Reposting some older pieces from my other blog.
A few years ago I wrote a blog on Katy Perry and how she had finally converted me. I now can say the same of Taylor Swift. She receives plenty of critical acclaim from her peers, it’s on the blog scene where most of her haters thrive, and I admit that I used to be one of them. I resisted Swift for the longest time, and even made fun of her in the aforementioned blog. It was never that I thought she wasn’t good as an artist, I just didn’t agree with her general life philosophy or sappy romance stories. I still don’t agree with a lot of what her songs are about but now I can appreciate that they are catching and infectious. In a lot of ways I’m blown away by her songwriting abilities. I truly think that she is one of the greats.
In honor of her tour starting, I thought I’d write a blog about Taylor Swift’s latest album, Red.
Let me first start off with a brief summary of her previous three albums:
Taylor Swift (Self-Titled) (2006)
The album chronicles the day-to-day emotions and dreams of a teenaged Swift. While the sentiments in most of the songs are a bit immature and naive, there is also something rather magical about viewing the world through this young girl’s eyes. Thus far she had been largely untainted by love’s cruel reproach and major criticism. She was simply a girl looking for love and acceptance. Sweetness reaches its peak with “Mary’s Song (Oh My, My, My),” which tells the story of an older couple Swift knew that grew up together and fell in love (the stuff of girlish daydreams). The rest of the album consists of mostly break-up songs (the subject that now defines Swift’s career), a couple songs about relationships when they were going well and a general song about feeling like an outsider. All-in-all, it’s tone is sweet and it stands as the perfect representation of what most high school girls (which Swift was at the time) think about on a daily basis – boys, love and a fairytale ending.
This is when Swift’s super stardom began to emerge. Most of the songs on the album are about failed relationships, and while well written, they still don’t express much of a reflection on what love truly is and what these relationships truly meant, other than “he broke my heart, again.” The ones about budding love are idealistic and a bit superficial and, while the breakup songs are more angry, they are the still fresh, raw angry that comes after you’ve been dumped over a text message, not a well-thought reaction to realizing that you were being manipulated in the relationship.
There is one song I want to discuss briefly, “Fifteen.” I think this is one of the best examples of Swift’s philosophy on life, and how it changed from her first to second album. It still addresses her high school self but there are two key lyrics that demonstrate emotional growth – “Back then I swore I was gonna marry him someday/But I realized some bigger dreams of mine” and “I didn’t know who I was supposed to be at fifteen.” The first acknowledges Swift’s own philosophy on love and how she has matured from believing in fairytale endings, to realizing that love doesn’t have to be everything, or rather, everything doesn’t have to be about love. She’s realized a dream come true at a very young age. She gets to be a rock star and play music in front of thousands of screaming fans. She has more priorities now than just finding the right guy, although she’s still looking. The second lyric demonstrates another big growth from her first to second album. She now realizes that she didn’t really know who she was then, and maybe still doesn’t now. Life is a process and you have to be open to change, as much as we may not like it sometimes.
Fearless as an album still suffers from a young viewpoint but it makes sense, she was only 18 when it came out. The songs are still impeccably written and catchy. The overall tone is one of someone slightly exposed to real life and pain, who still holds onto the dream of hope and happiness.
Speak Now (2010)
With her third album Swift reached perfection. This is by far my favorite of her records, including her most recent. I think the overall message and tone of it is the most cohesive and inspiring. It’s very clear from some of the songs that she has experienced true pain and humiliation, as well as recognizing that some of the blame for failed relationships rests upon her. It is also clear that while she has finally been exposed to some of life’s uglier sides, she still dreams big and has hope that someday things will all work out.
I will mention two songs specifically. The first is “Never Grow Up.” I love this one because it is a letter to herself, reminding her to enjoy the simpler things in life and to not grow up too fast. I think this is evidence that she has gone through some serious emotional experiences. She grew up faster than she wanted/expected and lost much of the innocence that she had during her prior two albums. Of course we must grow up and learn to become responsible adults (although some never do) but I think her message here is to not let go of every bit of the child in yourself. Hold on to some of that innocence and wonder. It’s what makes life so enjoyable when you have to deal with the struggles of adulthood.
The second song I want to mention is “Innocent.” This is rumored to be her forgiving song to Kanye West. I love that she takes a higher road and basically says, “Yeah, we all screw up, and what you did hurt me but I forgive you.” I also think it’s an example of some of her best songwriting. I love this lyric – “Wasn’t it beautiful runnin’ wild ’til you fell asleep/Before the monsters caught up to you?” In this one thought she expresses a melancholy nostalgia for innocence and youth and then contrasts it with the harsh reality that life hardly ever works out the way you expect. It’s such a beautiful song written about such an ugly moment.
