Saturday, 27 October 2012


Alright, enough already. I'll answer the question you all keep screaming: what do I think about Crispy's post on Taylor Swift's new album, Red, and by extension the album itself? In short, I think Crispy is too optimistic in his assessment of Taylor's new direction, and while I'd like to celebrate Red as a successful creative work, there are some problematic elements in the music that need to be unpicked.

Red marks the end (or at least the final stages) of Taylor Swift's metamorphosis from chintzy small-town country-pop girl-next-door to fully-fledged pop princess. The music is much more obviously produced, the synth lines are more prominent, and the familiar Taylor guitar is in the background when it's audible at all.

Let's deal with the obvious criticism: that Taylor's sold out, that she's gone corporate and abandoned her authentic roots, that she's now indistinguishable from any other successful pop robot. Crispy does a good job of dismissing this argument. All the major threads of Taylor's style are still present, if a little muted - from the occasional clever line in the bridge, put there to catch you off-guard, to the use of a "stepped-down version of the chorus as an intro", in Crispy's words - so long-time fans will find plenty to like here.

What about Crispy's claim that Taylor inverts the current pop paradigm? It's undeniable that instead of singing about partying and a commitment-free life, she generally sings about family and marriage. This is a clear continuation of her past work - even songs like Back to December, which feature a protagonist who casts aside commitment, demonstrate clear regret. But is this as interesting or as desirable an antithesis as Crispy says?

Taylor's good-girl attitude is an (authentic or manufactured) product of Small Town America. With her blonde hair and summery dresses, she projects the image of a girl-next-door. Think about the music video for You Belong With Me, where Taylor plays both the cute blonde love interest and the hot, black-haired cheerleader rival. Just as the girl-next door can't exist without the cheerleader, Taylor's focus on commitment in her music relies upon the current pop paradigm instead of subverting it. Rather than providing something truly new, she satisfies herself by occupying the other end of the current dichotomy. It's like the old madonna/whore dilemma in feminist theory - when the Catholic Church venerates the Blessed Virgin, that works to prop up its traditional misogyny instead of undermining it.

Enough with the themes, though. What about the music? It's, well, okay. Not bad. Starlight is good, as is The Lucky One, but songs like I Knew You Were Trouble fail to grab me. Taylor's country roots are still there, but they're in danger of being smothered. In his post, Crispy assumes that Taylor has arrived at her pop-princess pedestal - and if she has, that's fantastic - but I'm not so sure. What worries me as I listen to Red is the direction Taylor's taking: less guitars, more synth; less soul; more pop. Can she pick a path forward without drifting towards Britney Spears? I don't know. And I'm not sure I can bear to watch.

1 comment:

  1. I found this post to be poorly researched and shit