Taylor Swift sings to someone who is down on their luck and has just lost a battle of some sort. Swift promises that “these things will change” and visualizes success: “we’ll sing hallelujah.”
Literary Device: Ambiguity
Swift's songwriting is known for including details from her own life. In Change, Swift experiments with a different technique: ambiguity. The adversity facing Swift's audience in Change is so vague as to be totally unidentifiable. A few examples:
“Somebody else gets what you wanted” (what was it?)
“You’re getting sick of it” (again… what is it?)
“Something in your eyes says we can beat this” (great! what is it though?)
Swift’s offers help and promises about the future that are equally vague:
“I believe in whatever you do” (thanks?)
“These things will change” (what things?!)
“[We’ll] find things they never found” (WHAT THINGS?!)
Swift’s ambiguity allows Change to be easily applied to any sort of challenge, such as Team USA competing in the 2008 Olympics, a small record label competing with big businesses, and/or whatever drama is brewing for the listener.
Swift’s ambiguous references to adversity, triumph and mysterious foes echo one of the earliest poets: King David. A couple of examples from the Hebrew Bible:
Psalm 3: “LORD, how are they increased that trouble me. Many are they that rise up against me” (who are they? Why are they against the narrator?)
Psalm 35: “Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me.” (same questions!)
The Psalms are written in such a way that they can be appreciated by someone with a knowledge of David’s specific circumstances thousands of years ago, but they can also be deeply meaningful when interpreted and applied to situations facing a contemporary reader.
Swift utilizes another time-tested genre in Change: the battle speech. In the second verse and the bridge, Swift gives an inspirational speech to her weary companions. She starts by acknowledging their current precarious situation: “So we’ve been outnumbered / Raided and now cornered” before offering a rallying cry: “Tonight we’ll stand, get off our knees / Fight for what we’ve worked for all these years” and promising victory: “we’ll stand up champions tonight.” While the battle here is a metaphor for… whatever adversity the listener has projected onto the song… inspirational speeches before a fight have stirred audiences in countless movies, stories, and of course, the Bible. “And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, and shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; for the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (Deuteronomy 20:2-4).
Change uses one more Biblical genre: the prophecy. In her chorus, Swift promises the listener a better future: “these things will change… The time will come for us to finally win / and we’ll sing hallelujah, we’ll sing hallelujah.” Like Ezekiel and Isaiah, Swift first describes a period of tribulation before promising an ultimate victory. Downtrodden readers of the Bible have turned to passages like these for comfort and hope for thousands of years. In Change, Taylor Swift consolidates these Biblical techniques and a Biblical shout of celebration to create the ultimate anthem of solidarity and hope against the odds.