Friday Video: A Close Reading of “You Belong With Me”

You’re on the phone with your girlfriend, She’s upset
She’s going off about something that you said
She doesn’t get your humor like I do

Taylor Swift is a Grammy winner, a pop-country chanteuse, a recovering Gyllenhaalic, and—an unreliable narrator? The first lines of “You Belong With Me” set the tone for the song, at least inasmuch as they immediately touch on Swift’s longing for an unnamed boy and the jealousy she feels toward his girlfriend. From these first fifteen-or-so seconds, however, one would probably not anticipate the glimpse into obsession that later verses permit us.

I’m in the room, it’s a typical Tuesday night
I’m listening to the kind of music she doesn’t like

Begging the question, deliberately? (Which came first, Swift’s choice of music or the knowledge that her rival wouldn’t like it?) Imagine, for a moment, that Swift is engaging in an act of self-creation—reinventing who she is contra the target of her enmity, and brazenly gambling that they boy will be drawn to this vision, in negative, of his present girlfriend. Troubling reverse-Single White Female stuff.

These lines also put into relief the general voicelessness of the object of Swift’s affection–we don’t know, for instance, if he has complained to Swift about his girlfriend’s musical taste, or if Swift did some serious Facebook intelligence-gathering before penning her song.

But she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts
She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers

Which, this other girl does not need to apologize for being involved at school, and could also be earning solid grades in AP Chemistry for all we know. Sorry the other girls in Knitting Club thought you were a bitch, Taylor.

Walkin’ the streets with you in your worn out jeans
I can’t help thinking this is how it ought to be
Laughing on the park bench thinkin’ to myself
‘Hey isn’t this easy?’

An instance of narrative slippage? Swift, like Humbert Humbert or Chief Bromden before her, pulls the curtain a bit too far back. Though the song lacks substantial supporting evidence, I’m inclined to believe that the last two lines of this verse are steeped in the reality that she, the boy, and his girlfriend share, the first two a fantasy confined to Swift’s head as she sits, semi-lucid, giggling, and alone, in the center of a public park.

And you’ve got a smile that could light up this whole town
I havent seen it in awhile, since she brought you down
You say you find I know you better than that
Hey, Whatcha doing with a girl like that?

Here marks the point at which Swift starts getting impatient with the boy, refusing outright to acknowledge the boy’s happiness. (“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” — Anaïs Nin.)

Oh I remember you driving to my house in the middle of the night
I’m the one who makes you laugh when you know you’re about to cry
I know your favorite songs and you tell me about your dreams
I think I know where you belong. I think I know it’s with me.

Note that we don’t get the next part of this scene, or anything approaching a “Hey, thanks for coming over” from the voiceless boy. Taylor Swift is timid, studious, and thoughtful, except when she’s not. And when she’s not, she is stalking the shit out of you.

Standing by or waiting at your back door
All this time how could you not know that
You belong with me
You belong with me

Not to belabor the stalker angle, which is open to debate, but it’s possible that the target of Swift’s desire isn’t aware that she’s waiting at the back door, because why would he be, she showed up at 1 AM to parse through his garbage, and if he does discover her, she’ll have to improvise an excuse like, “Oh, I was just returning this knife. Could you give it to your mom for me? Gotta go!” Cut to the kitchen, next morning. Mom: “…But I didn’t lend her a knife!” Boy: “Oh my god. Where’s Kimberly!?” Kimberly is not answering her phone.

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One Comment on “Friday Video: A Close Reading of “You Belong With Me””

  1. Nathan Says:

    This song is such bullshit, can you imagine Taylor Swift sitting alone in her room wearing nerd glasses pining for her next-door neighbor? There are few less convincing mental images.

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