And of course Swift knows all the words to “Hands Down.” As Vulture pointed out, there’s a lyrical overlap between Swift’s music and Dashboard Confessional that makes a certain sense: “The passionate drama, the bitter revenge, the hopeless romance: Tay and Chris have a lot in common.” You know what they really have in common? Emotion. Emo … tion.
Not that Taylor Swift is emo by the musical definition, but her songs are similar to Dashboard's in that both focus on relationships—their melodrama, their intimate details—and explore them with honest, unbridled, over-the-top emotion. And because of it, both are dismissed, in certain circles, as being unserious, and uncool. (Although maybe we’re in the midst of an emo revival these days? Or maybe we’re not.)
Little surprise there. Emotions are categorically uncool. Cool is effortless, cool is not caring too much. If emotion is inside the bar making a heartfelt toast, cool is outside loitering with its shirt untucked, a cigarette in its mouth, and a neutral, sleepy expression on its face. In real life, the rules of cool allow some feelings, sure, but in moderation. Or better yet, in private. Happiness could be cool; glee could not. Sadness could be cool, especially if it takes the form of brooding, but despair, probably not. I'm trying to think of an emotion that, in large quantities, could still be “cool.” Ennui?
One first learns emotions are uncool in middle school, when hormone-driven crushes are locked in eternal struggle with the need to conceal them from others at all costs, lest one be mocked. Adults won't mock you for your feelings (usually) but there's still a certain imperative to keep a lid on it, as grown-ups. Be “chill” in your relationships, be professional at work. When someone asks how you are, the acceptable answers are “good,” “fine,” or if your entire life is falling apart, “OK.”
But there is a brief window of life where it seems earnest emotion can be cool, and it happened to coincide with when I discovered Dashboard: high school.
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High school is terrible in a lot of ways for most people. But in the midst of the bullying, and the stress, and the acne, the bright spot of the struggle is that it’s okay to struggle visibly. There seems to be room for expressing emotion publicly. I cringe now to think of the maudlin blog posts I wrote on my Xanga in 10th grade, but I was hardly alone. This was the norm, and it was true for people at all levels of the popularity hierarchy. To check if this is still the case today, I turned to my number one source on all things teen—my 16-year-old sister Kellie, who is a junior, firmly clenched in the lockjawed maw of high school.
“In high school, people expect you to be emotional,” she texted me. “You’re old enough to be past that pubescent awkwardness, but you’re still a kid in the eyes of adults. You kind of get away with it. On top of that, it’s just the fact that kids are finding out who they are, what they like, what they stand for. It’s all a lot, and certainly calls for these feelings. From kids who maybe aren’t so popular, to those who everyone around the school knows, emotions aren’t really something to be looked down upon. There’s no shame, whether you’re crying in the hallways or calling someone out over Twitter.”