Every song on Speak Now has a similar tone of wonderment that ties it into an overall theme. Even the songs that are heartbreaking still sound as though her heart is breaking because she had to leave this fairytale world and not because she was in a destructive relationship that left her scarred and broken. In my opinion it’s her most well-rounded album, both in terms of having songs covering multiple subjects, as well as showing growth as an artist. In one record she went from a high school, starry-eyed girl to a successful, strong-willed woman. I think it says even more about her talent that she wrote all the songs on her own.
1. State Of Grace
The album starts off with this rock/pop semi ballad about falling in love (big surprise there) after kind of drifting through life and just going through the motions of the everyday (“all we know is touch and go”). It sets the stage for the rest of the album with its upbeat yet rather mellow rhythm. There’s almost a laziness to it that draws you into a relaxed mood and opens you up to the idea of meeting someone, having an instant connection and falling in love with them quickly and intensely (“you come around and the armor falls/pierce the room like a cannonball/now all we know is don’t let go”). It’s a pretty standard subject material and sound for her but at the same time something about it just seems more adult.
The title track. This exemplifies the major theme of the album- “red love.” Swift explains what she believes this to be in the CD jacket. I love that she gives a little note to the fans about each album. It helps her explain where she was coming from when writing it and it adds a personal touch that I’m sure all of her fans appreciate. In her view, loving in shades of red means loving in different shades of intensity. This could be great passion, anger, jealousy or even deep depression, which this song experiences all of (“Losing him was blue like I’d never known/Missing him was dark grey all alone/Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you never met/But loving him was red/Oh, red/Burning red”). It too is pretty standard Swift material, which means it’s a love/breakup song that is so catchy it will get even the most cynical Swift haters singing along.
This is probably my favorite song on the album (Track 5 comes pretty close too) and I think it’s an interesting change of pace for Swift. Up until now all of her songs have been very chaste in terms of sexuality. She always wrote about things from a very young, untainted girl’s perspective (first kisses and hand-holding kind of stuff). This is the first time that she hints at a physical relationship between her and the subject of the song (“And I’ll do anything you say/If you say it with your hands”). The line shows that Swift is stepping away from that innocent-starry-eyed vision of herself that has become so iconic. She is growing as an artist as well as a person. She’s bound to write about more mature material and even become bolder with the language she uses.
4. I Knew You Were Trouble
I really like this song because it’s the one on the album where she shows the most change in sound. She’s experimenting and succeeding with new approaches to the way she performs music. There is some pretty heavy dubstep happening that adds to the imagery of a toxic relationship coming apart at the seams (“Flew me to places I’d never been/Now I’m lying on the cold hard ground”). The song evokes the image of a relationship that was much more destructive than simply frustrating. It’s also more about the reflection after the relationship that suggests that she knew what she was getting into (hence the title). She’s taking on some of the blame for the fallout, declaring that she went headfirst into the relationship, knowing that it was a bad idea. The video for this song is really worth watching:
5. All Too Well
I mentioned earlier that this is one of my favorite songs on the album. What I like most about it is the essence of bittersweet emotion in it. Even if I don’t agree with Swift’s life philosophy of falling in love whenever possible, I do envy her ability to do so easily. She obviously fell deeply for whoever she wrote this song about and the backlash of doing so was that when the relationship ended, it hurt that much more (“And you call me up again just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest”). First let me just say how great the phrase “casually cruel” is. With two words she has instantly related how the other person has treated the breakup, and how horrible it makes her feel to think that they don’t seem at all bothered by it. This reduces her to almost lifeless sorrow (“I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here”). To love so freely and hurt so deeply is something I’ve never been able to do or truly understand. I may not have any experience with a relationship like this but while listening to this song, I feel like I have because Swift is so good at relaying emotion and inviting others into her dreams, happiness and pain. Any good artist doesn’t hold back and she has demonstrated time and time again that she goes headfirst into any and everything she does.
