Why Did Taylor Swift Want to Live in the 1830s?

Are the simmering years leading up to the Civil War really that alluring?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

It’s probably unfair to nitpick a couple of lines from a collection of 31 songs. I’ll admit that. Taylor Swift’s new double album, The Tortured Poets Department, is more than two hours long, and in that time she says a lot of words—10,663, to be exact. (I got that number by copying and pasting the lyrics of every song into a Google Doc and then clicking “Word Count,” an exercise that, in itself, took about 45 minutes, which is roughly 37 percent of a Taylor Swift double album.) She and Shakespeare may both be poets, but they definitely have differing opinions on brevity. But anyway, yes, it is probably a bit rude to consume those 10,663 words and decide to take umbrage with 39 of them. No one’s out here making a big deal out of one sentence from Infinite Jest. But in my defense, these are the 39 words in question:

My friends used to play a game where
We would pick a decade
We wished we could live in instead of this
I’d say the 1830s but without all the racists
And getting married off for the highest bid

These lines are enough to make you hit pause on “I Hate It Here,” to make you run to Genius.com to make sure you just heard that. And yes, you did just hear that: Taylor Swift, at one point in her life, wished she could live in the 1830s (but without all the racists or dowries, to be clear).

To that I can really say only one word: Wut?

First of all, you can’t really do the whole “but without the racists” caveat because, buddy, that covers most of the 19th century, let alone the 1830s. Are the simmering years before the Civil War that alluring? Are we stanning John C. Calhoun? (That sound you hear is Taylor’s friend Blake Lively repeatedly whispering, “Please don’t mention my wedding.”) Or maybe we’re hoping to get a look at the Trail of Tears and the displacement of thousands of Native Americans. Or to truly experience what it was like to be alive when the United Kingdom was slaying—and by “slaying” I mean “laying claim to over a quarter of the entire world.”

But OK, for the sake of the game, and because I’m a good friend and don’t want to make things awkward, I’ll allow you to choose this decade while also eliminating every single bad thing about it. What’s left? The Alamo? Andrew Jackson crushing the Bank of the United States and kick-starting a financial panic? The rise of Mormonism? Giant-sleeved dresses? A society before the existence of sewage systems?

If you eliminate all the racism, the 1830s are easily one of the most unremarkable decades in history. Napoleon is gone. The Industrial Revolution pretty much already happened. The most notable music is by Hector Berlioz. We’re decades away from the explosion of organized soccer and baseball in the U.K. and the U.S. Romanticism is past its peak: John Keats is dead, my guy Wordsworth has penned his last poems about how dope trees are, and Coleridge is doing too much opium. The paintings are stupid.

The line in “I Hate It Here” that comes after Taylor’s assurance that she’s not a fan of arranged marriages intimates that her answer has ruined the party—“Everyone would look down ’cause it wasn’t fun now”—and to be fair, the lines after are an acknowledgment that “the 1830s” is a really dumb fucking answer (I’m using the f-word only because Taylor does it so much on Tortured Poets):

Seems like it was never even fun back then
Nostalgia is a mind’s trick
If I’d been there, I’d hate it
It was freezing in the palace

But we’re still a bit at odds here. Because Taylor seems to be saying that any answer in this pick-a-decade game is idiotic; that any sort of valorization of the past is foolish. It seems better only because it’s not the present. And to that I say, no, Chairman—some decades really were much better. Just not the ridiculous one you named that bummed out all your friends. And so, as this blog comes to an end, I stand before anyone reading it with a summary of findings (a.k.a. the top five decades to mention in this hypothetical game that Taylor Swift hypothetically played):

  1. The 1990s: Nirvana. Dave Matthews Band. Every song that my colleague Rob Harvilla has ever talked about. Terminator 2. Seinfeld. The Jim Kelly–era Buffalo Bills. Club drugs before things got really bad. MTV before things got really bad. The ability to afford a house.
  2. The 1600s: Specifically in shogunate Japan, specifically if you are an English sailor taken in by an obscurant genius lord and his lovely, misunderstood translator.
  3. The 1790s: A time of actual revolution, when the Romantics were actually cooking; when you could be a lady from a simple house who bewitches the body and soul of an obstinate high-born lord.
  4. The 1970s: Cocaine before things got really bad.
  5. The 20s CE: Jesus before things got really bad.

Just saying! These decades don’t make anyone feel sad!

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