NEW BOSTON, NH – In her music video, “The Death of a Taylor Swift Wannabe,” 16-year-old singer-songwriter Emma Jedow depicts a startling alternate ending to her real-life struggle with cyberbullying – something she’s endured for as long as she’s been a Taylor Swift wannabe: She commits suicide.
Despite its dark edges, “The Death of a Taylor Swift Wannabe,” is taking a brave and bold approach to shining a light on the growing epidemic of teen suicide and social media bullying.
For more than half her life she’s been “a Swiftie,” what fans of Taylor Swift call themselves. She’s started fan pages honoring Swift on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, where she connects with other fans. Her love of Swift’s music is the reason she learned to play guitar and write songs. And for all the joy she has gained from Swift’s music, it has also made her the subject of bullying by those she’s never even met, who mock her for her fandom and her aspirations to “be” like Swift.
“Emma, like so many other girls, struggles with anxiety and depression and has been impacted by bullying on social media. Writing these songs has been extremely therapeutic for her,” Jen Jedow, Emma’s mom, explains. “Emma is an avid Taylor Swift fan, and Taylor has always been a positive inspiration for her – as well as 100 million other teenage girls. Emma hopes this song will also inspire hope and change.”
When asked about what inspired her to write this song, Emma flashes a tentative smile, smoothing her mane of long brown curls back as she considers her answer.
“We really need to talk about bullying and the consequences,” Emma says, noting the controversy that swirled following last year’s “13 Reasons Why,” a mini-series about teen suicide, which she watched. She acknowledges that there were parts of the series she didn’t find to be authentic and understands why critics believe it in some ways this glorified suicide. Even if grounded in reality, it was just a movie with actors, based on a novel.
Her song is different, in that it’s real and raw, inspired by her personal struggles. She believes teen suicide is an uncomfortable truth that needs to be faced, head on.
Now, the Bishop Guertin student is poised to return the favor and hopefully inspire others who struggle with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts in the same way her idol, Taylor Swift, has inspired her, with the release of her debut video “The Death of a Taylor Swift Wannabe.”
The video is being released today and it’s already stirred some controversy for it’s blunt and brutal depiction of teen suicide. The song tells a story of a teenage musician who is bullied on social media for her looks and talent to the point of taking her own life. Emma hopes her song will open up an honest discussion about a taboo topic that is claiming more young lives than ever before.
“I’m not trying to romanticize death, not in any way. But this is a topic that’s too important not to speak up about. This isn’t a fun video, but that’s because it needs to be talked about, and that’s really what I’m trying to do here, get people talking about it,” Emma says.
Through her vocal coach, Carlos Martinez, “The Death of a Taylor Swift Wannabe” was introduced to Connor Hayes, of Project 2 Studios, a Manchester-based Grammy-nominated video production company.
“When I heard Emma’s song and learned about her story, I just wanted to do something to help,” says Hayes. “Teen suicide is a real problem. We just hope by working with Emma on this project, we can do our part and help get her message heard.”
One of the key contributing causes identified by researchers for the increase in suicide’s youngest victims is peer pressure and social media bullying. Emma’s song takes direct aim at this epidemic, with powerful imagery – difficult to watch at times, as the storyline takes a dismal turn halfway through. It begins with Emma sharing her music via social media, and a gang of mean girls whose social media responses mockingly encourager her to “kys,” common texting shorthand for “kill yourself.”
The lyrics begin innocently enough: “I pour my heart out on the page, drain my pen with tears and rage…” as we see a young girl visibly hurt and isolated by the barrage of negative social media messages, she’s received. Then a news headline flashes across the screen, “Emma Jedow: Cyberbullied Teen Commits Suicide.”
“Yes. It is meant to be shocking,” says Emma.
“They’re calling me a tragedy, a social media casualty, I finally got my million views, 16 slashes of a razor blade, they finally love me more than you. But all I got was a name-less fame, bloodstains on my guitar…”
The lyrics (above) sung during the song’s climax are devastating, says Emma’s mom, and all too real for parents dealing with the fallout from teen suicide. Jedow reached out to several national suicide organizations a few months ago with a lyric version of her daughter’s song, and although they were encouraging, one program director wrote back that she would not repost the video due to the lines, “16 slashes of a razor blade” and “bloodstains on my guitar,” adding, “Safe media guidelines discourage talking about a method or any graphic depictions of suicide for fear of glamorizing, triggering someone or suicide contagion.”
“It’s scary stuff. And to be honest, the kind of stuff that gets said on social media right now are things that would never get said to a person, face to face. That’s one of the problems we have to figure out when it comes to social media,” says Emma’s dad, Jim Jedow, who has learned more than he ever wanted to know about the world of teens and social media through his daughter’s lens. “People can hide behind a screen, it gives them a license to spew hate, and it’s becoming more than destructive. And as we have seen, it’s real and it’s deadly.”
At the end of the video, Emma appears in a postscript, with a message to viewers. Her face is illuminated by her cell phone screen as she says, “This wonderful invention that I’m holding can also be a weapon, a transmitter of hate. Believe me, I know,” Emma says, dimming the glow of her phone. She ends with, “Just remember, all cures begin with love,” followed by an 800 number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline flashing on the screen.
“I truly believe that,” Emma says. “It’s about love, something we all need in this world, but something that’s lacking, especially on social media.”
“In the end of the video, I’m sending a DM (direct message) to Taylor, asking her to help me, but I never get to send the message,” says Emma. Instead, an actress meant to be Swift, enters the frame, sees the unsent message, and reaches for Emma’s lifeless hand.
“The message of that is meant to be how can we reach more of our children’s hands before it’s too late,” Emma says. “Cyberbullying and how it contributes to suicide is something no one’s talking about the way they should be talked about. It needs to be talked about in ways that are authentic to teens. If not, it will keep going on until it can’t be stopped.”