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Growing Pains

Why “Nothing New (Taylor’s Version)” is an Early Twenties Anthem

By: Zoie Karagiannis

Visual representation of lyrics from “Nothing New (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)" by Taylor Swift and featuring Phoebe Bridgers
Visual representation of lyrics from “Nothing New (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)" by Taylor Swift and featuring Phoebe Bridgers. Photo credit: Stephanie Davoli.

On Taylor Swift’s 2021 re-recording of her album Red, she released many new songs “From the Vault” — which are a collection of songs written nearly a decade ago that did not make the original album’s cut. One vault track that easily became one of my favourites was “Nothing New (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” featuring Phoebe Bridgers, which spins a coming-of-age story that touches on the fear of change that occurs as we grow older. I was able to relate to it the first time I listened as a 20-year-old, and even more so one year later.

They tell you while you're young

"Girls, go out and have your fun"

Then they hunt and slay the ones who actually do it

Criticize the way you fly when you're soarin' through the sky

Shoots you down and then they sigh, and say

"She looks like she's been through it"

While Taylor may have been referencing women in the music industry, these words ring true for most women. Growing up you quickly learn that women are held to certain standards and expectations, and as we explore our different interests, you will come across those who have an opinion that is both unwanted and unwarranted. Women’s bodies and physical appearance are scrutinized, and going out every night can be looked down on. Our expressions of sexuality become a debate —she dates around, so she’s a slut; she’s never kissed someone, so she’s a prude. As society continues to slowly tear us down as we grow older, it makes it harder to feel as if we can truly be our authentic selves without judgment.

Lord, what will become of me

Once I've lost my novelty?

As women, we are taught that as we grow up we become less valuable. We are faced with the fear of aging and become scared of gaining wrinkles and gray hairs, when, in reality, these are all lovely parts of getting older. Beauty is timeless, but with social media in today’s impressionable age, it can be difficult to believe this.

I've had too much to drink tonight

And I know it's sad, but this is what I think about

And I wake up in the middle of the night

It's like I can feel time moving

How can a person know everything at 18 but nothing at 22?

And will you still want me when I'm nothing new?

At 18, I was in my last year of high school, and at the time, the world I was in felt so much easier to navigate. It was as if all I had to worry about were the small confines of the classroom walls and hallways. I felt so in tune with myself, and understood what was meant to happen and what would come. I saw the path laid out before me and felt confident in its direction.

I think a part of it was my environment. At 18, I had already established a routine after four years in the same school and was able to pave my own way. Everything in my future felt new and exciting — there would be prom, graduation, and then university would begin and that would be a great, otherwise untouched, adventure. And yet, leaving it behind and transitioning into an entirely different era of my life was a big adjustment. With it came more responsibilities and opportunities; everything became much greater, and my universe opened up.

How long will it be cute

All this crying in my room

Whеn you can't blame it on my youth

And roll your eyes with affеction?

This part is something I truly resonate with, as I often wish to be back in the days when my breakdowns were perceived as endearing, and when it seemed adorable to be crying over my upcoming math test (or even an episode of Grey’s Anatomy). It is not that my issues were less important back then, but the way I handled them was more acceptable. I know I can no longer throw a tantrum when something doesn’t go my way like I did as a toddler. Any tears now dedicated to a sorrow of mine feels childish, like I should act more “grown up” by now. Yet I can’t shake off the feeling that I’m still 17, and I’ve been putting on an act up until present.

And my cheeks are growing tired

From turning red and faking smiles

Are we only biding time 'til I lose your attention?

And someone else lights up the room?

People love an ingénue

While Taylor sings about the anxieties of romance and wanting to keep someone’s attention, I view this from a different lens, as I have been so blessed to find a beautiful love. To me, these lines are about establishing new relationships platonically — whether at work, at school, or with strangers-turned-friends. When you present yourself to someone new for the first time, you try to display only your best features, and this can be exhausting. As people we are not meant to be perfect, so why do we constantly try to put up a front?

I've had (I've had) too much to drink tonight

But I wonder if they'll miss me once they drive me out

I wake up (wake up) in the middle of the night

And I can feel time moving

How can a person know everything at 18 but nothing at 22?

As I’ve entered my twenties, I’m now faced with a lot of questions about how I want my life to look, and where I’d like it to go. Growing up can be terrifying. I think back longingly to simpler times, when I’d run barefoot on the grass through sprinklers with my cousins, or beg my parents to let me have a treat from the ice cream truck humming down my street. As I’ve gotten older, “simpler times” even include the period when I was 18, running to Tim Hortons with my friends during our lunch breaks and FaceTiming every day after school, when I wasn’t as busy and plans didn’t get in the way of the endless hour-long conversations I now missed.

As I’m nearly 22 now, it does feel miraculous that at 18 I felt like I knew so much more about life — and about myself — than I do today. High school me understood her next moves, but at 21, I find myself questioning each and every step I take. Society lays out all these expectations for you as a young woman — what you should be doing, what you should look like, where you should be at this point in your life. As I find myself closer to graduating university, everything has become so much more real. Suddenly I must think about my career, my lifestyle choices, and everything in between. I feel lost in a sea of impending decisions, and I feel the weight of all my future selves on my shoulders.

I know someday I'm gonna meet her, it's a fever dream

The kind of radiance you only have at 17

She'll know the way, and then she'll say she got the map from me

I'll say I'm happy for her, then I'll cry myself to sleep

Oh, whoa, whoa

Oh, whoa, whoa, oh, whoa, oh

This is often believed to be another reference to the music industry, and how Taylor predicts she will one day meet another young female artist who is in the same position that she was once in, and how she will do her best to protect her. While she will be glad to do this, she can’t help but wish that someone was there to be her mentor.

I personally love the line, “The kind of radiance you only have at 17,” because for me, 17 was such a sacred and special year. I was finally breaking out of my shell, and brimming with a newfound confidence that allowed me to grow so much as a young girl. I was so untouched by the realities of the world — and truthfully, rather naive and carefree. At 17 I truly was radiant because I had yet to be weathered down by unpleasant experiences, or uncomfortable moments in life that were hard to get through, despite these helping shape me into who I am now. There is an innocent sparkle I carried at that age, and when I see it reflected on other young girls today, I can’t help but hope they are able to hold onto it for as long as they possibly can. I try to pass on the knowledge I have accumulated in the few years that have passed since then, because so much can happen in so little time.

This must be what it's like for older women who are seeing me at 21. They remember that time in their lives where they also felt lost, confused, and unsure of their futures, and smile wistfully because they wish they could relive it too; those years where the world is your canvas and so many possibilities laid ahead of you to explore.

I have no solid image of where life will take me — only scrapes and hints of ideas and hopeful fantasies. We never stop growing up, and I think that is the beauty of “Nothing New (Taylor’s Version).” At any age we will find ourselves relating to it, and be able to acknowledge our growth and appreciate what we have learned. We are constantly rediscovering ourselves, and therefore, forever made anew.

I've had (I've had) too much to drink tonight

But I wonder if they'll miss me once they drive me out

I wake up (wake up) in the middle of the night

And I can feel time moving

How can a person know everything at 18 but nothing at 22?

And will you still want me

Will you still want me

Will you still want me

When I'm nothing new?

While it is true that this is the youngest we'll ever be, that shouldn’t make the future versions of ourselves any less remarkable or desirable. With each new experience and memory we acquire as we get further into this extraordinary thing we call life, it molds us into the person we’ve become today. 21-year-old me could not exist without 17-year-old me; our radiance is still deep within us all, no matter how deeply buried we may think it is.


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