Apart from death and taxes, I reckon there’s at least one other thing that is true in the world, no matter what. And it is that Taylor Swift is one of the most prolific, though-provoking, skilful, confronting, and inspiring songwriters of the modern music era. Her vocals as an artist are great too, compelling, stirring and quite heavenly really; but I believe that it is Taylor’s nuanced, level-headed, honest, personal, emotional, and empathetic narrative storytelling… that really cements her place in this list of influential artists of all time. It is the song-writing in my opinion that also lands her as one of the most relatable people in the world at the moment. There seriously isn’t anything to dislike about Taylor Swift (name me one thing- with evidence! I’ll keep waiting!), and her songs throughout her discography has received widespread listener, critical and commercial acclaim. Taylor has broken a lot of Guinness World Records for her music, and she is one of the best-selling artists of today. With Taylor being prominent throughout her career in the genres of country, pop and folk; it is her down-to-earth nature, her humbleness and her kindness that seems to win fans over. And as for me and my listening experience to Taylor’s discography over the past couple of weeks; can I say that I am now a bona-fide fan of hers? Of her song writing and of her singing? Taylor has accomplished a lot in her 15 years in the spotlight, and she has grown up immensely. Granted, she’s grown up primarily in the spotlight and in the public eye, however I reckon that the way that she has handled criticism and haters has been full of professionalism, poise, and grace. The way she tackled the masters’ controversy in 2019 was quite mature, firm, and assertive, and made me respect her all the more. But for me my love for Taylor’s music and her storytelling, is embedded in her songs and how deep she dives. Every Taylor Swift song means something to someone- and that is what I reckon is so profound, special and beautiful about everything that Taylor releases.
This blog about Taylor, is one of the uncommon ones, I reckon; in the respect that I think almost every time I’ve written a blog, I’d be writing an introductory 3-4 paragraphs, and then introduce the artist later on. Here I’ve written about Taylor from the get-go, and I reckon that with these final few artists, what good is it to ramble on and on when I could get straight to the point and write about these timeless legends whom everyone knows and loves? With Taylor’s soul-reaching music, to me there’s hardly any artist out there who can write the way she does (maybe someone like John Mayer or Sara Bareilles right now can give her a run for her money!); and the fact that Taylor has accomplished a large number of achievements, and she’s only 31 years old… well that’s just mind-boggling. And given that Taylor is in fact only 31… well, I’ve noticed a trend lately. When I recently glanced through the list of most influential artists of all time that we have written about thus far; I’ve noticed that apart from a few artists (like One Direction, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Pentatonix and several others in the ‘up and coming influential artists in 5-10 years’ time’ list), virtually every single artist is at least in their mid-30’s. Put it this way, most of these artists are older than I am right now, and at least when I’m listening to their music, I’m at ease partly because at least I’ve got time to ‘make something’ out of my life… or something like that. I’m not threatened by the success of artists who are older than me because I’m not comparing myself to them. But with Taylor, who is practically my age (she was born in December 1989, same as me!), at first I assumed that the natural thing for me to do is to cry out to God or to punch the wall or to grumble or to lament about lost opportunities, because I am not as ‘successful’ or ‘popular’ compared to her. The natural thing to feel would be envy and jealousy, towards Taylor and her career. But unlike the ‘natural thing to do’, I am instead in awe and in wonder of everything Taylor has accomplished. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a recent fan- and more than that; I reckon she is my favourite female ‘mainstream’ artist. I don’t think that’s ever going to change any time soon.
As humans, we want to be the best and we want to climb to the top of anything… so that people know our name and that we are recognised for putting in the hard yards. Someone who is the same age as me who is extremely successful… should threaten me. Emphasis on the word ‘should’, because Taylor doesn’t threaten me at all. Nor should she threaten any of you. Why is Taylor successful at only 31 years old? Is it because of sheer luck, or is God’s hand upon her life? Is Taylor hard working or did she receive everything handed to her on a silver platter? Is Taylor just freakishly good and is a one-in-a-million artist who we should just fawn over, marvel in wonder, and strive to be like; or is it more because she has the right connections and knows the right people? I firmly believe that some artists just have the ‘it’ factor- and Taylor is one of those. So… she’s younger or the same age as most of us who have been working in ‘mundane’ or ‘dead-end’ jobs. Does this mean we dunk on or hate on her? No, no it doesn’t. We should in fact thank God for allowing her to bless us and inspire us through her God-given talent of singing and song writing. But beyond that though, should we try to analyse why she’s famous for the purposes of trying to ‘use her rulebook’ and hopefully emulate her in the naïve misguided hope that we achieve the same success as her or even greater? No, no we shouldn’t. God has us all in our own special roles, and we are all part of one body.
I’ve been reading the Bible recently (and so I should more regularly!), and one part has stuck out to me recently and greatly, that is applicable to how we should treat Taylor and her insane song writing skills. 1 Corinthians 12 speaks about how Christians have different gifts: There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (v 4-11). And what Paul is saying, I reckon, to the church in Corinth, was related to the fact that sure, everyone in the church had different gifts, but especially in Corinth, they were all bickering and comparing themselves to each other. They were all trying to usurp each other and were trying to big-note each other in the sense that they wanted to be the greatest. It’s human nature, even in the church, to want to be the best at something, so that people know your name and who you are. But what Paul is saying, is that God has a special role for everyone in the church- and by extension- everyone in life. I’m paraphrasing here, but further on, Paul talks about the church as a body. So let us all consider a body.
The eye thinks it’s better than the hand. The feet decide to go on strike because they reckon they’re better than the mouth, and want recognition and applause for their role. Everything is in chaos. They all begrudgingly work together; but if one day, the arm says to the leg that ‘I don’t need you’, what would happen? If the ear suddenly has a case of the ‘I’ disease, and decides that they need to be front and centre, what would happen? Well, to be frank, I’d say that there’d be absolute pandemonium. If everything was an ear, how could you walk? If everything was a foot, how could you smell? Paul was trying to get across the point that in the church, there are people who prophesy and there are people who are good at music, and there are people who are good at overseas mission, and there are people who are good at serving, and there are people who are good at evangelising. Does that mean that one person is better than the other and has to act all pompous and prideful? Does that mean everyone else needs to be envious and jealous of someone else’s success? No, and no. This doesn’t mean that one person is better than the other. It just means that everyone is different and everyone has different roles. In the same sense, should we compare our talents to Taylor’s? Taylor is excellent at singing and song-writing, and does this mean that we all should try to be like her? If everyone wanted to be actors and singers and musicians and entertainers and social media gurus and Youtubers and online content creators; then who’s going to be the garbage collectors? Who’s going to be the doctors, teachers, policemen? Everyone has their place in society and everyone has their own gift. Just because you may be in between seasons of work, doesn’t mean that it’ll stay that way forever. And just because Taylor is the queen of her craft at the moment, doesn’t mean that success is guaranteed to stay there forever.
