Taking Taylor Swift seriously
- More reading: Walter Tunis’ take on Taylor Swift.
Reflexively, I knew I really shouldn’t be too interested in this song.
The story of a high school girl longing for her buddy the football star, who is so stereotypically hooked up with the cheerleading captain, shouldn’t have resonance with a 42-year-old dad now trying to convince his own kids that all their school dramas will mean nothing in 10 years.
But Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me comes from such an authentic place, a timeless story that my generation might have seen best articulated by the John Hughes classic Sixteen Candles. What’s more, it has that accelerating chorus — “She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts/ She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers” — and the soaring payoff, “You belong with meeeee-e-e.”
Yes, I had to take Swift seriously.
Of course, there are natural demographic reasons for me to dismiss her, as many do. As a 40-something guy, I am well out of her target demographic. I’m at an age when we’re supposed to look at sweet young things like Swift and think wistfully that they just might amount to something, someday.
But the reasons for rejecting what Swift, who plays a sold-out show at Rupp Arena Thursday, has already amounted to are as shallow as the football star dating the witchy head cheerleader, because that’s what his peers expect him to do.
In a pop culture world where every teen who gets a show on the Disney Channel thinks she’s supposed to be a pop star, Swift, 20, has separated herself from the pack — even her closest peer-competitor, Miley Cyrus.
Most important, she has the songs.
You Belong With Me has been the biggest so far, and I logged it on my list of favorite songs of last year, along with You Never Know by Wilco, a band I’m supposed to like. But most of us were introduced to Swift by Love Story, maybe the best pop song to invoke Romeo and Juliet since Dire Straits’ (another act I’m supposed to like) song named for the star-crossed lovers. Like that classic, Swift’s interpretation of the story comes from an authentic experience of someone her age and disposition. Same goes for 15, a song almost painful to listen to, knowing where it comes from.
In addition to her music, Swift has shown a winning personality, particularly in her Saturday Night Live hosting gig last year. She delivered a deceptively cheery Monologue Song (La La La), in which she mocked a jerky ex-boyfriend who broke up with her on the phone (“Hey. I’m doing OK. Ha-ha-ha.”) and exacted some comic revenge on Kanye West for messing up her MTV Video Music Award acceptance speech (“It’s going to be a great show. Kanye West is not here”).
Maybe what I appreciate most, as a dad, is what we have not been talking about.
No drunken, drug-addled partying in Beverly Hills.
No sex tapes.
No being photographed getting out of her limo with no underwear.
Yes, she’s an attractive young woman, but she hasn’t turned that into her leading commodity.
Thus far, Swift’s fame has been the result of her work and its connection with her audience. Her music might not be to everyone’s tastes, but she has done substantial work.
It might be easy for adults to write off Taylor Swift as just another teen/tween pop sensation. But adults are supposed to be a bit more discerning.
12 Responses to “Taking Taylor Swift seriously”
Susie Q April 24th, 2010 at 11:56 am
Oh, please: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WISkvJOUOe4
The song feminist wish Taylor Swift would write.
Hot looking chic with a great voice. But seriously folks, she’s just another over produced recording industry product. Give some credit to the guy/gal that actually wrote the music and lyrics. That’s where the real talent is. Sold Out at Rupp Arena, how bout spending $20 at a local music venue to see a show and have a cocktail. Listen to some real talent that actually put’s their heart and soul into the music. Oh, silly me that would be like thinking for yourself and forming your own opinion. That’s too much like an effort. Why experience actual culture when you can just consume what’s already on the shelf. Ha, 12,000 plus people spent upwards of $50 to reward some prefab flavor of the week. Go to a local venue and support a real artist. Not a trained monkey.
Actually, Dennis, Taylor Swift wrote her entire first album. Since then, I’m not sure, but the creative talent is certainly there in addition to the beauty and voice. I’m not some huge Taylor Swift advocate, I simply think that your snap judgment without seeking out all the information is the kind that Mr. Copley is telling adults to avoid.
I’m amazed by Taylor because she is one of the few artists that is involved in everything that she has become. She writes her own songs and helps create the stages that she plays on. Don’t assume she is like all the others who just sing.
Re: Dennis’ comments: As a 40-something dad, not the biggest Taylor Swift fan, but she wrote/co-wrote all of the songs on the album that my daughter owns…..so doesn’t that make her the “real talent” since she writes, sings and maked it big?
Oh, Dennis, you must not have a daughter or you only listen to Jazz. I’m not big on the pop but when your kids are, you have to appreciate artists like Taylor. You don’t have to put your windows up when others play her music. She doesn’t curse, rap about gang banging or riding disco sticks or any of that disgusting crapola. She’s a good wholesome kid who plays pretty good music that us dad’s love to watch our little girls sing and dance to–guilt free. When my daughter is old enough to enjoy local artists and a coctail in another 15 years, I’ll be sure and encourage her to do that.
btw, Rich nailed this review and the SNL monologue above is very good.
As a mid-20′s male, when I first heard Swift’s “Tim McGraw” I thought it was kind of a cheap gimmick to invoke a current country star to shoot for your own stardom. Still, the song was nice in a sad sort of way; the melody was interesting, and her voice was country, but just a bit purer.
Since then, it’s been one song after another that, like Mr. Copely says, is supposed to appeal to a different segment than his…or mine. And yet, these songs just keep sticking in my head.
“Teardrops on my Guitar” was catchy, if a bit sad.
She proved she can cater to the angry/jilted lovers crowd with “Should’ve Said No” and “Picture to Burn”…although I wonder why she switched out the lyrics “I’ll tell mine that your gay” with “You won’t mind if I say”. I thought the first one was funnier.
I actually downloaded “Love Story”, aka the Romeo and Juliet song. (What is the world coming to?)
“You Belong With Me” may have some strange musical pauses for breathing built into the short word “me” but it was dang catchy. “Fifteen” was less so, but it sent a great message to kids. (Funny, it doesn’t feel so long ago I was in that same age group.)
“White Horse” was yet another of Swift’s innocent, sincere and bittersweet melodies that even someone of my age could appreciate.
And “Fearless” is another ear worm…one of those songs you don’t really WANT to like, but can’t help liking. It’s catchy. It can get caught inside your head and rattle in there for hours, like a nickel left in a spinning drier.
I agree with Mr. Copely, t’s commendable that Swift hasn’t marketed her appearance or joined the oversexed throng of pop stars who put looks ahead of lyrics. As long as she can stay on the straight and narrow, one can see nothing but good things for her future.
She’s the first big award-winning star who consistently sings out of tune. I’m sure she thanks her lucky stars everyday that technology has brought us pitch correction in the studio.
sally sue April 26th, 2010 at 9:48 am
She does write most of her own songs. That’s what makes her unique. But I must say I tried to get tickets for her Lexington concert and the second they were available to the general public, all the lowest priced tickets were already sold out. It’s sad fans aren’t given the opportunity to see her in concert
CHARLIE April 26th, 2010 at 2:01 pm
Really doesn’t matter if I like her songs or if you like her songs, as long as enough people like her songs to sell out concerts!
Drake is right… she is a terrible singer. I saw her on some awards show and she was totally flat (her singing of course). Then checked her out on youtube and realized any live performances pretty much sound awful if the song requires any real vocal chops.
Despite this, I will gladly have my daughter be a fan of hers over some of the others…
Miley Cyrus – Music is what I breath, what I love to do
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich