(Photo from Spotify)
One of the most shameful thoughts that circles my head every so often is remembering how much I despised the first few seconds of this song and thus refused to even attempt listening to the full track. In her 2012 album, “Red,” singer-songwriter Taylor Swift included “Holy Ground” as the 11th track. The album was re-recorded — “Red (Taylor’s Version)” — in 2021 to have ownership over the tracks, so “Holy Ground (Taylor’s Version)” is the most recent studio recording of the song.
In 2019, after the release of her seventh album “Lover,” Swift performed several songs in the BBC Live Lounge. One of these was an acoustic version of “Holy Ground,” and from that moment on, I have never listened to the song the same way.
On one hand, I’m not surprised by my reaction; I think a lot of my taste in music relies on lyrics, and with the acoustic version of such an upbeat song, it’s much easier to listen to words and process them. On the other hand, I’m completely flabbergasted by how I didn’t even let the lyrics play in order to get a better judgment on the piece prior to her acoustic performance.
Nevertheless, after finding out what a masterpiece the song was, at least in its acoustic version, I started letting it play more often, and it quickly became one of my favorite tracks in Swift’s entire discography, which speaks a great volume. I eventually became incredibly confused on why I thought the opening guitar track was not my cup of tea years ago.
“Holy Ground” presents the perfect mix of pop, rock, and country genres. Realizing this made it clearer to myself on why I ended up enjoying this song so much — I typically prefer listening to songs that are a mix of genres rather than purely one. I’m more likely to listen to a pop-rock or country-pop tune than a pure pop song.
The opening guitar track is the most country-like aspect of the song, and after a few seconds, the song introduces a strong drum beat that brings the first rock-like detail. Strums of electric guitar eventually join in, giving a stronger rock feel, with a touch of country. In the second chorus, synthesizers playing arpeggios of the chords come in, which contribute to the pop-like aspect.
Swift sang this song while on tour for “Red.” One of her most notable live performances outside of the tour was at a 2016 show in Austin, Texas called Live Formula 1. There wasn’t much difference between the performance and studio version of the song, but I really appreciate the way her voice sounded during certain sections.
The thickness that her voice has during this performance is on another level. “I guess we fell apart in the usual way, and the story’s got dust on every page. But sometimes I wonder how you think about it now — and I see your face in every crowd” is the specific section that has a hold on me. She almost growls the word “dust” and smoothly glides over “crowd.” The juxtaposition here always catches me off guard no matter how many times I listen to it.
This show also highlights the last concert performance she did before disappearing completely from the public eye until Swift released her album, “reputation,” in 2017. As one YouTube commenter — Charlotte Trinh — mentioned, “Just thinking she meant to put her whole heart into this song as a goodbye to us really breaks my heart. The way she looks out at the crowd emotionally while singing ‘Darling, it was good. Never looking down. Right there where we stood was holy ground’ suddenly hits so hard.”
“Holy Ground” has such a reminiscent tone to it in the best way. With the driving beats throughout the track, it’s like we’re travelling through her memories of being in the relationship she sings about. I especially love the bridge: “Tonight I’m gonna dance / For all that we’ve been through / But I don’t wanna dance / If I’m not dancing with you.” The yearning I feel from those lines is indescribable.
Calling the ground ‘holy’ because of the person you were standing with is an incredible way to describe how much you loved them. Swift sings in one of the verses, “We blocked the noise with the sound of ‘I need you’ / And for the first time I had something to lose,” adding to the feeling of recalling how much that person means to the singer.
I don’t know how my younger self decided to skip this song from the start, but I couldn’t be happier now listening to Swift’s “Holy Ground” to feel every emotion possible — grief, excitement, nostalgia, tenderness — you name it.