I’ve realised through my blogging about artists who I believe are the most influential of all time, that success if fleeting. Some artists have one big hit and nothing much else. But others have sustained success, for apparently no other reason than God has blessed them and decided to place them in a season of success- for as long as He deems it. And so, is one artist better than another? Well it kind of depends on what your own metric of ‘better’ actually entails, but generally speaking no, I firmly believe that each artist has their place in society. Each person has their role in society. And if we think we know better and think that this list is to pit certain artists together in a boxing match where the winner receives clout and the loser fades into oblivion, then I think you’ve missed the purpose of this blog series. Throughout the past couple of years, we’ve been writing about artists who have encouraged, who have inspired, who have given us hope in times of darkness, and who have gone above and beyond what we as a people have expected them to. We’ve written about artists who have been in the industry for a long time, as well as up and coming artists. We’ve written about artists who have changed the landscape of song-writing and music for the better, and artists who we just don’t connect with for one reason or another. All of these artists are different, and I believe that the point of this whole series, is just so that we can see that the world is bigger than our favourite artists. And time is too short for comparing favourites and saying that one person is greater than the other. Time is also too short for envy and jealousy, because then we’re just being annoyed about things we can’t control. Do you like Taylor Swift? Good, so don’t go bagging on people who don’t. Do you dislike Taylor’s music for one reason or another? Ok, fair enough, don’t go hating on people who do. We’ve all got our favourites. But I firmly believe that Taylor Swift is a one-in-a-million kind of artist. And objectively, we’ve all got to recognise greatness, don’t we? Maybe I’m over-philosophising about what it truly means when I say that I’m not jealous about Taylor Swift. But regardless; she is a one-of-a-kind. And so, let us see what the fuss is about, and find out why Taylor Swift is the Artist of the Decade.
I definitely think that sometimes you don’t realise how you’re being perceived. Pop music can feel like it’s The Hunger Games, and like we’re gladiators. And you can really lose focus of the fact that that’s how it feels because that’s how a lot of stan [fan] Twitter and tabloids and blogs make it seem – the overanalysing of everything makes it feel really intense. I didn’t realise it was like a classic overthrow of someone in power – where you didn’t realise the whispers behind your back, you didn’t realise the chain reaction of events that was going to make everything fall apart at the exact, perfect time for it to fall apart.
When people are in a hate frenzy and they find something to mutually hate together, it bonds them. And anything you say is in an echo chamber of mockery. You can either stand there and let the wave crash into you, and you can try as hard as you can to fight something that’s more powerful and bigger than you. Or you can dive under the water, hold your breath, wait for it to pass and while you’re down there, try to learn something. Why was I in that part of the ocean? There were clearly signs that said: Rip tide! Undertow! Don’t swim! There are no lifeguards! Why was I there? Why was I trusting people I trusted? Why was I letting people into my life the way I was letting them in? What was I doing that caused this?
A lot about… my privilege allowed me to not have to learn about white privilege. I didn’t know about it as a kid, and that is privilege itself, you know? And that’s something that I’m still trying to educate myself on every day. How can I see where people are coming from, and understand the pain that comes with the history of our world? I come from country music. The number one thing they absolutely drill into you as a country artist, and you can ask any other country artist this, is ‘Don’t be like the Dixie Chicks!’ I watched country music snuff that candle out. The most amazing group we had, just because they talked about politics. And they were getting death threats. They were made such an example that basically every country artist that came after that, every label tells you, ‘Just do not get involved, no matter what.’
I’ve always had this habit of never really going into detail about exactly what situation inspired what thing, but even more so now. I know the difference between making art and living your life like a reality star. And then even if it’s hard for other people to grasp, my definition is really clear. How do you learn to maintain? How do you learn not to have these phantom disasters in your head that you play out, and how do you stop yourself from sabotage – because the panic mechanism in your brain is telling you that something must go wrong. You can’t just make cut-and-dry decisions in life. A lot of things are a negotiation and a grey area and a dance of how to figure it out.
Before I dive into Taylor’s body of work, let me just reaffirm my previous position. That the ability of Taylor to eloquently, effortlessly, honesty and poignantly create heartfelt melodies that touch our soul, as well as move between genres of pop, country, folk, Americana, dance, EDM and various others so seamlessly… not to mention the ability of Taylor to write from the heart and to invoke emotion in us about relevant lyrical and thematic topics that are universal within us no matter what we believe; well that’s just simply out-of-this-world. Taylor is a once-in-a-generation artist, and if you haven’t listened to her music… well then, you’re missing out. You can read about her on Wikipedia (because there is a lot of information about her, more than we will be covering!), as well as view her discography (albums and singles) before you dive in so that you’re all across everything Taylor when we speak about songs like “Shake It Off” or “Love Story”. But let me just say that throughout my entire life, I never envisioned being a Taylor Swift fan. Not to say that I’m now an avid fan who buys all the merch and camps outside for hours and hours to buy the latest album, or queues for the latest concert days in advance. But as I have stepped out and delved deep into her music; I’ve discovered that even objectively, I can’t help but to root for Taylor and her success. With a smorgasbord of genres encompassed within her discography, Taylor has redefined what music sounds like, and has raised the standard ten-fold or maybe more. Her brand of singer/songwriter, pop and country is just sheer infectious and contagious in an extremely good way, and as I listened through her albums many times over; I could see what the big deal was. I couldn’t see back then, when Taylor was racking up all of these awards and accolades; but now I know that this girl is special. Every once in a while, someone comes along and wows the entire world. Taylor Swift is that person.
While I would normally briefly write about Taylor’s accolades and her awards and about how she’s impacted the world at large… I will save that later on. Because we really need to get to the songs though, don’t we? And before we progress in a linear fashion, and dive into her 2006 debut first (I mean, Taylor is all obsessed with the story, so why don’t we see this blog like a story, from start until now?); I must mention “Shake It Off”. The biggest video on Youtube, the song introduced Taylor’s fans to Taylor the artist, who used to be in country, now embarking on a pop journey, in one of the most polarising and controversial music moves in history. The album 1989 broke all sorts of records, just read about the album on Wikipedia; but the song “Shake It Off” in and of itself was, and is, a phenomenon. Incredibly catchy and danceable, the pop song honestly dives into the notion of being told that you’re not good enough and rising above the haters and what they say; while the song also doubled-up as a diss to the haters who believed that Taylor wasn’t going to make it in pop music. With the song being a statement and giving permission for us all to run our own race and to not worry about everyone else, Taylor emphatically relays that though ‘…the players gonna play, play, play, play, play, and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, I shake it off, I shake it off…’, and also inspires us to only worry about our own opinion and no one else’s. And as Taylor herself has mentioned that “Shake It Off” is essentially written about an important lesson I learned that really changed how I live my life and how I look at my life. I really wanted it to be a song that made people want to get up and dance at a wedding reception from the first drum beat. But I also wanted it to be a song that could help someone get through something really terrible, if they wanted to focus on the emotional profile, on the lyrics. Because I’ve had people say things to me like, “When my mom died, I listened to this every single day to help me get out of bed.” And then I’ve had people say, “I danced to this drunk at a wedding reception.” If they want to forget about the lyrics, they can, but if they want to hang on every word, they can do that, too; we are met with a legendary, iconic, timeless classic; and one of Taylor’s most synonymous and important songs ever.
But to understand Taylor the artist and how she writes and how she performs, we must travel back to where it all began. Because a person is the sum of their values, morals, beliefs and past experiences, so too does that sentiment apply to music artists. Before Taylor released her first album, the self-titled country debut project in 2006; she became one of Big Machine Records’ first signings. Though we all know now what occurred in 2019 with the masters fiasco with Big Machine Records; prior to this, I’d say Taylor’s relationship with Big Machine Records was pretty positive. With Taylor Swift having released late 2006, the album peaked at number five on the U.S. Billboard 200, where it spent 157 weeks—the longest stay on the chart by any release in the U.S. in the 2000s decade. So why don’t we think about that and dwell upon that for a second. For a debut to have that kind of staying power- that must blow one’s mind, don’t you reckon? Taylor also won the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award for Best New Artist, the Academy of Country Music Awards’ Top New Female Vocalist, and the American Music Awards’ Favorite Country Female Artist honor. She was also nominated for Best New Artist at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards. Does that kind of pressure and stardom when you’re that young (16 years old!) get to you? I’m sure it might, but Taylor obviously took it all in her stride and hence this resulted in her I guess having more of a firm grounding and standing on who Taylor was as a person.
