New Queen's course explores literary chops of Taylor Swift

·2 min read
Taylor Swift, seen here at last month's MTV Video Music Awards, is the subject of a new course taught by Queen's University PhD candidate Meghan Burry. (Eduardo Munoz/Rueters - image credit)
Taylor Swift, seen here at last month's MTV Video Music Awards, is the subject of a new course taught by Queen's University PhD candidate Meghan Burry. (Eduardo Munoz/Rueters - image credit)

Thought the artistry of Taylor Swift would never, ever be worthy of academic rigour, even in your wildest dreams? Shake it off.

While an upcoming album and the recent premiere of the short film All Too Well may be enough for some Swifties, students at Queen's University have a chance to take a lecture seat for something a little more high-brow: a new course called Taylor Swift's Literary Legacy (Taylor's Version).

The class — taught by PhD candidate Meghan Burry — seeks to peer past the glitz and glamour of the 32-year-old pop star for three hours each week, dissecting the lyrics and literary prowess of one of today's biggest celebrities.

"We did start an excellent discussion on, who is Taylor Swift?" said Burry, a teaching fellow at the university's English department.

"Because, of course, she represents something different for everybody."

Seeking balance 'between fandom and scholarship'

Burry's research work so far has focused on transgressive women in the 19th century, but she's also listened to Swift since her first album.

Burry said she's stepping outside her own comfort zone — studying long dead poets — to survey the work of not just a living author, but one with enormous cultural impact.

Even so, songs like "Don't Blame Me" still work with the idea of the transgressive woman, Burry said.

Examining Swift's writing can be difficult since the Nashville based singer-songwriter blurs literary devices into a rich tapestry, Burry said. That adds to the excitement when peeling those layers apart with students, she said.

She hopes to challenge how students at the Kingston, Ont., university read Swift's words and how Swift herself changes album to album.

"I'd also be asking them, what type of literary lens are we able to look at this song through?" she told CBC Radio's All In A Day. 

"Can we look at it through a feminist lens? Can we look at it through a psychoanalytic lens? Let's talk about what those different angles would look like in a literary discussion about this text."

Burry said it's OK to be a fan and take the class, but she wants to "create a balancing act between fandom and scholarship" and doesn't want her students blinded by adoration and left unable to view valid criticism of Swift's work.

Instead, she wants to use the work to inspire classroom discussion about socio-political issues.

"What does it mean when someone is charging so much money for their merchandise or their concert tickets? What does it mean when their private jet is creating immense environmental impact? What does it mean when the 'Wildest Dreams' music video was filmed in Africa but has no African people in the music video?" said Burry.

"When we bring in this cultural studies aspect, it allows us to talk about both the art and the artist."