So (hahha SPOILER ALERT for....something :P) I was looking through my old essays and found a final essay draft that I wrote for my final exam in my first-year English class, analyzing the lyrics in Taylor Swift's song "Clean". This song is the last song on her album "1989", which was released in 2014.
I have no idea if my take on her lyrics is what she actually meant or not, but I do remember being pretty proud of my essay. ^~^
Figured I'd share :D
"I think I'm finally Clean"
By: Vicky Huang (written December 2015)
Taylor Swift is a global sensation, a superstar that has touched millions of lives through her songwriting and singing career. Her songs all have a story, meaning and a personal element behind them, having each been written by Taylor herself. In her newest album “1989”, her last song titled “Clean” is no exception. Taylor wrote this song to reflect a time when she was getting over a breakup - a difficult time in her life - and depicts how she was able to overcome it through perseverance. In her song “Clean,” Taylor Swift very effectively expresses her feelings and offers advice about overcoming difficult times through elaborate imagery, diction and symbolism within her lyrics.
A distinct element of “Clean” is its intricate imageries, shown in many contradictory situations in the lyrics. To start off the chorus, Taylor sings “Rain came pouring down when I was drowning / That's when I could finally breathe”, depicting a very contradictory scenario, where she is “drowning” but “can breathe”. This juxtaposition between pain and relief demonstrates how in order to feel relief, one must have suffered first, and that one would not exist without the other. Additionally, Taylor narrates “Water filled my lungs / I screamed so loud but no one heard a thing”, which is another conflicting scene, showing that there will be times when others will not understand you, but even so, you are able to - and will - get through by yourself. Both these lyrics use juxtaposing imagery to effectively illustrate the conflicting thoughts during despair, before the light that is hope and relief comes through.
Not only does Taylor use imagery to convey her message, she effectively utilizes diction, especially ones pertaining to nature. Throughout the song, she refers to many elements of nature, including “drought”, “storm”, “flower”, “butterfly”, “rain”, “flood”, and “water”. These subconsciously remind the audience that difficult times are a natural course in everyone’s life, and that everybody goes through them. Additionally, Taylor shows a great amount of thought in the diction put into the most repeated phrase of the song: “I think I’m finally clean”. Instead of stating clearly “I’m finally clean”, Taylor chose to include “think” - she thinks she’s finally clean. The word “think” represents how she is not entirely sure if she’s clean but instead, carries the sense that she is making progress and embracing a positive outlook to feel clean. At a deeper level, these examples of diction show how life will never be perfectly cured of problems, but a positive attitude can go a long way to help enjoy the good days and feel good.
This perspective on overcoming life’s challenges is captured by Taylor Swift through symbolism, from the very first sentence. When she opens by saying “The drought was the very worst / When the flowers that we'd grown together died of thirst”, she portrays the feeling of despair when love that one has tried so hard to grow and preserve has failed. The flowers symbolize their love, which they couldn’t keep alive because there was no more water to nourish them. Water, although it can represent many things, very likely represents honesty, which - like how water is essential for plants - is essential for a good relationship. This symbolism is very meaningful and prominent throughout the song, as many other instances reference water. The “flood” that “carried away all [her] pictures of [him]”, the “rain” that “came pouring down”, and the “water” that filled [her] lungs all refer to the truth of the relationship that she had to face. It symbolizes how one has to be honest to themselves, and accept the truth to move on. Because Taylor had let herself be honest and let the truth “flood” and “fill” her, she was able to realize that it was not going to work out, and start anew.
“Clean” is a song full of emotion and the powerful, deep realization that even the worst of times will pass, if one accepts the truth and stays strong through it. Through juxtaposing imageries, Taylor depicts the inner conflictions that come with an endangered relationship. By using diction that pertain to nature, she then illustrates how they are a natural part of life. Lastly, Taylor is able to tie these ideas together by symbolizing honesty with water, to explain how one has to come to terms with themselves to move on. By putting this song as the last song of the album, Taylor hopes to empower her fans and give them hope. Through relatable and sentimental songs such as this one, it really is no wonder why Taylor has gained the support and love of so many fans.
What are your thoughts on the lyrics of the song? :) Do you agree? Do you think I missed something? Songs are magical because their lyrics can be interpreted in so many different ways, and there's no absolute right or wrong - let me know in the comments below! 😊