Song-wise, you’d never guess that this was Taylor’s debut, as all of these songs are relatable, and none are cliché or anything you’d expect from a teenager. Still, there’s that ‘teenage voice’ and that naivety there, which is adorable and cute to hear… but once we are immersed in what I reckon is one of the most powerful debut albums since the turn of the century; then we can confidently proclaim that we have been blessed by someone special. “Tim McGraw”, Taylor’s first single, details a high school relationship with someone who Taylor is acquaintances with now, and speaks about the intensity and the vibrancy of a love you think is forever. With Taylor wishing her partner-at-the-time well; this love song is essentially a track that is pure in its intentions, this song was a coping mechanism for Taylor when the guy moved away; and hopefully this song inspires us to never miss a moment with the people we love- because once we realise it, it may be too late. “Teardrops On My Guitar”, a laid-back acoustic guitar led ballad, is also about love, but it’s unrequited. The song speaks about Taylor’s love for a boy named Drew, and afterward the song was released, Drew tried to date Taylor, but he was ‘too late’ according to her. And thus, Taylor went on her merry way. But this song has a broader reach; and reminds us to take our moments when we see them. Hopefully a catalyst to be active in our lives rather than passive, “Teardrops On My Guitar” is soothing and powerful, and has a relevant message also- living with regrets is painful so why can’t we try living a different way right now? “Our Song”, an upbeat country themed fiddle and strings prominent melody, is about the same boy in “Tim McGraw”, and is about how Taylor and the boy’s ‘song’ wasn’t a song but rather the pivotal events in their life- using them as milestones to look back on fondly; while the savage, hard-hitting “Picture To Burn” eloquently describes a bad relationship Taylor had when she was younger, and reminds us that sometimes we ought to run away from toxic relationships if they’re aren’t uplifting and edifying for us. “Should’ve Said No”, an emotional, personal track about a break-up, is another highlight, and another track where Taylor shines in her vulnerability and authenticity, and by this point, we’re convinced by the powerful nature and timelessness of this already relatable and relevant debut album; while “Stay Beautiful” and “A Place In This World” are tracks which further highlight Taylor’s everyday-everywoman persona and her love for creating as real a song as she can.
As great as Taylor Swift was though, and as impactful a debut as it was; I reckon what Taylor will be remembered for is Fearless. Known now as the first album that she re-recorded post the masters controversy; Fearless marked a change in Taylor, and she began to write about more than high school relationships. Her appeal was not just at teenage girls- and this album changed an entire generation. Fearless debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and was the top-selling album of 2009 in the U.S., while at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, Fearless was named Album of the Year and Best Country Album, and the single “White Horse” was named Best Country Song and Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Taylor was also the youngest artist to win Album of the Year at the Grammys, while she also won Album of the Year for Fearless at the 2009 Country Music Association Awards (CMA’s), as well as Entertainer of the Year. And as far as songs go, well… there’s “Love Story”, which garnered a plethora of awards across country awards shows. The album’s first single, and a song that is synonymous with Taylor and her rise to stardom. On the surface, “Love Story” is just like any other country relationship style song, but here is where it defies logic. It’s a happy love song that brings a smile to my face, even though I’m not that target demographic… not by a long shot. This melody makes us believe in fairy tales, and showcases the little kid in each of us. A song that is fun, and somewhat innocent and childish in the best way possible, Taylor speaks about believing in true love and doing something because it’s something you want to do, not what society says you should do. It’s a song that is relatable and relevant to a lot of people, and as Taylor speaks about the story behind the song, we are glimpsed into probably one of the biggest songs of the 2000’s- period: I was going through a situation like that where I could relate. I used to be in high school where you see [a boyfriend] every day. Then I was in a situation where it wasn’t so easy for me, and I wrote this song because I could relate to the whole Romeo and Juliet thing. I was really inspired by that story. Except for the ending. I feel like they had such promise and they were so crazy for each other. And if that had just gone a little bit differently, it could have been the best love story ever told. And it is one of the best love stories ever told, but it’s a tragedy. I thought, why can’t you… make it a happy ending and put a key change in the song and turn it into a marriage proposal? I wrote it about a guy that I was talking to. He wasn’t the popular choice, but I believed in it. I thought, ‘This love is different, but it’s real.’ And I knew I needed to put that line in somewhere. I think that this song is really more about a love that’s not convenient and not as comfortable as something else, but it’s something you have to fight for. I added the ending [a proposal] cause I want that ending. I want someone to say, ‘I love you and that’s all I really know.’ That’s the girly girl in me.
As much as “Love Story” put Taylor on the map of a being a quality songwriter and singer, that does not mean in any way that there’s no other compelling, moving and powerful song from Fearless. On the contrary. Because I feel that though “Love Story” was the most hyped song from Taylor, other songs to me are more inspiring and meaningful. “White Horse”, which is a heartbreaking piano and acoustic guitar ballad, speaks about Taylor falling for someone who subsequently cheats on her, and also reminds us to have a firm sense of who we are before we give our heart completely away to another, so that we can still have a sense of identity if our heart is broken, as ‘…this ain’t Hollywood, this is a small town, I was a dreamer before you went and let me down, now it’s too late for you and your white horse to come around…’; while the seemingly sweet but somewhat obsessive, creepy and possessive “You Belong With Me”, an upbeat melody led by guitars and the fiddle, charted in the top 5 of both the Billboard Hot 100 and Country Songs simultaneously in the middle of 2009, and tells a story of unrequited love and trying to grab the attention of the object of your affections. It’s a track that isn’t as creepy as “Every Breath You Take” from The Police, but this song does tell the story of every-day life. Crushes of people who are taken, can happen; and this song is one that I’m sure speaks to several of us. Is there anything we can do about these crushes which may or may not be fleeting? Well… as long as we aren’t violent or anything, maybe singing this song over and over and over may help us in dealing with the feelings of infatuation. Or not? In any case, this song garnered controversy at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards (and started Taylor’s beef with Kanye West); while Taylor also impresses on the title track “Fearless”, a celebration of being unafraid and putting yourself out there in a relationship, in spite of everything that might go wrong.
“Breathe”, with Colbie Caillat, is a soothing, calming and relaxing acoustic guitar led melody, whereby Taylor and Colbie graciously and beautifully sing in harmony about a love lost and the persona having to be able to breathe without the other person, despite them still being desperately in love; while “Fifteen” is a slow-tempo ballad, a personal and honest depiction of friendship between Taylor and her high school friend Abigail, that ‘…when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them, and when you’re fifteen, feelin’ like there’s nothin’ to figure out, well, count to ten, take it in, this is life before you know who you’re gonna be, fifteen…’. To me “Fifteen” is one of the most inspiring and comforting songs on Fearless, and reminds us of the simplicity and innocence of high school, and the fact that sometimes you want to go back in time to live in your own little bubble; and it’s at that time when you can’t help but be grateful for your childhood, no matter what it looked like. “You’re Not Sorry”, a savage take-down of an ex, is stirring and compelling to listen to, to see Taylor stand up to herself and to take back her power that was stolen; while the emotional and powerful “Forever & Always” speaks about Taylor’s demise of a relationship with Joe Jonas: It’s about watching somebody fade away in a relationship. They said they were going to be with you forever, that they loved you, and then something changed in the relationship and you don’t know what it is, but you’re watching them slowly drift. That emotion of rejection, for me, usually starts out sad and then gets mad. This song starts with this pretty melody that’s easy to sing along with, then in the end I’m basically screaming it because I’m so mad. I’m really proud of that. “Change”, the inspirational, quasi-worshipful melody about rising above your adversities, to me is a really underrated melody, that to this day gets me up on my feet with passion and joy, as this song speaks about being the change you would like to see; while Taylor also showcases her vocal and song writing abilities with “The Best Day”, a tribute and homage to her mother and how she raised her.
