‘Speak Now’ is the real Taylor Swift, and always will be. It’s Taylor Swift after she had matured into her true self, and before the denizens of commercial pop got a hold of her. It’s not perfect, and it’s definitely not country. But it’s sincere human sentiments set to organic music.
Saying that Justin Timberlake’s new single isn’t country may seem like an obvious statement, except that many were anticipating that the next move the pop singer and songwriter would make would be to dip his toes into country waters. Hell, after he’s been dropping monstrous hints about the move…
When former “country” artist Taylor Swift sold 1.287 million copies of her record 1989 on its debut week, it was a feat not matched since 2002. With streaming, the disillusion with the album concept, and the general implosion of the music industry, we all thought we would never see a similar feat ever again. And Adele right now is on pace to sell over double the first week sales of Taylor Swift’s 1989, or roughly 2.5 million copies.
That’s the somewhat anecdotal, but still troubling conclusion of a recent analysis by ‘Billboard.’ Today, the more likely scenario for how a song is written is scheduled meetings in cubicle farms, or collaborations on Skype with individuals who are credited as songwriters, but are better described as producers or programmers. Ideas are thrown out in collaborative form, and then workshopped in a group setting.
I express all of this knowing it’s going to be a minority, unpopular viewpoint. I also express it as someone whose philosophies in music are very much influenced by Ryan Adams’ body of work. If you find Ryan Adams’ ‘1989’ entertaining, then hey, don’t let my corrosive words cloud your judgement. But I can’t share in that joy.
So apparently Ryan Adams is in the process of recording a complete cover album of Taylor Swift’s recent record 1989 done in the style of the Morissey-fronted British rock band The Smiths. At least that is what he’s alluding to through his Twitter and Instagram accounts, which were dominated with Swift postings Thursday (8-6) as the press and curious fans spectated along.
“This site’s called savingcountrymusic.com. Why are you talking about Taylor Swift? She’s not country. She never was. Now she’s even saying she isn’t.” Well guess what, tough titty. This is my damn website, and if I want to talk about Taylor Swift, I will. And guess what, you’ll probably read about it.
Monday afternoon (8-18), Taylor Swift conducted a 30-minute Yahoo! online stream from New York City in front of a live audience with all the irrational exuberance of a Ron Popeil infomercial, where she unveiled a new song called “Shake It Off,” announced that her new album 1989 to be released on October 27th, and said her next album will be her “very first documented, official pop album.”
Welp, that’s that. Gauging from the comments made in Rolling Stone’s current country music special edition by the CEO of Big Machine Records aka the Country Music Antichrist Scott Borchetta, we can now put a period at the end of Taylor Swift’s pop country career. Finito. Done. End of story. Taylor Swift’s country run is in the books, and she’s now a pop star exclusively.
Nathan Chapman is a session musician, songwriter, and record producer. If you wanted to point to one individual behind the sonic success of Taylor Swift, it would be him. The first record Chapman ever produced was Taylor Swift’s first, self-titled release in 2006. If you hear a Taylor Swift song, you’re hearing just as much of Nathan Chapman as you are Taylor Swift….except to when it comes to Taylor’s last album “Red.”
As Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Records continue to win market share and talent from its rival labels on the Music Row campus, his propensity to inject himself more and more into the creative process could become a bigger problem. As Big Machine gets bigger, so could the artistic control dilemma, and the dilemma of maintaining control over the quality and purity of the term “country.”
The objective of the joint venture is “to allow the two companies to co-publish songwriters with the goal of bringing country and pop writers into each other’s realm.” In other words, the deal will likely mean even more pop on country radio, as pop songwriters and producers collaborate more intimately with Big Machine’s growing roster of country talent.
So what is going on with Taylor Swift and country music in 2013? For years the droning, tiresome argument of whether Taylor Swift is country or not has raged on incessantly. But something has changed since the release of her last album Red in October of 2012, hinting that Taylor Swift herself may be wanting rid of the rigid country format that has firmly ensconced her in the crosshairs of country criticism for years.
For years as a reactionary Taylor Swift hater, one of the main arguments that was made against my stance was that Taylor Swift was a good role model. My rebuttal was that being a role model was not a sonic element, so it could in no way refract the fact that Taylor Swift wasn’t country, and couldn’t sing. Is it too much to ask that our role models at least be able to fulfill their roles to even some average level of competency?
You can’t have wild, short-term dance club success and keep your reputation as an artist of substance at the same time. Taylor Swift must choose. And with “I Knew You Were Trouble”, Taylor chooses poorly. Her “trouble” is not an antagonist cast in the role of a video, or a previous lover who jilted her. It is the denizens of the pop industry who would sell her long-term substance for their short-term success.
Ever since I first christened Big Machine Records owner Scott Borchetta as the “Country Music Anti-Christ” I have gone out of my way to stipulate one important positive, that he extends his artists creative control over their music. But all of that might have just changed, and that change may change the way the whole country music business conducts itself.
The first thing that needs to be pointed out is Red is not country. Red is really the tale of two albums: A gorgeous evocation of human emotions set to enchanting music and delivered in elevated modes, and awful pop shit that leaves you almost embarrassed for Taylor from the sheer obviousness of the ploy. To Taylor’s credit, it is the good stuff that makes up the majority of this album.
So here are some specific thoughts on the songs of Taylor Swift’s album Red. This is meant to be an addendum to the more broad album review posted, so please read that first or in addition to this for the context of these reviews. As a general thought on the songs overall, I thought there were too many of them. If you are going to release an album of 16 tracks, they need to be solid. Instead, Red has some fat.