What Taylor Swift Can Teach Us About Accepting Apologies

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I bought Taylor Swift’s new album on Monday night and have been listening to it on repeat since then. (Be quiet, haters. It’s really good!) I’ve been a Swiftie since the first time I heard one of her songs on the radio, which was, fittingly, while driving into Nashville for the first time. You may recall that my second ever blog post at Mixed Multitudes compared Taylor to the Bible (yes, really).

Anyway, this blog isn’t about how much I love Taylor Swift, it’s about how Taylor is apparently bad at accepting apologies.

You remember the whole MTV Video award disaster from 2009, right?

Immediately after the debacle, Kanye posted an apology online. Then he went on Leno the next day and apologized again. (Also, Leno pulled the ‘what would your dead mother think about this’ and I cannot decide if that was a cruel or an important question.) And then this year before the MTV Video awards Kanye apologized again, in a lengthy, weird stream of consciousness tweetfest. Now, obviously I’m on on Team Taylor here, but it does seem like ‘Ye was sincere, and he does almost all the things you’re supposed to do in an apology. He admits what he did was wrong, doesn’t try to make excuses, and acknowledges that his actions were hurtful. He also says he wants to make it up to Taylor. (He also says, “The ego is overdone… like hoodies.”)

So then the Video Awards roll around again and both Taylor and Kanye perform and Taylor’s song is explicitly about Ye, and features the following lyrics:
It’s all right, just wait and see
Your string of lights is still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not where you’ve been
You’re still an innocent

Not to get all Rashi here, but as far as I can tell she’s saying, “Hey Kanye, it’s okay, you’re still very talented, you screwed up, you’re still kind of a kid.” Have truer words ever been spoken? No. Is it the best song ever written? Not at all. But still. The message is gracious and fair. She’s saying she’s not going to hold it against him, and acknowledging that the reason he acted like a jerk is because he’s never really grown up.

But somehow Taylor was criticized for being pretentious and her song for being crappy and her singing for being off key. What’s most interesting (to me) is that she was criticized for being pretentious. The New York Times wrote, “Choosing to tackle last year’s events head-on, Ms. Swift — a victim, but no naïf — performed a new song, “Innocent,” directed at Mr. West, an extremely savvy insult masquerading as the high road. ” As if writing a song about the incident was somehow a jerky move. My favorite podcast also had some pretty serious criticism of Taylor.

It got me thinking about how we accept apologies, and how I think that’s something that’s really hard to do gracefully. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to do without being condescending (by asking for forgiveness, the other person is implicitly giving you position of power). And a lot of times we are bullied into accepting apologies we don’t want to accept, because we’re still mad. A response to an apology that includes a jab at the apologizer is to be expected. It’s hard to let go of anger.

So what if the response to an apology is a shrug of the shoulders, and a general “I don’t even remember what you’re talking about.” Is the only good way to react to an apology to move on and act like it ever happened? Is that really gracious, or just obtuse?

Posted on October 27, 2010

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