With Fearless being essentially Taylor’s launching pad to stardom, and albums like 1989 and Reputation firmly placing her imprint in the pop world, I reckon the forgotten album even now is 2010’s Speak Now. But as I essentially listened to this album for the first time over the past two weeks, I’ve found it to be quite underrated. With Taylor co-producing every single track from this project, Speak Now became the fastest-selling digital album by a female artist at the time, with virtually every one of her singles entering into the top three of the Hot Country Songs radio charts. “Mine”, Taylor’s first single from the album, is a gorgeous, emotive, honest and stirring love song about the simplicity of love and finding that special someone that you’re meant to be with for the rest of your life; while “Back To December” delves into a point in time where Taylor wronged someone… and the first time she has apologised to this person is in this song. It’s a reminder that people are people and that sometimes we make terrible mistakes, and in this sense, the fact that Taylor is acknowledging her wrongs and faults here is quite admirable, that It addresses a first for me in that I’ve never apologized in song. The person I wrote this song about deserves this. This is about a person who was incredible to me, just perfect to me in a relationship, and I was really careless with him.
High-school teenagers, or even people as they’re adults, can be really mean, and the powerful, moving and impactful “Mean” addresses the fact quite well, as Taylor sings about how music critic Bob Lefsetz gave her a cruel review after a February 2010 performance with Stevie Nicks. It’s a song that has staying power and resonates with a wide range of people, as we can also be talking about ‘meanness’ in general (and in my opinion this song is the shining light on an underrated album), as Taylor relays to us that “I get that, no matter what, you’re going to be criticized for something. But I also get that there are different kinds of ways to criticize someone. There’s constructive criticism, there’s professional criticism – and then there’s just being mean. And there’s a line that you cross when you just start to attack everything about a person. No matter how old you are, no matter what your job is, no matter what your place is in life. There’s always going to be someone who’s just mean to you. Dealing with that is all you can control about that situation, how you handle it. ‘Mean’ is about how I handle it, and sort of my mind set about this whole situation. Some days I’m fine and I can just brush it off and go about my day, but some days it absolutely levels me. All I can do is continue to try to work hard every single day and feel everything. I think it’s important to feel things because I then write songs about that. The whole idea of being criticized and the fact that that entered my life made for a song that I’m very proud of on the record called ‘Mean’.” The title track “Speak Now”, rumoured to be inspired by Taylor’s friend Hayley from Paramore, who attended the wedding of her ex, speaks about the notion of us all speaking out and speaking firm against what we believe is wrong and needs changing (doesn’t have to be in objection to a wedding!); while “Sparks Fly” was written in response to Taylor having a celebrity crush in country star Jake Owen, and not being able to do anything about it, that ‘…I see sparks fly whenever you smile, get me with those green eyes, baby, as the lights go down, give me something that’ll haunt me when you’re not around…’. Another song about a crush, this track inspires us to have a better outlet of venting (like singing about it) rather than trying to get their attention, especially when you know they’re not right for you.
“The Story Of Us”, a rare rock anthem from Taylor, and a resounding, eclectic standout, is a fast-paced, energetic no-nonsense emotional melody, and speaks about the awkward run-in with her ex John Mayer at an awards show, and that ‘…now I’m standing alone in a crowded room, and we’re not speaking, and I’m dying to know, is it killing you like it’s killing me?…’; while the acoustic guitar led “Ours”, a song directed to the haters, and speaking generally about critics and listeners disapproving about Taylor’s past relationships, is present on the deluxe edition of Speak Now. “Long Live”, one of the underrated tracks on Speak Now, rounds out the album, and is a melody of joy and celebration, as Taylor looks back on the fondest memories of her career. The song is dedicated to her fans and her band. Referenced as “the best Bon Jovi song Bon Jovi never wrote”; Taylor also inspires us to live in the moment, and to celebrate each and every beautiful thing we experience, as This song is about my band, and my producer, and all the people who have helped us build this brick by brick. The fans, the people who I feel that we are all in this together, this song talks about the triumphant moments that we’ve had in the last two years. This song for me is like looking at a photo album of all the award shows, and all the stadium shows, and all the hands in the air in the crowd. It’s sort of the first love song that I’ve written to my team.
The first three albums of Taylor’s were unashamedly and emphatically country in nature. It was a brand of storytelling that we hadn’t heard of before… and there wasn’t any hint of Taylor moving into pop music. So how did 1989 blow up into the pop beast that it is right now? It’s simply really. The 2012 album Red, which was still predominantly country, had smatterings of pop influences littered throughout. And though you have the country purists who hate everything post-Red, and those who love pop music who maybe can’t stand Taylor’s country material; I for one love all of it- and I’m not bothered by changes in genre. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I believe that a good song is a good song is a good song, no matter how it sounds. And Taylor has delivered us this time and time again. With the album earning several accolades, including four nominations at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in 2014; the single “I Knew You Were Trouble” won Best Female Video at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, and Taylor received American Music Awards for Best Female Country Artist in 2012, and Artist of the Year in 2013.
Speaking of “I Knew You Were Trouble”, let’s start there for a moving and powerful song for Taylor, shall we? Because this song, I guess is one of the first tracks where Taylor was moving away from her country roots. Not that that’s a bad thing, just interesting. With the song being a fusion of different melodic influences (EDM, dance, pop, dubstep, and just a hint of country in the verses), Taylor firmly sings about losing herself in a bad relationship, and feeling sorry and shameful for herself for letting the relationship get too far. With speculation that the person in question in the song is John Mayer or Jake Gyllenhaal, Taylor emphatically relays to us listeners that ‘…I knew you were trouble when you walked in, so shame on me now, flew me to places I’d never been, now I’m lying on the cold hard ground…’; and encourages us once again to keep our eyes open and to immediately leave toxic situations. Similar in theme, the bouncy and poppy guitar led “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, the first single from Red, dives deep into a sarcastic ‘love song’ to an ex (once again presumably John Mayer or Jake Gyllenhaal); as Taylor warns us all about ‘the player’ and encourages us all to find someone who builds us up and makes us better than before.
“22”, the party acoustic guitar pop anthem that I feel is like a coming-of-age song, speaks about living your best life and growing up to be an adult, and also about celebrating life with your friends, and that according to Taylor, “Being 22 has been my favorite year of my life. I like all the possibilities of how you’re still learning, but you know enough. You still know nothing, but you know that you know nothing. You’re old enough to start planning your life, but you’re young enough to know there are so many unanswered questions. That brings about a carefree feeling that is sort of based on indecision and fear and at the same time letting lose. Being 22 has taught me so much. Finally, I’ve got this amazing group of girlfriends and we tell each other everything, we’re together all the time. And I think that was kind of the marker of me being 22, like having all these friends and there’s all these question marks in your life, but the one thing that you have is that you have each other.” While the title track speaks about a tumultuous and chaotic love in the metaphor of colours- with Taylor vividly describing how much she loved this person, yet always knew it wasn’t going to end up happy for her- thus ‘…losing him was blue like I’d never known, missing him was dark gray, all alone, forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you never met, but loving him was red…’.
