Taylor Swift Changed The Controversial Lyrics In 'Better Than Revenge,' And Fans Need To Respect That Choice

Taylor Swift is no stranger to improving herself. When fans asked for the 10-minute version of her heartbreak anthem "All Too Well," she delivered. During a time of extreme political divide, she finally broke her silence to speak on her progressive politics. Swift is constantly reinventing herself, refining her opinions, and listening to her fans as a vessel for growth. The most recent example of her ever-changing music making takes place on the recent release of "Speak Now (Taylor's Version)," where Swift changed the controversial lyrics in the track "Better Than Revenge."

What once was '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' is now 'he was a moth to the flame, she was holding the matches.' And fans have a lot of opinions about it. From appreciation for the lyric change, to devastation that Swift changed her original wording, the public reaction to "Better Than Revenge (Taylor's Version)" is anything but calm and collected.

Although some fans are upset about the removal of the 2010 lyrics, it helps to remember Swift is living in an age where her progressive politics — specifically surrounding female autonomy — are essential to the politics of her life and career. On the other hand, her snarky and calamitous attitude in the original messaging of "Speak Now" was arguably essential to the album's success and resonance with fans. 

'Better Than Revenge' is about Taylor's personal experience with heartbreak

"Better Than Revenge" is believed to be about the aftermath of Swift's 2008 relationship with Joe Jonas, and particularly Jonas' decision to quickly date actress Camila Belle after their split. Swift's response to the breakup and immediate rebound was expressed in this self-written confessional of a song, and she put it on the album as a recognition of her heartbreak and how she processed it. At 19, Swift was sharing her real-life stories via the best tool she had — songwriting. The infamous mattress line was clearly motivated by the hurt and jealousy Swift experienced at that time. Although some argue age shouldn't matter too much when it comes to accountability, the public could certainly show more grace towards young women simply expressing how they feel.

Since then, Swift has gone through several eras where she's worn everything in red, cut her hair and moved to New York, embraced female friendships and being single, and even met a real love on the other end of her invisible string. The heartbreaks and failures of being 19 are long behind her, and so are the sentiments she shared about her ex-boyfriend's ex-girlfriend.

Time and time again, Swift has shown her ability to take accountability without ever apologizing for speaking her truth. In a 2014 interview, the singer shared her regret about the implied internalized misogyny conveyed in "Better Than Revenge." "That's the age you are when you think someone can actually take your boyfriend," she explained to The Guardian. "Then you grow up and realize no one [can] take someone from you if they don't want to leave." Her honesty and acknowledgement — years after she first chose to speak now — is clear. She honors her words and their significance in every era of her life; and fans should, too.

Is it rewriting history for others' approval or showing personal growth?

Like Paramore's "Misery Business," the original "Better Than Revenge" was a product of the problematic mainstream views of its time. There is nothing wrong with pointing that out. But while the original lyrics' internalized misogyny are worthy of condemning, it's understandable how one could view the last-minute lyric swap for 2023 as an extremely surface-level depiction of white feminist virtue signaling. For the record, Hayley Williams of Paramore has stated she doesn't condone the lyrics her teenage self wrote, but she also hasn't changed them. At the same time, it's not exactly fair to say Swift rewriting the history of her lyrics is some kind of PR move measuring her political awareness. Just like the rest of us, she isn't perfect. Plus, who is to say this is all superficial? "Speak Now (Taylor's Version)" may be a rerecording of an album from her teen years, this version of the album is being performed and released by an adult.

What matters more is it's extremely clear Swift's politics and attitude towards ex-girlfriends have evolved since the song's initial 2010 release. In recent years, the star has become very vocal about her politics surrounding women's rights and opened up about the misogyny she faced on her own journey to stardom, from being villainized for her mental health to the public's dangerous preoccupation with her famous breakups. It's very likely that her personal experiences played a role in her decision to change the lyrics to "Better Than Revenge (Taylor's Version)." The fact that she's choosing to show that she has grown, even in this small way, is a good thing. 

Ultimately, Swift is being held to an unattainable standard

Throughout her 17-year career, Swift's brutal honesty and openness has come at a cost, which is the entitlement of people who want to control her words and actions. As she wrote in the foreword of Speak Now (Taylor's Version), "In my darker moments, I was tormented by the doubt that swirled loudly around my ascent and my merits as an artist." She explained to readers. "In the years since, I have developed a thicker skin about public criticism and the cynicism with which people approach the music I make."

For that reason, it's not farfetched to assume she anticipated the mixed response to her lyric change, and is able to shake it off better than ever before, knowing full well people would criticize her no matter what. On Twitter, some fans joked that she gave into social pressures to appeal to "woke" values. But one can't help but wonder, if she didn't change the lyrics, she'd probably face the same level of criticism.

It's fine to expect artists to grow. And celebrities with a high-profile platform should feel some sense of responsibility when it comes to political and social messaging. But if the conversation surrounding feminism is capable of evolving with the times, then maybe it's time we focus on why we hold women in the public eye to an unattainable standard they have no say in deciding. It's also worth noting that we're not seeing this same level of outcry for all of the misogynistic lyrics that are still being written by male artists, who almost never get asked to change their lyrics. Rather than focus on the problematic lyrics someone wrote as a teenager, fans could do better with their time to get to the issues plaguing women of color and other marginalized communities, rather than expecting their favorite artist to double as an activist. Fans of Swift know well even with this new update, they cannot unwrite the past, nor erase the fact that the original version of "Better Than Revenge" did exist as the version for years. But perhaps as fans, we can at least applaud her for showing some growth. Because in any case, one thing is for sure — whether or not people agree with the change, she'll always get the last word.