Where is Taylor Swift’s belly button?
Sure, she’s already told us that she’ll never expose the little nub: that would be too similar to baring her midriff, and she doesn’t want to send the wrong impression, boys and girls.
She’s a pop star, but not that kind of pop star. Won’t see her writhing on stage in a wedding dress with the moniker “Boy Toy” strapped around her neck, no, not any time soon (though she did pay lip service to Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” in an interview, agreeably identifying it as one of the greatest pop songs of all time, so no one can know for sure).
All of that might have been going through your head as you kissed 2014 goodbye: watching Taylor Swift coo about New York that, “It’s been waiting for you!”, while revealing a sliver of mid-chest rib in Manhattan; a cool Kyle XY sashaying above an adoring crowd before the ball dropped.
And it was as good a way as I can think of to wave away the old year. Wasn’t her icy-hot 1989 the soundtrack of the year, surrounded by a moat of bass and church and Iggy Azalea? Better than the noxious blurred lines of 2013, for sure, and while I thought Swiftmas was a little nauseating, I can’t help but feel she’s as intimate a pop starlet as we’ve got right now. Switch that album on and it’s like locking yourself in an electric cage made of beats and synthesizers with nothing but Swift’s confused, romantic, bleeding heart to gorge on. It makes me sleepy and sad and nostalgic, like I’m trying to dance in the shadows of Stieg Larrson’s Sweden. Feeling altogether lousy and rotten (except for the soda pop “Shake It Off”), like foot-tapping, boot stomping feel-bad music. I kind of love it, and if I still used Instant Messenger, you better believe I’d be quoting it for my away messages.
That’s what we need pop stars for, isn’t it? Articulation. Speech. Forming the words for the feelings we can’t craft in swift (ya-ha!), poetic slices. Then pasting them onto the swirling, electric walls of sound that drive home every dripping emotional beat in our sweaty, emotional hearts.
You can (if you’re the right kind of pop star) tap into the moment. The zeitgeist, and to Taylor Swift’s credit, it wasn’t just New York singing along with her at the end of 2014.
We all were. We’d already been singing along with her, for months, one way or another (if you know what the word “radio” means, you shook it off at least once in the tail end of 2014).
What else were we all doing?
Downloading “The Interview,” for one. With friends and family with holiday cheer, some young, some old. Some of whom would never, ever, ever have spent actual money to strap themselves into a movie theatre for two hours to witness a film where Seth Rogen jams a homing device up his rear end (shake that off), but they did it for that same, sparkling reason Taylor Swift feels so important to us:
2014, my God, you were about speech, weren’t you? (If you were about anything).
And hackers (gonna hack, hack, hack…)
Hackers who drowned the world in leaked celebrity nude photographs and private e-mail exchanges between corporate big wigs; who leaked scripts, and made bomb threats to Sony Playstation CEOs; who threatened US Citizens who dared to see a comedy revealing a monstrous dictator for the farce he actually is; who continually knocked video game networks offline and took credit (at least) for knocking the entirety of North Korea offline.
Who leaked information about the Michael Brown shooting, sometimes accurate, sometimes not (because 2014, you were about race, too, weren’t you? Race and freedom of speech: 2014, you are the history of the world).
Different people with different agendas, collectively violating us, provoking us, enlightening us: forcing us to navigate how we felt about freedom of speech in the face of eroding privacy.
Personal challenges: do you look at the nude photographs? Do you read the leaked e-mails?
If you do, do you abdicate the perpetrators of theft? Do you participate? Do you sleep well in 2015?
We rallied together in the daylight against the threats from a foreign government when they threatened our speech. We rallied together against structural violences that keep the downtrodden down; that facilitate racism; that maybe don’t mend those broken windows after all.
At our best, when we divided, we did so with words (speech, God love you).
At our worst…well…
Did we limp away from 2014, divided after all? Are we wounded from it?
And per the words of the immortal pop starlet, can we shake it off? Should we?
The year begins and we see the terrifying abyss that opens up when Freedom of Speech is attacked: terrorists massacring French cartoonists for ridiculing religion, mistaking speech for violence, mistaking their violence for justice.
And we rally together again for speech. For that basic evidence of our humanity. For that glittering human quality: having a prerogative. Being able to share it.
As powerful a resolution as the human species can muster, that will hopefully define 2015 in more positive ways than its predecessor. That ability for a 25 year old to air her romantic laundry into a microphone on New Years eve; for an angsty Freshmen to paste her lyrics into his locker at school; and for him, too, to learn to use his own voice, instead.
May it be controversial. May it be muscular with truth.
And if we can spend the year fighting with our own words, and our words alone, then it will have been a good year. Finally and after all.