On the flipside, the acoustic guitar country ballad “Begin Again”, the album ender (on the standard edition of Red), is a sweet song instead of a being a heartbreaker, and the song is about a chivalrous guy who respects Taylor for who she is, a song where the persona can begin again after a messy breakup, and a song that gives us all hope for happy endings; while critics and listeners (and myself as well!) all agree that “All Too Well”, another break-up song about Jake, is one of Taylor’s most vulnerable, honest, gut-wrenching, moving and thought-provoking songs ever. A track that beautifully juxtaposes the raw emotions, heartbreaking loss, aching love still felt and the torturous and conflicting pain, with the smooth composure and the sleek professionalism; reminds us all what a masterpiece this song is and how powerful a storyteller Taylor is. I mean, this song even makes me hate Taylor’s ex Jake, if only for a bit. “Everything Has Changed”, sung with Ed Sheeran, is a skilful, emotional and exquisite piano ballad, and to me an album highlight, whereby both Taylor and Ed emphatically sing about a love that blossoms and changes one’s perspective on life, as ‘…all I know is you held the door, you’ll be mine and I’ll be yours, all I know since yesterday is everything has changed…’; while Taylor also collaborates with Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol for “The Last Time”, as the persona and her lover are at breaking point, and he is asking her for another chance- it is the last time that he’s asking for a chance, and it’s the last time she will accept him. “State Of Grace” is another standout on Red, as the arena-rock U2-like rock anthem speaks about that feeling of euphoria and pure bliss at the start of a relationship, where it’s like a blank space, and anything is possible.
Convincing members of my team that [the pop move] was a good call. People seem to love the album, and we’re all high-fiving each other, but I remember all the sit-downs in the conference rooms, where I would get kind of called in front of a group of people who have worked with me for years. They said, “Are you really sure you want to do this? Are you sure you want to call the album 1989? We think it’s a weird title. Are you sure you want to put an album cover out that has less than half of your face on it? Are you positive that you want to take a genre that you cemented yourself in, and switch to one that you are a newcomer to?” And answering all of those questions with “Yes, I’m sure” really frustrated me at the time — like, “Guys, don’t you understand, this is what I’m dying to do?” The biggest struggle turned into the biggest triumph when it worked out.
I never thought too hard about it, but you’ll notice a lot of celebrity-type people tend to surround themselves with people whose lives revolve around them. You’ll have a posse of these exciting and fashionable cling-ons, and it’s because those celebrities need to be fawned over. I feel uncomfortable being the No. 1 priority in my friends’ lives — I want to be there to make their lives more fun, if they need to talk, to be there for spontaneous and exciting adventures, but I don’t want friends who don’t have a life outside of me. So whether it’s Karlie, who loves what she does in fashion, or Lily Aldridge or Lena or my [childhood] friend Abigail, whose job is making sure that veterans get their compensation checks, the one thing they all have in common is that they love what they do. They have me in their life because they want me in their life, not because they gain from it.
Over the past two weeks of me listening to Taylor Swift’s music, I’ve found Red to be my most enjoyable album- it follows a narrative and a story of finding love, falling out of it, and finding new love again. It’s the album that closely resembles Taylor’s real life at that moment in time, and thus we are following on in the journey as she is feeling it. Red is probably the album that is the most loved by critics also. But 1989, the album immediately resulting from Taylor’s move into pop music, is probably the most accessible. I’ve written about “Shake It Off” earlier in this blog, and it is indeed extremely catchy, and universally applicable to all of us. Yet the entire album of 1989 is a blast to listen to- though the country sheen is gone, the song writing skills and heart remain. “Blank Space”, a sarcastic, satirical tongue-in-cheek song, delves deep into Taylor’s dating life, and as the song seems to allude to the fact that rumours were swirling around that Taylor was a man-hater and someone who is overdramatic and excessive- always someone who dated just to put these people in her songs; “Blank Space” is a comedy-ish type track that sort-of puts the critics in their place, and reminds us that Taylor herself can make masterpieces out of anything. “Style”, on the other hand is a dark, moody, electric guitar mid-tempo ballad, about a tumultuous relationship Taylor had (presumed to be at the time with Harry Styles) in which the persona and her lover keep running back to even though it’s destructive; and this reminds us also to be wary of people who seem to good to be true, and to build your relationships on something more solid rather than fleeting moments that can fade away at any minute. “Bad Blood” (recorded as a rap song with Kendrick Lamar and as a solo pop song) dives deep into the feud Taylor had with Katy Perry (which last from 2013 up until 2018- started because Katy stole Taylor’s dancers for her tour instead), with Taylor earnestly relaying to us that ‘…baby, now we’ve got bad blood, you know it used to be mad love, so take a look what you’ve done, ’cause baby, now we’ve got bad blood, hey! Now we’ve got problems, and I don’t think we can solve ’em, you made a really deep cut, and baby, now we’ve got bad blood…’; while one of my favourite songs from 1989 is “Out Of The Woods”, an earnest, hard-hitting, contemplative yet chaotic EDM infused vivid track that details Taylor’s doomed relationship with her ex (Harry?), as the picturesque and stirring music video bring the track to life on a whole other level. Plus it doesn’t hurt to have for KING & COUNTRY cover this track to perfection also!
One thing that I reckon is hard to do when you’re in the spotlight is dating, and having your private life be private, and “Wildest Dreams” plays on Taylor’s insecurities at the time of every relationship presumably set to fail for one reason or another. And so Taylor has created this song that speaks about this fear, as she tells her lover (who wants the relationship to last) to ‘…say you’ll remember me, standin’ in a nice dress, starin’ at the sunset, babe, red lips and rosy cheeks, say you’ll see me again, even if it’s just in your wildest dreams, ah, ha…’; reminding us that though we do need to be guarded with respect to our heart, sometimes diving all in in a relationship can be healing and therapeutic, even if it may not last. “New Romantics”, a synth driven EDM dance melody, and only present on the deluxe version of 1989; is a personal highlight of an already stirring and strong album, and eloquently highlights Taylor’s at-the-time cynical approach to love and romance. And as Taylor reiterates, that that loving truly and deeply, and living freely as can be without any expectations can be satisfying and fulfilling; we are presented with the theme that ‘…heartbreak is the national anthem, we sing it proudly, we are too busy dancing to get knocked off our feet, baby, we’re the new romantics, the best people in life are free…’. The album opener on 1989 is “Welcome To New York”, a big and booming pop melody co-written with Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, and this signifies a new chapter for Taylor, as she marvels and gushes over moving to New York and leaving Nashville behind- not a diss to Nashville but a celebration of moving onto new opportunities. While “Wonderland” and “Clean”, both not singles, remind us that Taylor as a songwriter is a living genius; with the former track being a vivid description of a toxic relationship (using the story of Alice In Wonderland as the basis for the lows and the highs), and the latter track being an intense and detailed description of escaping a unhealthy relationship, this time using the metaphor of becoming clean from drugs: It’s about comparing getting over a relationship to sobriety; it has a lot of different references between addiction and moving on from a relationship.
With Taylor having been named Billboard’s Woman of the Year in 2014, while 1989 won Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album in 2016, and “Bad Blood” won Best Music Video; Taylor was the first woman and fifth act overall to win Album of the Year twice as a lead artist. 1989 broke all sorts of records, and you can read about it on Wikipedia; and then Taylor followed it up with 2017’s Reputation. By this time Taylor was everywhere, and her status as someone who was outspoken for her views increased all the more with the sexual assault trial in 2016. As such, Reputation was going to make a statement… and make a statement, it did do! To me, It’s quite a polarising project, and it’s quite thematically and lyrically dark. Personally, Reputation isn’t my favourite (I for one was more captivated by Red)… but hey, if you love the album, then, go for it! More power to you! But kudos for Taylor for doing something different, and stretching the boundaries of what pop music should look and sound like. Lead single “Look What You Made Me Do” is a brutal takedown and shakedown of a number of unnamed rivals and nemeses, that veers slightly more towards electro-pop than we probably would’ve expected- and with an intense, tonally dark music video, this track reinforces that the ‘new Taylor’ is surely here to stay. It’s a song that I for one an conflicted by, as this song is about carrying grudges and speaking about how the ‘pop version’ of Taylor is here to stay and the ‘country version of Taylor is dead. Obviously, since then Taylor released Folklore and Evermore and she was exploring the folk genre in those two albums, so I guess ‘pop Taylor’ is a persona that might be gone now; but at the time, it was pretty disconcerting to hear that Taylor was dismissive of everything pre-1989. I’ m not sure if she believed it at the time, but regardless, the song was kind of a bitter pill to swallow. Fortunately for Taylor, the song was a hit, as the song was played a total of 10,129,087 times on Spotify in its first 24 hours, more than any other song has achieved in a single day. This surpassed the 6.87m streams attracted by Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” during its first 24 hours on the platform in January 2017.
