“I went to high school with Taylor Swift, and…”

“I went to high school with Taylor Swift — people hated her”. Like that isn’t clickbait. Especially in the venue where the declaration appeared: the youth-centric TikTok.

But that’s the claim of Jessica McClane, of Hendersonville, Tennessee. McClane briefly attended high school with Taylor Swift in the 00s. (And yes, McClane has the yearbooks to prove it.) She’s been talking about the experience on TikTok. 

McClane has few charitable words for the now mega-famous Swift, whom many of us try in vain to ignore. (Hardly a week goes by without a Taylor Swift-related headline in the media, it seems. We can thank the influx of Millennial/Gen Z journalists for that.)

I listened to McClane’s primary TikTok video about Taylor Swift. Per McClane, Taylor Swift’s high school peers “hated her”, but it’s unclear exactly why. There might be something to McClane’s largely negative assessment of Swift. And then again, this might be garden-variety high school drama, remembered by a still-young adult.

@jessicamclane

Everything Ms. Swift does is intentional. 👀@Taylor Swift #taylorswift #taylornation #swifttok #taylorsversion

♬ original sound – Jessica McLane

Much of McClane’s case seems to hinge on the fact that Swift invited Hendersonville High School’s class of 2009 to the CMA awards. (This was three years after the then 20-year-old Swift had left the school.) In McClane’s estimation, Swift did this to say “f**k you” to a hometown crowd that resented her success.

I graduated high school in 1986, before McClane (or Swift) were even born. I’m still in touch with my close-knit high school community. I know how these things go. 

Successful alumni often return to their high schools of origin for victory laps. This happened when I was a student, and some of my former classmates are doing it now. While there is always some ego-stroking involved in such gestures, the triumphant-return-to-high-school isn’t inherently malicious. This is, quite possibly, the second oldest high school story in the world. 

The oldest high school story is the pettiness, envy, and drama that festers among teenagers. Teenagers can be upset, miffed, bruised, and angry for no good reason at all. They dislike someone, and they have no idea why. That’s another thing that hasn’t changed since the 1980s.

McClane’s recollections—and interpretations of past events—are mildly interesting. In the age of TikTok, moreover, it would have taken a monumental act of will for a young person with a credible link to Taylor Swift to resist mentioning it online. But I’m not sure there is a real indictment of the singer to be found here. 

Taylor Swift is one of the most successful and ubiquitous entertainment brands in recent history. Even people like me—who don’t particularly care for her music—can recognize one or two of her songs. To the younger Millennials and Zoomers, Swift is what Michael Jackson and Madonna were to my generation: omnipresent, and yes—more than a little overrated. 

Overrated? Yes, absolutely. Especially for people like me. I acknowledge Taylor Swift’s commercial success, but I don’t “get” it. I simply can’t see what all the fuss is about.

Likewise, I’ve never given Taylor Swift’s character much consideration, but it appears to be a mixed bag. On one hand, she’s capable of being genuinely thoughtful. In 2016, Swift surprised her “oldest fan”—a 96-year-old WWII veteran—with a visit and mini-concert at his nursing home. It’s hard to hate someone who does something like that.

Jessica McClane speculates that “Everything Ms. Swift does is intentional.” So perhaps the nursing home visit was partly for PR purposes. Perhaps it was, indeed. It was still a nice thing to do.

Swift is also capable of being vindictive and resolute, when she feels that her boundaries have been crossed. In 2014, she removed all of her music from Spotify to protest the streaming service’s royalty plan. Around the same time, she was involved in a lawsuit against a radio station deejay who (according to Swift) grabbed her behind. 

Swift is certainly “intentional”; but you don’t reach such a level in the entertainment industry without being intentional…and maybe even a little calculating and mercenary at times. 

As noted above, I’m not a fan of Taylor Swift, which isn’t to say that I actively dislike her music. It just isn’t my thing. I’m a 54-year-old man, after all. I’m the wrong generation, and probably the wrong sex. (In case you haven’t noticed: Taylor Swift’s fanbase is overwhelming under thirty and female.)

I do wish, moreover, that Swift had stayed out of politics. Her political statements since the 2018 midterms give weight to the argument that celebrities should “shut up and sing”.

But I don’t see any smoking gun in McClane’s case against her. Taylor Swift was once a pretty, talented girl in the fishbowl of a high school microcosm, and not everyone there liked her. This, too, is one of the oldest stories in the world.