This song is really light and carefree and what I love about it is that it promotes the idea of hanging with friends and letting loose without the need for heavy drinking or partying. Not that either of those is necessarily bad (except for maybe the heavy drinking part) but I like that she has a song about leaning on your friends to get you through tough times. The only problem I have with it is that she bookends it with references to romance/guys (“It feels like a perfect night to dress up like hipsters/And make fun of our exes, ah ah, ah ah” … “You look like bad news/I gotta have you/I gotta have you”). While I recognize, and now appreciate, that’s what she is good at writing about, I was just disappointed that she couldn’t let it go for this one song. I could let the first line slip because that is what you do when you hang with friends – complain about past lovers and other stressful things. The last line though feels like a crutch. It’s almost like she got to the end and thought it needed to tie into the rest of the album so she had to add a thought about meeting the next big love in her life. Overall though, the song is about being young, confused, lonely and miserable but making it enjoyable by surrounding yourself with good friends and reminding yourself that it’s okay to enjoy the little things and have fun.
7. I Almost Do
This was the most forgettable song on the album for me. It wasn’t bad, there just wasn’t anything special about it. It is one of the slower songs on the album and I tend to immediately connect with the faster ones, whereas the slower ones need to grow on me. I don’t think that had much to do with it though. The lyrics aren’t inspiring and the idea is a little bland (“In my dreams you’re touching my face/And asking me if I want to try again with you/And I almost do”). Saucy. She’s thinking about an ex and almost calls him but then doesn’t. Okay. Exciting stuff there, Taylor. It’s still good at expressing a sad longing for this person but it just left me saying, “Eh,” (complete with shoulder shrug).
8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
The one that started it all. This was the first single off the album and a good choice considering it demonstrates the drastic change in her sound pretty well. When I first heard it I didn’t really like it but the more I listened to it the more I began to appreciate just how damn catchy it is. We’ve all heard it about a hundred times by now but I still turn the volume up every time it comes on the radio. I think the fact that it’s written like a conversation is what is so interesting to me. She’s talked about how it came about after ranting to her friend when a friend of an ex told her they (she and the ex) were totally going to get back together. It really does feel as if you were sitting with a friend listening to them rant about an ex spreading rumors and being pathetic (“You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me (talk to me)/But we are never ever ever ever getting back together”).
9. Stay Stay Stay
I have mixed feelings towards this song. It is really upbeat and infectious, which I like but at the same time it gets a little too sweet/sappy for my tastes (always a risk when I listen to any of her songs). It’s very cute and has an endearing message: work through your relationship problems and stay with the one you love (“And I love you because you have given me no choice but to/Stay, stay, stay”). Although I’m not sure Taylor is taking her own dating advice. She does have a pretty bad record when it comes to long-term relationships, or lack thereof. But who am I to judge?
10. The Last Time
I love that Swift has not one but two duets on this album. This one is with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, who I love. They have such a sad, poetic sound which translates to this song. It tells the story of a couple who is obviously toxic to each other that keep coming back despite being hurt over and over (“Right before your eyes/I’m breaking, no past/No reasons why/Just you and me”). I like the idea that you could want someone so badly and feel such a strong connection to that you keep hurting yourself because you are drawn to them. It’s sadly romantic. Sometimes you can’t explain why but some people can have a power over you and you can’t help let them in your door even after they’ve left you wounded.
11. Holy Ground
I instantly knew that I loved this song. It is so fast and upbeat but has a very melancholy message. She’s reflecting on a past relationship and realizing that even though it’s over, they had a good thing going there for a while (“It was good never looking down/And right there where we stood was holy ground”). This is the first time that she has done this with a song, as far as I know. There are no angry words of revenge or hurt, it is simply, “that was good.” I’d hope that not every relationship would be remembered for all the terrible things that happened or sad things that will never be. Plus, it’s so freaking fun to dance to.
12. Sad Beautiful Tragic
I have to say that I didn’t much like this song when I first heard it. Then I looked up the lyrics and I realized how beautiful and tragic (get it?) some of them are. For example, “Good girls, hopeful they’ll be and lonely will wait.” What a depressing thought. Good girls will be good (pure) but suffer for it by being eternally lonely and stay pointlessly hopeful. So what then? We might as well all be sluts? Then there’s this line, “And you’ve got your demons, and, darling, they all look like me.” This guy dates girls who look similar (creepy) and they’re what haunts him. They may even be what keeps him from moving on. Can’t fight the drug if you keep using it, buddy. Lastly, there is this lyric, “Hang up, give up, for the life of us we can’t get back.” That’s pretty standard breakup stuff there. The relationship is dead and there is no way to revive it so let’s just call it quits (way to “stay, stay, stay” strong). Seriously though, I feel like this song goes so far in the opposite direction of mushy romance that it would be rock-hard depression if not for the fact that it oozes wistful sentimentality. But it’s still pretty to listen to.
