Check out the all-Taylor Swift floor routine performed by Utah gymnast Abby Paulson

Paulson, a fifth-year senior, had never had only Swift’s music in a floor routine until this year.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Abby Paulson on floor as Utah hosts Boise State, NCAA gymnastics in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024.

Abby Paulson listened to song after song, on album after album, and nothing was clicking.

The Utah Red Rocks gymnast spent months last year trying to figure out the right song combinations for her floor routine. She wanted to fill her entire one-and-a-half-minute routine with music from her favorite artist.

The experience turned out to be a cruel summer. Running out of time before the season, Paulson gave up her quest and opted to build a routine centered around “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. She ended up changing the music in the middle of the season, which gymnasts don’t normally do.

So in the lead-up to her fifth and final season at Utah, Paulson was determined to finally get her ideal floor music. She made some song suggestions to coach Carly Dockendorf and assistant coach Myia Hambrick, but empowered them to find what would ultimately work.

With an audio assist from an outside source, Paulson finally got what she’s been waiting for her entire gymnastics career: a floor routine that features music exclusively from Taylor Swift.

And she was more than ready for it.

“Abby is the biggest Taylor fan in the world,” Hambrick said.

Paulson has been a Swiftie since she was 6 years old. She listened to Swift CDs on road trips to her cabin. The first concert she attended was in 2010 during Swift’s “Speak Now” tour. In fourth grade, she choreographed a talent show routine to the song “Mean.” She went to an Eras Tour show in Denver, and plans to go again in Toronto this fall.

Surprisingly, however, Paulson had never had an all-Swift floor routine before this year, she said. When she performs on beam, Swift’s melodies and lyrics blare through the Huntsman Center sound system. But individual beam music only plays during home meets. This year, she chose the song “Timeless,” a previously unreleased track from Swift’s vault.

Songs in gymnastics routines aren’t allowed to include lyrics. That’s why it’s been so difficult for Paulson to feature Swift in her routines over the years.

“Anybody who knows Taylor Swift knows that she is an amazing lyricist,” Paulson said. “But because of that, she doesn’t rely on the background production of a lot of her songs. So there’s not as many beats that are easy to choreograph to for gymnastics.”

Many of Swift’s albums — especially the earlier ones — are driven mainly by her vocals and guitar. They have more singer-songwriter vibes than the synthesized, dynamic pop music usually heard during a gymnastics floor routine.

Paulson tried to make her all-Swift playlist work last season. She considered songs from the “Reputation” album, some from “Lover” like “ME!” and “The Man,” and even some from Swift’s country debut album.

Paulson’s fifth season as a Red Rock was her last chance. She gave Dockendorf and Hambrick suggestions off “Reputation,” but didn’t involve herself in the process after that. The coaches enlisted the help of Troy Sales, an audio content producer in Utah who mixes gymnastics music for performers and teams all over the state, including the Red Rocks and BYU.

Sales was tasked to make a routine for Paulson out of three songs: “Look What You Made Me Do” and “…Ready For It” off “Reputation,” and “Shake It Off” from “1989.” He seemed a bit daunted by the idea of having Swift’s songs in a routine without lyrics.

“That was a big challenge,” Sales said.

The result would make even Dr. Frankenstein proud. He sped up “Look What You Made Me Do” and “…Ready For It,” and closed with “Shake It Off” — which is ironic because “1989″ is admittedly (and perhaps controversially among Swifties) Paulson’s least favorite album. Sales also added hand claps, cymbal crashes, bass drops and other elements to make the mix more dynamic.

“He basically took Taylor Swift’s music and recreated it,” Dockendorf said. “So if you listen to her music, it’s not just Taylor Swift with her lyrics out. It’s Taylor Swift and Troy.”

Once the mix was approved, then came time to choreograph Paulson’s routine. She and Hambrick did doctorate-level research, watching music videos and clips of songs from Swift’s tours.

Paulson said her routine includes a couple of Easter eggs — a la Swift herself — from the pop star’s dances to her songs “Karma” and “Look What You Made Me Do.” If a Swiftie looks closely, they’ll find a version of Swift’s famous knee drop in Paulson’s routine.

“I think we had a lot more fun with it,” Paulson said of her routine. “We could play around a little more because I was a lot more comfortable with it.”

Sales said his goals when me makes mixes are hoping the original artist would be happy with the recreation, serving the gymnasts’ needs and entertaining the crowd. And with as much popularity as Swift is seeing lately, he believes Paulson’s choice in theme was “timely.”

“I truly believe she loves this music and it will hopefully help energize her and help her be her best and give her best performance when she competes,” Sales said.

In three meets so far this season, Paulson has averaged a 9.875 on her floor routine. Her scores in that event have increased since the start of the season — 9.825, 9.875 and 9.925, respectively.

Paulson was a superstar gymnast before this season. But with Swift’s stylings supporting her floor routine as a fifth-year senior, the old Abby simply can’t come to the phone right now — because she’s dead.

But that’s OK, because these things will change.

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