Lana Del Ray is arguably the reigning queen of doomed romance. But Taylor Swift—once her generation's poet laureate for wide-eyed, twitterpated innocence—is no slouch in that category either these days, as her latest hit proves.
Swift's lush, sensual ballad "Wildest Dreams" finds the 25-year-old singer playing the part of a woman who knows the affair she's determined to dive into won't end well. Still, the fact that her would-be partner is "so tall and handsome as h---" tempts her into throwing caution to the wind anyway.
And so Taylor plunges into a relationship with someone whom the song hints might actually be with someone else—a hint that the track's epic throwback video confirms.
Taylor Swift knows the object of her hungry eyes is bad news. But that badness is also a big part of his appeal. "He's so bad, but he does it so well," she sings. Because of that, she knows exactly what's going to happen next. "I can see the end as it begins."
But that hardly stops her.
Swift's would-be lover is apparently game for a tryst too, and she's soon laying down the conditions for laying down with him. She says there's only one: "My one condition is/Say you'll remember me standing in a nice dress/Staring at the sunset, babe." But it turns out there's another too: "Say you'll see me again/Even if it's just in your wildest dreams."
In other words, even though she's believes her affair is destined to be a short-lived one, she still longs for it to be a memorable one.
As for my contention that Swift's singing about an illicit affair here, the evidence comes about halfway through the song. "I said, 'No one has to know what we do,'" Taylor coos secretively. That seems to be all the push this guy needs, because the next thing we know, they're in bed together: "His hands are in my hair/His clothes are in my room/ … Nothing lasts forever, but this is getting good now."
Later, Taylor hopes he'll fondly recall their smoldering, forbidden passion. "You see me in hindsight," she sings, "Tangled up with you all night/Burning it down." Then she adds, "Someday when you leave me/I bet these memories/Follow you around."
You'll forgive me for wanting to revoke Ms. Swift's role-model card.
In Love With Lust
Once upon a time, Taylor Swift was in love with being in love. These days, it feels more like she's in love with lust—no matter what the consequences.
Taylor's lyrics may not be quite as racy or explicit as some of her contemporaries'. But the ideas she's selling young fans are every bit as toxic—perhaps more so given the lingering perception in the culture that she's "different" from all those "other girls."
Swift may have taken a tad longer to reach the same destination as Katy Perry, Rihanna, Britney Spears and so many others who've come before. But she's arrived at that destination nonetheless, as this steamy, breezy, cynically self-aware narrative about an illicit sexual relationship unmistakably illustrates.
The African Queen
As for the song's video, it imagines Taylor as an actress in a '50s-style movie being shot in Africa. She's having an affair with her leading man, and her passionate "onscreen" kisses soon lead to even steamier pawing and embracing (he's shirtless, she's wearing lingerie) on a bed in her tent. (Alcohol bottles and glasses are visible as well, and Mr. Baddie later smokes a cigar, too.)
When it's time for the film to debut back in Hollywood, however, the actor (played by Scott Eastwood) turns up with his beautiful wife in tow. Taylor's character seems heartbroken. Indeed, perhaps more heartbroken than in the song itself. And as she leaves the event, she glances in her car's rear-view mirror and sees the married man running after her.
In the end, then, Taylor Swift's lusty fever "dream" is anything but for both participants in this damaging affair, never mind that she tries so hard to convince herself (and us) otherwise.