“…ready for it?”, a EDM synth driven remix-like melody, is the second single from Taylor from Reputation, and the song vividly and sensually dives deep into the act of sex with Taylor’s current boyfriend Joe (again a ‘darker theme signifying that Taylor isn’t all innocent anymore!)- it’s a song that though is objective catchy, doesn’t ‘wow’ me at all; while one of the few bright spots on Reputation for me is “End Game”, a collaboration between Ed Sheeran and rapper Future. The quasi-title-track is a track that is a head-banger indeed, as Taylor, Ed and Future earnestly dispel rumours of Taylor’s ‘reputation’ as a boy crazy female, and reassure Taylor’s current boyfriend Joe that ‘…I wanna be your end game, I wanna be your first string, I wanna be your A-Team, I wanna be your end game, end game…’; while the piano ballad “New Year’s Day” is reminiscent of ‘country Taylor’, and speaks about how Taylor places her friends and her boyfriend in high regard, letting them know that they are the ones she would like to hang out and be around post-New Year’s Day, that “everybody talks and thinks about who you kiss at midnight. Like it’s this big romantic idea of like, ‘Who are you gonna kiss at midnight, like ring in the New Year.’ And I think that is very romantic. But I think there’s something even more romantic about who’s gonna deal with you on New Year’s Day. Who’s willing to give you Advil and clean up the house. I think that states more of a permanence. So I was thinking about that, and I wrote this song called ‘New Year’s Day’.” “Gorgeous”, a sultry, intoxicating ballad about Taylor’s current boyfriend Joe, is a melody whereby Taylor highlights just how much she loves him; while “Delicate”, another song about Joe, speaks about how the media scrutiny about scandals which may be fake and heightened, can actually impact the beginning of a relationship that has the potential to be really real- Taylor asks herself and Joe ‘…is it cool that I said all that? Is it chill that you’re in my head? ‘Cause I know that it’s delicate, is it cool that I said all that? Is it too soon to do this yet? ‘Cause I know that it’s delicate…’. And while “Getaway Car” references Taylor’s affair with Tom Hiddleston in 2016 while she was still dating Calvin Harris (this song is a warning to always be present in the moment with the one you’re with- because who needs messy situations and trust broken between people?); the ending of Reputation is quite satisfying and fulfilling, as “Call It What You Want”, a melody similar in theme to “Love Story”, dives deeper into Taylor’s love for Joe. With Reputation topping the charts in the UK, Australia, and Canada, and the album being nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards in 2019; Taylor also won 4 awards at the 2018 American Music Awards- and after the 2018 AMAs, Swift garnered a total of 23 awards, becoming the most awarded female musician in AMA history.
As much as I reckon Reputation wasn’t a cohesive album, there’s still no denying that Taylor Swift is a stellar and impressive song-writer that makes us feel emotions together as a nation and as a global people. Sure, I can dislike the album, but the fact that we all can unify together and dislike a Taylor Swift album, or love a Taylor Swift album together, and all be millions of miles away from each other… well that’s remarkable I reckon! Taylor has unified the globe, and that’s pretty impressive, and no more evident than in 2019, when the world waited with abated breath for “Me!”, recorded with Brendon Urie from Panic! At The Disco. With that single, the first from Taylor’s new label at Republic Records, we all eagerly waited to see what Taylor would release from this new era… and in my mind, she didn’t disappoint. Now I myself haven’t listened that much to Lover compared to other albums from Taylor- not for lack of trying, but because I was instead still captivated and immersed in her earlier country material, and also because Red surprised me greatly and I spent a lot of time sitting with that album. Hence, this album is the semi-forgotten album by myself, but there are a few tracks which stand out. It’s not my favourite, and 18 tracks does seem like overkill, but Lover is anything but bad- it’s definitely a step up from Reputation.
First off, “Me!” is extremely positive. The light, positive, poppy and bubbly track (which debuted at no. 100 on the Hot 100 Billboard chart, and then rose to no. 2 a week later- scoring the biggest single-week jump in chart history), delves deep into self-love, identity and speaks about accepting who you are. And as Taylor has outlined that I feel like we’re sent so many messages every day that there’s a better version of yourself on a social media app with better abs in a better vacation spot. But you’re the only one of you. That’s it – there’s just you. “Me!” is a song about embracing your individuality and really celebrating it and owning it. I think that with a pop song, we have the ability to get a melody stuck in people’s heads, and I just want it to be one that makes them feel better about themselves; we are met with a happy-go-lucky song that speaks life into our soul, and highlights the fact that we ourselves are loved, wanted and accepted just as we are. For an album, Lover is a bit on the long side, and for that reason, Taylor’s poignant and heartfelt melodies can sometimes fall by the wayside. However, if we take the time to listen to Lover, then you’ll find the old Taylor that we know and love. “You Need To Calm Down” is an unashamed, no-nonsense anthem and statement about fighting for equality, as Taylor affirms the mending of her friendship with Katy Perry- with the LGBTQ+ community ‘owning’ this song as well (although the depiction of Christians in the music video to be some sort of neanderthal beast, is something that I vehemently object to!); while the title track is a beautifully recorded piano led ballad, once again championing her love with Joe. It’s a song that is sweet and somewhat innocent like the Taylor Swift of old, and as we are introduced to someone who is confident and secure in their identity; we are encouraged to be that firm and steadfast as well.
“The Man”, a controversial single, features Taylor dressed up as an unrecognisable man in the music video, with the song speaking about whether Taylor would’ve had more success or popularity if she were a man, and how would she be perceived if she were to make the same decisions as a man. Similar in theme to Beyonce’s “If I Were A Boy”, but on a more superficial, calling out the patriarchy kind of level, Taylor imparts to us that this track is one of the most important songs she’s ever recorded: This is a song that I’ve been wanting to write for a very long time in my career, but I could never figure out exactly how to phrase it. I’ve wondered several times, ‘If I had been a man instead of a woman and I lived my life exactly the same way, what would people have said about me?’ It’s about perception. It’s not, ‘What would I do if I were a man?’ It’s about how I would be seen if I did exactly the same stuff. This is when I finally got an idea of how to approach this song. Taylor also speaks about being insecure in a relationship, and being unsure of her demons and how to overcome them, in the confessional ballad “The Archer”; while “Cruel Summer” details how Taylor and Joe became to be girlfriend and boyfriend. However, to me, there’s no better and no other emotional and personal track than “Soon You’ll Get Better”.
