Why Taylor Swift's 'The Archer' Is the Chronic Illness Anthem I Didn't Know I Needed
Hi, I’m Tricia and I am a Swiftie. This is no secret. My love for Taylor Swift’s music is well documented. I have been a huge fan since I first downloaded “Picture to Burn” in 2006. That being said, it should come as no surprise that I was waiting eagerly to hear the latest release from her upcoming album, “Lover.” I expected “The Archer” to be a sweet song with a cute reference to Cupid’s arrows or something along that line, but whoa, that is not what we got. This song, more than any other in Taylor’s discography, hit me in the depths of my soul — my chronically ill little soul.
“The Archer” balances three things I feel a lot as someone who is sick: sadness, fear and insecurity. Taylor poetically catalogs the intense back-and-forth struggle of desiring a real, true connection with someone but being unable to escape the self-sabotaging belief you’re just too much. Who will want me with all my issues? Who will stay with me? I am such a burden. I am beyond fixing. But I have so much to offer! But is it enough? Please say it’s enough. Don’t let me push you away. I am so broken. Are you broken too? I’ve lost my health. I’ve lost my friends. I’ve lost my confidence. I’ve lost so much. Please don’t let me lose you too.
I have to admit, when I first heard this song I was completely unprepared for how it was going to tear me apart. I’m not usually one to get weepy over a song, but I ended up pulling over and sobbing on my steering wheel in the parking lot of a Talbot’s as I listened to “The Archer” say all the things I never knew I needed to hear:
“I wake in the night, I pace like a ghost
The room is on fire, invisible smoke
All of my heroes die all alone
Help me hold on to you
I’ve been the archer, I’ve been the prey
Screaming, ‘Who could ever leave me, darling?’
But who could stay?
All the king’s horses, all the king’s men
Couldn’t put me together again
‘Cause all of my enemies started out friends
Help me hold on to you
I see right through me, I see right through me
Who could stay?
You could stay.”
Oh hello, Taylor. I didn’t know you were there at 2 a.m. as I lay crying on my bathroom floor, overcome by the pain in my abdomen. I didn’t know you knew about my deeply morbid and intense thoughts that I’m never going to get better. I didn’t know my secret insecurity (that one day my husband is going to figure out his life would be immensely easier if he dropped me like a bad habit) was so obvious. I didn’t know you knew; I didn’t know anyone did.
I don’t pretend to actually know what inspired Taylor when writing this song, but I do know my own struggles feel so very visible in these lyrics. That’s the gift of music — the author gives agency to the listener to interpret and personalize it. As sad as the song is, I find it weirdly empowering to sing at the top of my lungs. It helps me feel more in control of my insecurities. It helps me process my misappropriated self-loathing. It helps me acknowledge my sadness and fear. It helps me regain ownership of my emotions and feel all the things I’ve never been able to bring myself to say out loud.
Maybe that is the real magic of Taylor’s lyrics. All these feelings I have, all the things I am too scared to admit — I didn’t have to say them out loud. She did it for me.