Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What Would You Doooo-o-o For A Taylor Hug?

We're doing another Taylor Swift piece. There was this one story that I came across while researching Tuesday's article that I had no room for, but it is just so irresistible that I want to give it attention.

Tuesday, we established two things: first, the bulk of the Swifties out there want nothing more than to meet her; and second, they like her not just for her music, but for who she is as a person. Because one of Taylor's defining characteristics is, when she's not slamming an ex in a song, she is just overwhelmingly, unrelentingly nice, with the ability to see things in perspectives far beyond her years. A frequent theme of many of Taylor's songs is that, no matter how far off in the future a point in your life may seem, one day that future will become your past, and after that, all you're going to have are your memories because life only goes the one direction. That's a large part of why she's so constantly awestruck by all the awards and all the crowds and all the fans. It's not just her young age. She realizes that, even if it's decades down the road, she's eventually going to run into a day when she's no longer selling out open-air stadiums and having millions fawning over her, and so she's got to enjoy it while it lasts so she'll have the best possible scrapbook to show her grandkids. And she knows the same principle is true of all the people around her, many of which are a lot closer to that day than she is. Granted, many people say they realize that, but Taylor's one of the few, especially at her age, that never forgets it.

And being nice makes for a much better scrapbook, not to mention it just feels right. So she's nice. Like, really nice. Exceedingly nice. Her fans feed off it, partially just because nice is nice, but partially because nice is also something they don't see nearly often enough in the world these days. You've got a world where far more people than would ever be tolerable are poor and out of a job and desperate or angry to the point where they take to the streets in protest or violence, and they look at the people in charge and conclude that at best, nobody cares or else they are too incompetent to fix anything, and at worst, those in charge actively want these problems to happen, and it's all so ubiquitous and depressing and infuriating and hopeless and soul-shattering... and then here's this young girl, this sweet, inspirational girl, this ray of sunshine, going around hugging everyone and taking in the world with genuine wide-eyed wonder and assuring everyone that things are going to be all right, and it's such a breath of fresh air, such a relief to see these days, that people can't help but respond to it and spread the word that good people can still prosper.

(Geez. I teared up a bit just writing that.)

Which leads us to what has to be the quintessential Taylor Swift story, the one that all by itself encapsulates the nature of the culture Taylor has created around her.

In January 2010, two roommates from Auburn University, Ryan Leander and Michael Wekall, along with cameraman Matthew Mahaffey, set out to accomplish one goal: get a hug from Taylor. They had heard that Taylor's a hugger, and decided to embark on the mission to get one themselves. Very quickly, Swift's larger fanbase caught wind of it and gave it all sorts of attention. The roommates were quick to remind the onlookers that it was ultimately Taylor's call:

"One note however, if Taylor doesn't want to go through with what we are doing, I don't want you all to be like, Oh Taylor is so mean for not letting them get a simple hug. She doesn't have to do this, if she does agree to do it she is doing it out of the kindness of her heart, and if she doesn't do it we aren't going to hate her, we will still be big fans of her, and we want you to be that way too."

In March, Taylor caught wind of their mission, and decided she was game for it. But she wasn't giving away this particular hug for free. The rest of this article is going to be very video-intensive as we show the back-and-forth between Taylor and Ryan/Michael, so note that. (As usual around here, you are expected to watch the video before proceeding.)

Now, let's just reflect on this for a second before we move on. Here you've got one of the biggest music superstars on the planet, and two of this superstar's fans are on a mission to get her to give them a hug. Not concert tickets or an autograph or anything like that. A hug. And when that superstar decides to give them a challenge, instead of asking that they, perhaps, embark on some giant or potentially embarrassing project, she asks them to help a little old lady cross the street.

In what world does any of this even happen? Could you imagine a mission called 'A Hug From Lady Gaga' or 'A Hug From Nicki Minaj' or 'A Hug From Jay-Z' or anything like that? (You could imagine it of Katy Perry, perhaps, but could you imagine it in a context devoid of interest in her boobs?) How many acts in an average Billboard Top 100, aside from Taylor, could you ever realistically imagine issuing a challenge to their fans to help an old lady cross the street?

Ryan and Michael were, of course, up to the challenge, but they decided that, as long as they had everyone's attention, they might as well see who else out there was up to helping old ladies cross the street. As it happened, quite a lot of people were...

So we'll call that a "pass". But remember, that was only challenge #1. We go back to Taylor, who in the meantime has established a brief straight-hair kick...

The challenge was just to use her lucky number, 13, in some creative way... but again, note the examples she used. She doesn't say 'make a giant 13 billboard' or 'mow 13 into the grass on Auburn's football field'. She says, maybe bake 13 cookies for someone. Plant 13 tulips. More basic good deeds.

Ryan and Michael's response? Do not one task relating to 13, but 13 of them. And one of those 13 would be handed back to the crowd of Swifties they had on hand, with the top three making it into the video...

8 of the 12 tasks they did themselves are more good deeds. And many of the other Swifties, including those who didn't make the cut, did good deeds themselves. All this... so Taylor will hug them. Remember that that's why that video happened. That's why any of this is happening. They're doing this for a hug. Just reflect on that for a moment. A hug. A simple hug. (Those heart signs at the end, by the way? That's Taylor's signature hand gesture.)

Taylor, what do you think of all that?

Back to Ryan and Michael then, who find out that while Taylor isn't requiring any further good deeds, she has upped the ante for what would prove the final challenge...

That was a little more than a hug. That was several hugs (Matthew got his too). And kisses. And a surprise concert. And, as the conclusion of that video teases, Taylor also invited them to one of her regularly-scheduled concerts in Greenville, South Carolina. As VIP's.

By way of this entire chain of events, you can see just why people love Taylor so much. How many entertainers of her level of talent would do anything like this? Who else would, or could, use some little silly thing like this and use it to induce so many people to be so nice to each other, most of them by pure serendipity? How many of her talent get lost in their fame and forget why they've made it big, or fall far, far short of that kind of good nature, or both? Where else does one see such a combination of talent, perspective and heart?

And why don't they see it more often?