Sung with The Chicks (formerly known as The Dixie Chicks); we are met with a song that details Taylor’s mother’s cancer battle, and the emotions and conflicting feelings of disbelief, anger and sorrow that Taylor has felt. It’s a personal song that has no resolution (And frankly, I don’t even know if Taylor’s mother has been healed yet), but the song references praying to Jesus… and so if such a song draws Taylor closer to God, and can draw others to seek more of Jesus’ presence; well, then that’s a positive, don’t you think? Not to say that having cancer is a good thing… but let’s just say that God can use horrible and terrible things and can turn then around for His glory and our good. It’s not really what I’m sure Taylor wants to hear- that her mum’s diagnosis helps people heal and comforts people; but the reality is that this song brings tears to my eyes, and inspires me to cherish every moment with my own family. So it has helped me, and that can never be a bad thing. And as for the rest of the album, which I for one haven’t listened to as heavily as the above aforementioned tracks; if you want to hear more commentary on an album that is underrated and an album that I haven’t spent time with… then you can watch country reviewer Grady Smith’s review about Lover. It’s an extensive examination of Taylor’s journey as a country and as a pop artist; plus Grady is a better articulator than me, that’s for sure!
I wasn’t expecting to make an album. Early on in quarantine, I started watching lots of films. We would watch a different movie every night. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth before. One night I’d watch that, then I’d watch L.A. Confidential, then we’d watch Rear Window, then we’d watch Jane Eyre. I feel like consuming other people’s art and storytelling sort of opened this portal in my imagination and made me feel like, “Well, why have I never done this before? Why have I never created characters and intersecting storylines? And why haven’t I ever sort of freed myself up to do that from a narrative standpoint?” There is something a little heavy about knowing when you put out an album, people are going to take it so literally that everything you say could be clickbait. It was really, really freeing to be able to just be inspired by worlds created by the films you watch or books you’ve read or places you’ve dreamed of or people that you’ve wondered about, not just being inspired by your own experience.
I didn’t think about any of that [parameters for this album] for the very first time. And a lot of this album was kind of distilled down to the purest version of what the story is. Songwriting on this album is exactly the way that I would write if I considered nothing else other than, “What words do I want to write? What stories do I want to tell? What melodies do I want to sing? What production is essential to tell those stories?” It was a very do-it-yourself experience. My management team, we created absolutely everything in advance — every lyric video, every individual album package. And then we called our label a week in advance and said, “Here’s what we have.” The photo shoot was me and the photographer walking out into a field. I’d done my hair and makeup and brought some nightgowns. These experiences I was used to having with 100 people on set, commanding alongside other people in a very committee fashion — all of a sudden it was me and a photographer, or me and my DP. It was a new challenge, because I love collaboration. But there’s something really fun about knowing what you can do if it’s just you doing it.
I found myself being very triggered by any stories, movies, or narratives revolving around divorce, which felt weird because I haven’t experienced it directly. There’s no reason it should cause me so much pain, but all of a sudden it felt like something I had been through. I think that happens any time you’ve been in a 15-year relationship and it ends in a messy, upsetting way. So I wrote “My Tears Ricochet” and I was using a lot of imagery that I had conjured up while comparing a relationship ending to when people end an actual marriage. All of a sudden this person that you trusted more than anyone in the world is the person that can hurt you the worst. Then all of a sudden the things that you have been through together, hurt. All of a sudden, the person who was your best friend is now your biggest nemesis, etc. etc. etc. I think I wrote some of the first lyrics to that song after watching Marriage Story and hearing about when marriages go wrong and end in such a catastrophic way. So these songs are in some ways imaginary, in some ways not, and in some ways both.
It’s confusing [not being able to perform]. It’s hard to watch. I think that maybe me wanting to make as much music as possible during this time was a way for me to feel like I could reach out my hand and touch my fans, even if I couldn’t physically reach out or take a picture with them. We’ve had a lot of different, amazing, fun, sort of underground traditions we’ve built over the years that involve a lot of human interaction, and so I have no idea what’s going to happen with touring; none of us do. And that’s a scary thing. You can’t look to somebody in the music industry who’s been around a long time, or an expert touring manager or promoter and [ask] what’s going to happen and have them give you an answer. I think we’re all just trying to keep our eyes on the horizon and see what it looks like. So we’re just kind of sitting tight and trying to take care of whatever creative spark might exist and trying to figure out how to reach our fans in other ways, because we just can’t do that right now.
And now comes to what I’m sure you’ve all been eager to read about. No one ever thought that Taylor would ever deviate from her pop sensibilities; however now because of COVID-19, we have Folklore and Evermore. 2 surprise albums. And from reading the above interview with Taylor for Entertainment Weekly… well I guess you can see that Taylor never set out to record an album, let alone two. But here we are. And boy, are they littered with imagery, metaphors, stories, and soothing reflective tones and themes. Not too long ago, while I was preparing for this blog series, I decided to dive deep into the two albums of Folklore and Evermore, simply because folk music isn’t my forte that much. and the result is…. Drum roll, guess what? I can undoubtedly and unequivocally surmise and conclude that Taylor is one of today’s most prolific and accomplished and impacting songwriters of this current time, and Folklore and Evermore prove that… but these listening experiences of me starting to be immersed in both of these albums within this past week, proved to be mere folly and just me doing some wishful thinking.
Because you see, these 34 tracks (17 each for both albums) are so rich lyrically, and they’re not autobiographical (which I just realised this week- I did not in fact gravitate to these albums last year when they released because they were ‘different’!); this means that as an album, as a listening experience, it’s better to listen to Folklore and Evermore in maybe several sittings (so that you can soak in the lyrics and do some outside analysis yourselves!)… but here’s the kicker. On these 34 songs, you need to listen to them in order. I made the mistake of cherry-picking songs, and becoming totally lost, even though I still found Taylor’s vocals and her imagery compelling and mesmerising. Soon after, I rectified my decision, but still I was lost, simply because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind listening to these albums. You see, Wikipedia states that Folklore consists of mellow ballads driven by neo-classical instruments, pursuing indie folk, alternative rock, and electroacoustic styles. The album explores themes of escapism, empathy, romanticism, nostalgia, and melancholia in its lyrics, through a set of characters, fictional narratives and story arcs, in contrast to the autobiographical tone of Swift’s previous projects. The title was inspired by the singer’s desire for the music to have a lasting legacy akin to folk songs, whereas its artworks and aesthetic reflect cottagecore. Wikipedia also states that Evermore (considered to be a sister album to Folklore) is carried by wintry compositions of fingerpicked guitars, somber pianos, lavish strings, and sparse percussions [and] is an alternative rock, folk-pop, and chamber rock record. Its subject matter is built around impressionist storytelling and mythopoeia, comprising tales of love, marriage, infidelity, and grief, arranged like an anthology. And as I was reading the information on Wikipedia about the album while I was listening to them (because, when you’re quickly trying to brush up on an artist and their discography… you use Wikipedia, that’s a fact!), I became overwhelmed a bit. Listening to these songs were moving and inspiring, and no doubt had I had more time, I’d have fully understood these fictional narratives and their meaning someday. But I was writing about Taylor now, and as such… well there’s only so much you can learn quickly within a couple of weeks. Granted, I probably should’ve stayed immersed in those two albums for the entire duration of the past two weeks, but after one listen of Folklore and one listen of Evermore, guess what I did? I panicked and went back to the safe options of Red and 1989.