13. The Lucky One
Some of my friends have speculated that this song is a letter Swift has written to her future self, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way it seems to come from an experienced opinion. It tells the story of an artist that comes to LA, explodes in popularity and success overnight then crashes, or leaves right before crashing. Perhaps it’s Swift’s warning to herself to not get lost in all the glitz and glamor. It is the only song on the album that isn’t about love in some way (there is one small lyric about a lover but it’s passing and gets jumbled into all the other chaos going on) which is intriguing. It also has some interesting lyrics concerning fame (“And they tell you that you’re lucky/But you’re so confused/Cause you don’t feel pretty, you just feel used/And all the young things line up to take your place”). I have to admit I don’t feel much sympathy for Swift if she’s complaining about the price of fame. She’s rich and gets to do what she loves for a living. Yeah it sucks that her love life gets speculated on in every media form but she also writes about it. It’s bound to be discussed. She can’t have it both ways. That being said, I wouldn’t want that for my life so, a little sympathy is warranted. This song is still growing on me. I like the lyrics and tone but I’m not too hot on the music. It sounds a little too electronic.
14. Everything Has Changed
The second duet on this album. This time Ed Sheeran teams up with Taylor for a light, upbeat song about meeting someone new and the exciting rush of feelings that come after that first encounter. There’s not much to say about this song. It’s cute and endearing with lyrics such as “’Cause all I know is we said “Hello”/And your eyes look like coming home” and “And all my walls stood tall painted blue/And I’ll take them down, take them down and open up the door for you.” I don’t think it’s the best songwriting but it works well as a sweet duet.
My least favorite song on the album. An ode to Ethel Kennedy, it reeks of sappiness and tries a little too hard for a sense of nostalgia it never achieves. I do think some of the ideas are endearing. For example she sings “You’ll spend your whole life singing the blues if you keep thinking that way … Don’t you see the starlight, starlight?/Don’t you dream impossible things?” I like that sentiment. Don’t worry so much and dream amazing things, it’ll make life more enjoyable. I think that’s something we should all strive for. I just don’t like that it’s given to me in an overly sweet-to-the-point-of-nauseating package. However, this doesn’t stop me from singing along at the top of my lungs whenever it comes on in my car. That’s what Taylor Swift does to you.
16. Begin Again
I think this song is the perfect track to end on. Over the course of the album we’ve gone on a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from jealous anger to deep depression. With this song comes a fresh start. It goes through the story of a first date that takes place after a pretty nasty breakup months before. There are references to an ex contrasted against the new suitor (“I’ve been spending the last eight months/Thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end/But on a Wednesday in a cafe I watched it begin again”). The message implies there is new hope that this next person might be the one. Despite all the emotional turmoil she has been through, and all the media surrounding who she dates, Taylor Swift is still that young girl seeking love and acceptance at heart. She has matured and so have her relationships but she holds onto that essence of herself.
I think that’s what finally convinced me to be a Taylor Swift fan. With all that has surrounded her and still does, she stays true to what she believes in. I don’t feel the same way about love, nor am I obsessed with it the way she seems to be sometimes but I can fully support someone who is loyal to what makes them who they are. It doesn’t hurt that from what I’ve seen/heard she seems like a genuinely nice person.
The major complaints it seems people have about her are that she can’t sing, she writes about the same thing all the time, her views on love are archaic, and she has no real talent. In response to the first, I will say that while she doesn’t have the most amazing voice, she can sing, just watch any of her acoustic performances. I do think her voice sounds better when she just sits singing and playing guitar rather than when she is dancing around all over the stage but that’s not what people shell out the big bucks for. I may be in the minority here but if I’m paying good money for a concert, I want a show, not something I could receive the same enjoyment from as I could from listening to the CD at home.
As to writing about the same thing over and over again, I have complained about this before. However, I’ve come to realize that you do what you’re good at. So what if she only writes love songs? The Beatles catalog is made up of mostly love songs too. Plus, Swift does write about other things occasionally.
Her views on love are archaic. How do you respond to such an idiotic complaint? Everyone has their own view on what love is. Hers may be a little more traditional but why is that a bad thing?
She has no ounce of talent. Her 7 Grammy Awards say otherwise. So do her 11 AMAs, 6 CMT Music Awards, and 73 various other awards.
So what’s the point of all of this? The point is I’ve become a Taylor Swift fan despite my best efforts to avoid doing so. She’s worked her way in with her catchy songs and cute public persona. I may not be a romantic (I haven’t gone that far off the deep end) but I can at least listen to music about it without gagging or rolling my eyes too much. I even enjoy it. The point is I’ve never had to agree with someone’s opinions to enjoy and appreciate their good company and now the same can be said of good music.