Review : Taylor Swift - Speak Now
SputnikmusicFor those who haven't been reading Todd VanDerWerff's weekly A.V. Club reviews of Glee, his analysis of the show essentially boils down to this: Glee is an incredibly messy show overall, but it is saved by the fact that it is able to deliver moment-to-moment with certain scenes that make us forget its flaws. VanDerWerff is as ready as anyone else to criticize the show, but he also recognizes that Glee hits it out of the park on a consistent basis despite its flaws in storytelling and pacing, which, on any other show, would be insurmountable problems, but Glee does it somehow. I basically agree with him on all points. I am able to recognize that the show can be incredibly stupid, unbelievable, schmaltzy, thematically obvious, and frustrating - sometimes all at once - but I love it just as much as I love a show like Dexter, which is almost irrefutably a much better show. I am not going to beat you over the head and say that what makes Glee good is the fact that it has heart, because that's not really true. I think the show is good because it makes me happy, and I am willing to forgive the occasional flaw in something that makes me smile.
The obvious point here is that Taylor Swift's Speak Now is similarly messy. On some level, it makes me want to wax philosophical about the child stars of the 2000s, who seem very different from the child stars of the latter half of the previous millennium. However, child star rules don't seem to apply to Taylor Swift. If Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake showed what you can do when your mom makes you audition for The Mickey Mouse Club, and Justin Bieber is the poster child for Youtube's musical revolution, and Ke$ha is the embodiment of this generation's boozed-up, superficial teenage zeitgeist, then what is Taylor Swift? She was not created by anybody. There is nobody pulling her strings. She started playing the guitar when she was ten years old and started writing her own songs soon after that. She sent demos to a huge number of record labels when she was eleven and every one of them rejected her. Then, when she was fifteen, she turned down a record deal from RCA because they wanted to micromanage her career and keep her publishing rights. Swift was clearly hungry for a record deal, but not so hungry that she would take the first deal that was offered to her. In her situation, would anyone else have done that? In this day and age, it's hard to think so.
That's all well and good, but now she's got her record deal and she's got two albums under her belt that have collectively sold over 13 million copies. She's won four Grammy awards and she's the top-selling artist of all time in terms of digital sales. So it stands to reason that there must be some disconnect between the Taylor Swift who turned down that record deal and the Taylor Swift of today. The thing is, there really isn't. This is a girl who stood demurely off to the side while Kanye West interrupted her VMA acceptance speech and said she shouldn't have won. She's invested over one million dollars in philanthropic endeavors. She dated John Mayer (one of 2010's most public media figures because of his low comments about the women he's dated, including a Mel Gibson-like use of the n-word) and subsequently found out what an asshole he is. Her response to that? She wrote a poignantly understated song about it. In a world that contains Jersey Shore, a show that is only popular because it regularly features people acting like animals in that all of their actions are immediate and incendiary reactions, it is close to mind-blowing to witness someone like Taylor Swift, who for all her money and success, seems to be an incredibly grounded young lady....full text
CulturebullySomething became quite evident as the term alternative rock morphed into a bastardized parody of itself in the mid-to-late-’90s: there was little left to be an alternative to. Bands such as Creed who were curiously pinned with the label helped contribute to its death, and as the new millennium dawned the vast world of mainstream pop and rock never looked so homogeneous. A decade later, when the term only serves as a distant memory—a seemingly ancient relic which defined a generation, music has shifted once again. We now find ourselves in an era where pop and rock idols are increasingly streamlined and boast a widespread sexual extravagance that is incomparable to generations gone by. Sure, it’s old news, but it helps offer some background on why someone like Taylor Swift has found such widespread success.