Songs like “Cardigan”, “Willow”, “My Tears Ricochet”, “Exile”, “Betty”, “Peace”, “Dorothea”, No Body, No Crime”, “Evermore” and “Right Where You Left Me” are the songs that from first glance imprinted on my very soul… but I’m sure when I sit with these albums for the next year or two (because I will!), then I will discover more hidden gems and treasures, and realise just how legendary and iconic Taylor is at song-writing. I’d have to say that I reckon Taylor is influential simply because of Folklore and Evermore alone. And then when you add her pop melodies and her country melodies (which admittedly are extremely easier to grasp and understand), and then you have the complete package. Yet if any of you were hoping for a thesis of Folklore and Evermore then I’m sorry for disappointing you. I meant to talk about them at length too. But if I’m not an expert at folk, why should I pretend to be? Taylor has masterfully hopped around genres and has skilfully recorded these songs to perfection. I for one am totally in awe of her craft after these two albums especially, and like with Grady Smith’s Lover review, he’s also done a superb job at reviewing Folklore and Evermore. So I will point you to those video reviews which are more articulate than mine. Taylor has written about fictional characters, and made us care about their stories. I don’t think there’s any other artist who has done this. and that’s astounding. Don’t we also reckon that it’s remarkable that The National Music Publishers’ Association has awarded Taylor with the Songwriter Icon Award in 2021, and has declared that there is ‘no one is more influential when it comes to writing music today than Taylor Swift’? Also… Taylor Swift was 2020’s highest-paid musician in the U.S., and highest-paid solo musician worldwide. So there’s that.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Taylor Swift is influential. And so should it be in your minds as well. The way she has handled herself when Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta sold her masters, has been absolutely professional and incredible. Taylor has re-recorded Fearless this year and now with Red being re-recorded and released in November this year; she has been able to drum up support and buzz for albums we’ve already heard… like they’re brand new! With Taylor also including some ‘from the vault tracks’ on each re-recorded project, well, can we say that this artist is the queen of storytelling? The other month when I listened to Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and ‘reviewed’ the album without listening to Fearless first; it wasn’t like a foreign thing at all. I mean, it felt like a warm hug. Even though I couldn’t see the hype of Taylor Swift at the time that Fearless released in 2008, listening to this re-release now feels like revisiting my childhood… sorta, if that makes sense. In an incredibly good way, and in a way that’s comforting and soothing. And I guess it’s because that Taylor Swift and her music has always been in and around the background over the past decade- and though I hadn’t listened to ‘mainstream’ music heavily since 2019 onwards, Taylor’s songs (her hit ones especially) are instantly recognisable, feel familiar, warm and inspiring, and bring a smile to my face. Sure, I may not be the intended target demographic of these songs, given I am a single, white, male in my thirties; but I reckon Taylor’s discography is for people of all ages and people from all walks of life. Taylor’s music is applicable to all situations and her songwriting is extremely top notch. Her music and how she constructs a song, cuts to the core of what it means to be a songwriter. And if you’re not a fan of Taylor’s music, then I’d say that there’s no better album to start off with than with Fearless (Taylor’s Version). These songs are 95% close to the original, and the vocals here are exquisite. Maren Morris and Keith Urban are present in 2 of the 6 ‘From The Vault’ tracks that we’ve never heard before (“You All Over Me” and “That’s When”), while Colbie Caillat returns to lend her vocals to “Breathe”. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) also garnered the biggest opening day for an album on Spotify in 2021, tallying more than 50 million global streams in its first day on the platform; while I for one was transfixed by the entire project, but songs like “Love Story”, “You Belong With Me”, “Breathe”, “Today Was A Fairytale”, “Fearless”, “Fifteen”, “Forever And Always”, “Change” and “Untouchable” stood tall amongst the rest. There’s an article by Entertainment Weekly about the subtle differences between Taylor’s 2008 project and this one (and I was blown away by the in depth detail of the article!); and the album reached critical acclaim. Any which way you slice it, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is a piece of music history that should and probably will be remembered with awe and wonder for decades upon decades to come. And no doubt, Red (Taylor’s Version) (inclusive of Taylor’s version of “Better Man” by Little Big Town, and “Babe” by Sugarland) will shatter records as well.
And now as I end an already long blog (but I’m sure you’re all impacted and blessed, because I’m sure you love Taylor Swift and her songs just like I do!); let’s not forget the stand-alone singles and the collaborations. Because these songs can slide under the rug immensely, but as we reminisce and remember that ‘Taylor was a part of this song!’, then I’m sure we can further be convinced of Taylor’s influential status as a legendary icon. From “Today Was A Fairytale” (from Valentines Day in 2010), “Half Of My Heart” (a duet with John Mayer), and “Highway Don’t Care” (a country collaboration with Tim McGraw and Keith Urban), to “I Don’t Want To Live Forever” (with ZAYN in 2016), “Beautiful Ghosts” and “Only The Young” (for the film Cats and the documentary Miss Americana respectively) [to name a few]; Taylor has delivered and delivered with excellence. There is no genre that she is unafraid to dive right into;. and as we as fans and as humans also marvel at Taylor’s calibre of song writing, her philanthropic ventures, her views on politics, her lasting impact, her artistry, and her range of product endorsements (all of which can be viewed on Wikipedia, and is only listed instead of explained in more detail simply because I heavily went into detail on everything else!). Taylor Swift is one of the most followed people on social media, with her presence on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr (surprisingly!) all confirming just how big she is; while she has also called her relationship with her fans “the longest and best” she has ever had. I’ve mentioned before that the measure and extent of someone’s influence is how they act outside of the spotlight- well one watch of Taylor’s interview with Zane Lowe of Apple Music, or her laid-back demeanour from her performances and her speeches… and then you can tell. Taylor is a once in a generation artist and we need not be jealous or envious. God has a special plan for Taylor- we have seen that come to fruition the many times Taylor has created a near-flawless masterpiece. And as such, can we unequivocally say that the next time Taylor unveils an album, be it another studio album or a re-recorded album or an acoustic album, or even a Christmas album, that the world will stop and we’ll just bask in the awesomeness that is Taylor Swift? Taylor has made waves, and she’ll continue to. Shall we try to emulate Taylor though? Nope, we shouldn’t. Taylor Swift is Taylor Swift, and that’s all there is to it. And now, how about another listen to Folklore and Evermore shall we? Or maybe two or three more listens? Who am I kidding? It’s time to go back to Red, Speak Now, and 1989!
Well, I do sleep well at night knowing that I’m right, knowing that in 10 years it will have been a good thing that I spoke about artists’ rights to their art, and that we bring up conversations like: Should record deals maybe be for a shorter term, or how are we really helping artists if we’re not giving them the first right of refusal to purchase their work if they want to? Obviously, anytime you’re standing up against or for anything, you’re never going to receive unanimous praise. But that’s what forces you to be brave. And that’s what’s different about the way I live my life now.
I really like the whole discussion around music. And during ‘Reputation,’ it never felt like it was ever going to be about music, no matter what I said or did. I approach albums differently, in how I want to show them to the world or what I feel comfortable with at that time in my life. Being more transparent feels great with this album. I really feel like I could just keep making stuff — it’s that vibe right now. I don’t think I’ve ever written this much. That’s exhibited in ‘Lover’ having the most songs that I’ve ever had on an album. But even after I made the album, I kept writing and going in the studio. That’s a new thing I’ve experienced this time around. That openness kind of feels like you finally got the lid off a jar you’ve been working at for years.
I don’t really operate very well as an enigma. It’s not fulfilling to me. It works really well in a lot of pop careers, but I think that it makes me feel completely unable to do what I had gotten in this to do, which is to communicate to people. I live for the feeling of standing on a stage and saying, ‘I feel this way,’ and the crowd responding with ‘We do too!’ And me being like, ‘Really?’ And they’re like, ‘Yes!’
The bigger your career gets, the more you struggle with the idea that a lot of people see you the same way they see an iPhone or a Starbucks. They’ve been inundated with your name in the media, and you become a brand. That’s inevitable for me, but I do think that it’s really necessary to feel like I can still communicate with people. And as a songwriter, it’s really important to still feel human and process things in a human way. The through line of all that is humanity, and reaching out and talking to people and having them see things that aren’t cute.
Does Taylor Swift make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of all Time’ list? Is there any song (other than “Love Story”, “22”, “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, “Shake It Off”, “Look What You Made Me Do”, “Me!”, “Bad Blood” and “You Belong With Me”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!