Taylor Swift’s staunchest critics deride her for singing sweet love melodies and nothing more. First of all, this isn’t true. Many of her songs actually relate to real life experiences, other than those about love. Take “Mean” for a great example. But in the smash hit “Eyes Open,” from the Hunger Games soundtrack, Taylor Swift obliterates her detractors’ criticisms by showing the breadth of her songwriting ability and underscoring her capacity to understand the human condition.
“Eyes Open” captures the brutal underdog mentality that pervades many adolescents’ and even adults’ consciousnesses. She starts out singing about how life once was as an innocent child:
The tricky thing is yesterday we were just children
Playing soldiers, just pretending
Dreaming dreams with happy endings
In backyards, winning battles with our wooden swords
She captures the simplicity and naivete of childhood. Then, the song shifts (both tonally and melodically) to talk about the harsh reality of now: “But now we’ve stepped into a cruel world, where everybody stands and keeps score.” This isn’t a song about love, by any measure.
The chorus, which speaks to the struggles faced by the protagonist of the Hunger Games, resonates with all of us:
Everybody’s waiting for you to breakdown
Everybody’s watching to see the fallout
Even when you’re sleeping, sleeping
Keep your ey-eyes open
When she says, “keep your eyes open,” she’s not just saying be on guard and defend yourself, but also, keep your head up. When life gives you lemons, don’t just make lemonade–use those lemons to your advantage.
In the following verse, Taylor Swift dives deeper into the world of the oppressed. She reminds the subject of the song, “But you’ve got something they don’t. You’ve got something they don’t”–alluding to an intrinsic quality that we all have to persevere through tough situations.
One way of interpreting the song is by imagining that she’s singing to her critics, as she did in “Mean.” But I think she’s done something much better and more complex–she’s stepped inside the world of someone else and has truly seen the world through their eyes. She’s singing from her heart, but not about it.
This song is deep–and a true departure from her older material (think the joyful Fearless album), but I think the new tone suits her well. I look forward to her next record which will, no doubt, feature a more-adult perspective. “Eyes Open” serves as a bridge from Speak Now to the rest of her future material, and, based upon the awesome reception she’s received for “Eyes Open,” her next record will undoubtedly be another record-breaking hit.