Unlike the (for lack of a better term) college rock bands that first helped bring widespread notoriety to the term a few decades back, alternative takes on a different meaning when approaching music in today’s landscape. But what hasn’t changed is the audience which it could be aimed at. Overlooked by the majority, alternative could still represent a music which isn’t being marketed enforce to any and everyone who have ears and an expendable income. Enter Taylor Swift, an unassuming young singer with conventional good looks and banal songwriting. Generic, sure, but the catch is that she’s seemingly secure with herself, her music, and her place in pop culture. Since her 2006 debut she hasn’t sexed things up, publicly struggled with internal demons, or allowed the “real Taylor” to manifest itself in overly detailed lyrics about her sexual exploits (something Christina Aguilera might call a process of self-examination). Rather, she continues to be casually shy through interactions with the media and reveals no more than ambiguous details about relationships in her songs. There aren’t paparazzi photos of her walking her pocket-sized Chihuahua on route to a Starbucks, chain-smoking and dawning light-inhibiting sunglasses help to nurse the hangover from the previous night’s exploits. In 2010, more now than in 2006 even, Taylor Swift’s success can be narrowed down to this: she has become the alternative.
It doesn’t take a stroke of genius to realize that the record industry has figured this out. She is the proverbial record-selling yin to Eminem‘s yang: without both sides neither would bear the same impact. But in browsing the Billboard charts week after week it becomes apparent that the fan base which has been so supportive of Swift’s career is now being catered to less and less. Gone are the days when pop stars would be ridiculed for casually tossing in “fowl” language—the parental advisory sticker means nothing now (as if it ever did) more than ever; Rihanna‘s Rated R would have been perceived as R-rated if it were released in the ’90s. Rather, Swift’s appeal is aimed at young listeners—listeners too young to have an honest knowledge of the adult concepts being forced on them at every turn. More importantly, Swift’s music is also aimed at their parents. Take this NY Times photo for instance: children and their parents greeting the singer, asking for autographs, and taking a few quick photos as the singer makes an appearance. All the while there are few, if any (I don’t see them), aggressive paparazzi battling for their paychecks. Seems a bit strange, doesn’t it?...full text
SlantmagazineA quick heads-up to Sugarland: This is how an ostensible country act makes a full-on pop album that sounds contemporary and relevant. That comparison may not be fair, given that Taylor Swift in one of the biggest stars in either pop or country at the moment. But Speak Now is an album of expertly crafted pop music that actually justifies at least some of the critical hyperbole and commercial clout that have characterized the last two years of Swift's career. The album is still problematic in precisely the same ways that its two predecessors were, but Speak Now also finds Swift doing the things that she does well even better than she ever has before.
What that means is that there isn't a song on the album that isn't an absolute wonder of technical construction. In terms of her ability to write an indelible melody, Swift rivals power-pop acts like Fountains of Wayne and Guster, and songs like "Back to December" and "Speak Now" showcase Swift's unique knack for matching the overall tone of a melody to the broader themes of a song. It isn't easy to make a melancholy song like "Back to December" sound catchy at the same time, but that's what Swift does, and it's an impressive trick.
Perhaps even more impressive, though, is her mastery of song structure. It isn't just about writing a clever lyric or melodic figure to serve as a hook, though Swift certainly does both. Instead, it's a matter of placing those hooks at exactly the right moment in a song and ensuring that the arrangement and production add just the right amount of punch. Swift and producer Nathan Chapman are simply better at writing hooks and showcasing hooks, respectively, than just about any other team in contemporary pop, and they somehow make that seem effortless over the course of the album.
Consider lead single "Mine," on which the standout line in the refrain ("You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter") is the only one in which Swift's vocals are double-tracked. Or how the instrumentation drops out during the last two words of the hook in "Last Kiss," allowing Swift's breathy vocal delivery to bear the entirety of the song's emotional weight. Or how a simple acoustic guitar figure on "Enchanted" slowly crescendos behind each repetition of the line "I was enchanted to meet you." These are deliberate songwriting and production choices, not happy accidents or the work of someone who approaches pop music casually. In terms of its construction, Speak Now is a studied, smart album that is easily the best, most dense work of Swift's career so far....full text
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