masters we have left.
On to Taylor. Taylor has always included some mature references in her work, so Dress is hardly the first time she’s gone in that direction. (I definitely agree that this was more explicit here.) What I appreciate about Taylor (and what I’ve talked about before and what I hope does not sound like I’m rationalizing/excusing) is that she never separates sex from love or emotion. It’s always tied to a feeling for her. Sometimes the feeling is danger or excitement or desire but usually, it’s tied to love. You can have love without sex OBVIOUSLY but you cannot have sex without love. Sex without love is poison. It’s destructive. i don’t care how many people try to convince me otherwise and say that casual sex is fun or harmless. I don’t care how many thinkpieces are written in defense of it. Sex without love is deeply destructive. Sex is powerful and when abused it leaves its participants broken, body and soul. We have no right to sex outside of love, outside of trust, outside of knowledge, honestly outside of marriage. Why would we? Why would it be a right for us to treat each other so cruelly and carelessly? To use each other and then discard each other? That’s the opposite of romance and it is evil.
I’m wandering off the point here a bit. Let me try to redirect. Dress is a sexual song with a blatantly sexual hook. but ALSO and more importantly it’s a love song. It’s a song about belonging, about knowing and being known in a really intimate and beautiful way. The heart of the song is one of my favorite bridges on the album and it breaks my heart in the best way.
Flash back when you met me
Your buzzcut and my hair bleached
Even in my worst times, you could see the best of me
Flash back to my mistakes
My rebounds, my earthquakes
Even in my worst lies, you saw the truth in me
And I woke up just in time
Now I wake up by your side
My one and only, my lifeline
I woke up just in time
Now I wake up by your side
That’s what’s important. Everything else in it is bound up in that, is colored by that, and gives way to that. In this song, she sings about sex as what it is, an extension/expression of love. In high school I read this book by Josef Pieper called “About Love” and he talks about why one-night stands are so damaging. He talks about how in art of past ages the fig leaf was always used to preserve modesty and about how the modern approach to sex metaphorically takes that fig leaf and covers the person’s face instead. He says that what people are really looking for in sex, what they really need is intimacy, is love, is being known completely and fully, is feeling safe, is feeling understood (and on the flip side, knowing and loving.) When people engaging in casual sex don’t find that (because the sex was never intended to be about that), it breaks them. Psychologically and emotionally it kills them. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. I think it’s a huge reality no one wants to talk about. I remember reading Pieper’s section on romantic love and everything I’d ever been taught about sex falling into place for me.
There is no other approach to sex that makes sense for me. There is no other approach I believe is true.
I think about it all the time, and I thought about it when I heard Dress.
To me, Taylor is doing that. She’s not separating sex from love or trust or safety and I appreciate. That doesn’t mean I love and morally approve of the song completely. Dress would be even more powerful if it was less explicit. (I think everything is more powerful when it’s less explicit!!!) If I were her I would have cut some lines and since I’m not her I wish she did. :D But she didn’t and I never really thought she would. Considering that Taylor isn’t Catholic and doesn’t have my upbringing, background, or beliefs, I’m always surprised by how right she does get it anyway, even if she doesn’t always do what I want/hope she’ll do.
I hope that answers your question. I know this is a difficult subject and I’m sorry I said the word sex so many times! Thanks for asking!