Opinion | Every Swiftie knows all too well the pain of loving ‘Better Than Revenge’

By Anna Ehlers, Contributing Editor

Better Than Revenge” is one of Taylor Swift’s best songs, really. It’s fun and catchy — even famous Swiftie Olivia Rodrigo is a stan. But wouldn’t it be lovely to just listen to the song without feeling like you’re sacrificing your feminist ideals? 

When Swift wrote “Better Than Revenge,” she was an 18-year-old legend of country music, writing all her heartbreak into songs played on repeat by young girls around the world. She was emerging in an industry that was notoriously critical of women, navigating both the spotlight and the Christian ideals expected of her. All of this manifested as her penning a diss track about the girl for whom her ex left her, with its infamous line, “She’s not a saint and she’s not what you think, she’s an actress/She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress.” 

This line doesn’t pass quite as nicely for me as it did when it was released in 2010. Not that misogyny was ever acceptable, but within the last 12 years social activism such as the #MeToo movement has provided us with a broader vocabulary and ability to address the ways women are cut down, even by other women. These social movements have taught women not to accept slut-shaming, because women being shamed for their sexual behavior is just another facet of how this patriarchal world limits women’s autonomy. Thus, Swift’s line deriding the girl for her sexual habits doesn’t feel as tolerable today. 

But with Swift’s recent endeavors of re-recording her first six albums, she has an opportunity to correct naive past mistakes. Her rerecordings last year have been extremely successful, producing new legendary music like everyone’s favorite 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” and the from-the-vaults track “Mr. Perfectly Fine.” 

Additionally, Swift even altered some of her rerecordings, such as the song “Girl At Home” from the re-recorded album “Red.” The 2012 version of the song, included as a demo on the deluxe version of “Red,” was produced with an acoustic-country feel, while the new version became pop-centric and electronic. With these rerecordings, Swift has a wonderful opportunity to revisit her old music and update it when necessary. Why shouldn’t she take that opportunity to change the sexist lyrics of “Better Than Revenge?” 

Well, many Swifties would argue that she can’t change the song because the point of the rerecordings is to devalue the original recordings. If she changes the music in the rerecordings, then people will prefer the older recordings to the new ones, and they won’t listen to the new recordings in place of the old ones — and Swift will have wasted her time and money. I agree that changing the lyrics to “Better Than Revenge” would certainly be a risk — both financially and for the standards of artists rerecording their music, since one failed rerecording could ward artists off the subject entirely. But still I believe, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Swift has a responsibility to change this song, and that it would be worth even financial failure. 

Since she was a teenager, Swift’s words have reached millions. “Speak Now,” the album that “Better Than Revenge” appears on, sold over a million copies in the first week. That’s over a million people, mostly young girls such as myself, listening to Swift belittling a girl for her supposed sexual behavior. For all those people — my nine-year-old self included — slut-shaming became acceptable, because it was done by someone we trusted and believed.

And this is all the more ironic when you realize that Swift was subjected to this same slut-shaming herself. Not even years later, Swift was fighting misogynist criticisms about her dating life left and right. Even a decade later, people still like to joke about the amount of exes Swift has — don’t break up with her, she’ll write a song about you. 

It’s blatant sexism, and it’s so old. It’s terrible to know that the treatment of Swift in the media represents how the world really feels about women. 

But Swift’s participation in slut-shaming in “Better Than Revenge” doesn’t really make me angry at her — it makes me sad. Because I know now that she was trying to paint herself as a “good girl” — her own words, from her recent documentary, “Miss Americana.” If you make fun of someone else for a certain behavior, it makes you look like you would never participate yourself in such behavior. And how can we blame her for doing that? Because, really — how many powerful men were telling her what to do and what to think? How many times was she compared to Lindsay Lohan, or Britney Spears, or Miley Cyrus, in such a blatant “Thank god you’re not her” kind of way?

Raised in the environment she was, with its Christian, country music influences, Swift was surely scared to death of getting attacked like she saw other women getting attacked. She wrote “Better Than Revenge” in a roundabout way of protecting herself. And while it didn’t work, at all, it’s so important to understand that this is what living within the patriarchy does to girls — tricks them into tearing each other down. And how can you expect an 18-year-old to have it all figured out? 

You can’t, but you can expect an adult to. At 32, Swift is a fully grown woman who must take responsibility for what she’s written. Today, Swift has more influence than ever and more responsibility than ever to not continue to justify slut shaming. 

And she has shown evidence of such development. “I’m trying to be as educated as possible on how to respect people, on how to deprogram the misogyny in my own brain,” she said in “Miss Americana.” “Like, there is no such thing as a slut. There is no such thing as a bitch.” 

I love “Better Than Revenge.” I don’t want to write it off forever, and I don’t want to stop listening to it. But I would like to stop feeling the need to write away my uncomfortable feelings about it. 

And the furthering of misogyny doesn’t have to happen.

So, Taylor, if you’re reading this … from a lifelong Swiftie, from someone who loved “Better Than Revenge” at nine years old and from someone who still performs it alone in my room like my life depends on it — please change the lyrics. Don’t further the misogyny. You’re 32 and still growing up now, and I’ll stand by you as you make decisions to make the world a better place.

Anna Ehlers listens to Taylor Swift religiously. You can reach her at [email protected].