Taylor Swift's new video is exactly as you'd expect it to be: she falls in love while wearing a pretty dress inside of a sun-drenched universe. It is the video Betty to Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" Veronica.
There's nothing wrong with Swift's video: it follows her song, and her image, to a T; girl meets boy, girl and boy fall in love, girl and boy face challenges, love wins in the end. It is the Taylor Swift brand, with a few signs of maturity thrown in; instead of singing about Romeo & Juliet, she's now singing about "bills to pay" and avoiding her "parents' mistakes." It's really the same old story, except that she's no longer singing love songs to a prom date, but to a potential husband.
This is all somewhat weird, in a way, because it seems as though there was no in between; an opportunity to show the transition between high school and marriage is lost in a rush to package romance in a "mature" way, but there's an underlying immaturity about all of it. For an artist who has earned so many fans based on her confessional lyrics and ability to seem relatable to her fanbase, there's something kind of off about the whole thing—does anyone really buy 20-year-old millionaire Taylor Swift as someone having fights with her husband and worrying about having "bills to pay?"
Why can't there be a song about 20 year old falling in love and dealing with how that works? It's as if you can't have a dreamy love story after high school without it involving wedding rings. There was most likely pressure on Swift to drop her high-school sweetheart image, but in doing so, it appears she's jumped to the other end of the spectrum. And Swift still hasn't escaped her tendency to be nostalgic over the very recent past; "Mine," is filled with "remember whens," before ending on a hopeful note for the future. The present, as always, is an afterthought.
The flip side of Swift's forced maturity is Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," a song celebrating the feeling of first love, something Swift's Fearless album was filled with. But unlike Swift, who wrote that album after a heartbreak in her late teens, Perry is 25 and engaged (we know this because she and fiance Russell Brand won't stop talking about it) and seems to hang her career on appealing to everyone's inner 14-year-old, presenting herself as a cartoon character with a wide-eyed sexuality and an affinity for fart jokes. It seems that both singers are trapped between the past and the future, but neither one is really representing what it's like in the present. (And all of these songs, naturally, revolve around personal completion courtesy of a romantic partner.)
Nobody is expecting Taylor Swift to come out with her "sexy" record or Katy Perry to suddenly stop singing immature pop songs, but it's a shame that one has to either regress or present oneself as "marriage material" in order to write a believable and popular love song. They have formulas; these formulas are clearly working for them. And Swift may really have romantic dreams of getting married in such a way someday. And Perry might just reminisce about her teenage days often enough. But there's something missing in the mix: somewhere, there has to be an audience that's tired of looking back but not ready to look so far ahead. Maybe there needs to be a few more love songs about simply looking within.