For better or worse, Taylor Swift has always been able to tap into the zeitgeist for reliable radio hits. And while her “country” label has always been peripheral at best (and completely misguided at worst), Swift has always been able to maintain some degree of character in her songs, even when the content remains largely faceless. It seems her latest album, Red, aims to change that. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was the first sign of things to come: the minor shibboleth country elements were gleefully replaced with Avril Lavigne flourishes, and mainstream pop radio took full custody of Swift’s new persona. “Back Together” was the aural kiss-off to country radio, and just to reiterate the divorce, Swift pulled off a Mickey Mouse club inspired number at the VMAs, and then aped Zooey Deschanel for the song’s video (get it country radio, this girl is never getting back with you… like ever!).
Proving that she can hang with the cool kids, Swift goes and records her own dubstep number, “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Lyrically, “Trouble” maintains all the cliched elements of a Swift single: once upon a time, your saddest fear, the joke is on me, etc. Stylistically, Swift seeks to appropriate the already residual Skrillex for some electronic variety. It’s unfortunate that Swift and her team couldn’t find an interesting way to combine the pop-driven banjo of her early work with the screechy jerks of dubstep. Instead, “Trouble” sounds as derivative as a number of dubstep-inspired songs dominating the radio. The final syllable of the hook is repeated in a high (read: autotuned) octave before a jittery guitar chord provides comfort. It’s been done before, and with better results. Swift has never deserved the adjective “innovative,” but her catalogue is scattered with some devices that hint at a real artistic persona. Sadly, her two latest singles are only validating criticism that labels Swift as a cipher.
And all the Bridget Bardot and Jackie O. dress up sessions aren’t helping the case. There was a time when Swift was considered the ultimate outsider (an assessment that never made any actual sense). That time is up. Swift is out to hang with the cool kids. Gone are the boots and “shucks” moments. Swift is an icon now, and the Kennedy on her arm only cements this new found status. But don’t count Swift out just yet. She’s a savvy business woman above everything else. The title track of her new album is a compromise to make sure her old fans retain some salvia-inducing fascination. She’s like the band kid who wins homecoming queen, but still takes occasional pictures with the nerdy trumpet player.
I really think Michelle Goldberg, Alex Wagner, and Chris Hayes are taking the torch of intellectual journalism from Rachel Maddow, and running to the hills with it! Good for them! <3