Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Taylor Swift – Shake It Off

It’s Teenpop Friday! We kick things off with the post all you anticipators anticipate-pate-pate-pate-pated…

Jessica Doyle: The second verse is the problem. The first verse is fine; the first verse — specifically, the giggle to herself that follows “I go on too many dates” — is the awaited postcard from Swiftworld. But there is no way that “I make the moves up as I go / and that’s what they don’t know” applies to circa-2014 Taylor Swift. She doesn’t make the moves up as she goes; she carefully focus-tests them, and we know it, but it’s one thing to openly focus-test and another to put out a carefully focused-tested song. If “all the most embarrassing things about Taylor Swift are the best things” — a statement I agree with, though perhaps that sentiment belongs in the hallway and not the classroom — then Taylor Swift should be putting out songs about Taylor Swift, yes even 2014 Wildly Successful Focus-Testing Taylor Swift, not generic be-yourself anthems. Taylor Swift should not be releasing songs that feel a year behind the curve (or a few weeks behind the curve, depending on your feelings about the sonic resemblance between this and “All About That Bass”). And Taylor Swift should not be the least interesting person in her own video.

Josh Love: I wouldn’t mind the extreme self-awareness of the first verse if there had been a second verse that was more inclusive of the listener and thereby gave everyone more of a reason to identify when she concludes, “Haters gonna hate,” sort of like how Drake’s relatable recollections of arguing with his mom, borrowing his uncle’s car and getting stuck in traffic help you feel included in the boasts of “Started From the Bottom.” Instead we get a little goofy spoken-word aside and a cheerleader chant that, yeah, Avril beat her to by seven years, both of which suck you entirely out of the momentum of the admittedly giddy chorus. Meaning there’s only about 2:18 worth of song here, and even that includes Taylor giggling to herself at the end of a line, which I think she’s done in a song at least twice before even though it’s really not a gimmick that works more than once.

Dorian Sinclair: Pretend I’m a mega-rich music exec. Pitch me Max Martin working with TSwift on a track about how she can’t dance but doesn’t care, and I’m sold. That idea is amazing, in theory. In practice, unfortunately, it became “Shake It Off”, which is dated (“haters gonna hate,” Taylor? Really?), racist (the twerk-tunnel, Taylor? Really???), and just kind of embarrassing all around (the J. Lo drag, Taylor? Really?????). It’s catchy, I suppose. I like the horns underscoring the whole thing. That’s about what I can muster as far as praise.

Anthony Easton: I was anticipating with some amount of pleasure the new Swift, and was even hoping against a full immersion into generic pop. But this is what the world sounds like now, and she is pretty brilliant at noting where her audience is at, and there is a point where the music isn’t for me, and I move along. I never thought Swift would bore me.

Alfred Soto: I’m in the minority regarding Red: Shellback and Max Martin’s insistent electrohooks pounded Swift’s lyrics into meat sauce. Of course it was her decision — these were her songs. But if she wanted to record her First Pop Album, then she needed collaborators who know how to record horns and write horn lines that didn’t sound like rhythm guitar jabs. A “Happy” knockoff — great! The world needs another joyless ode performed by human resources administrators. Compressed, obvious, even desperate, “Shake It Off” is unworthy of the Mariah Carey song of the same name, of the added Jonas Bros cheer “Pom Pom.” Not unworthy of Swift — like I said, she wanted to record this shit, and she has Red in her discography. Worthy of Genesis though.

Luisa Lopez: With the weight of everything that came before it was impossible for this song to perform what we wanted, which is why T Swift has beaten us all to the judgment and named her tuneful rebirth “Shake It Off”. Reveling in those “Hey Mickey” claps and frothing with fizzy Avril posturing, it seems, initially, like a letdown. This is a song performed more for Taylor than any audience it will come across, a kind of self-affirmation that is sometimes hard to translate into worldwide celebration. In a few moments, her attempts at dirty edge come across as almost mean-spirited. So here we are, meeting a new Taylor Swift for the first time and looking among the beats for traces of who she was before. They’re there, snuck in between those brassy bouts of bravura: the mm, mms from “Hey Stephen”, the spoken interlude from “We Are Never”, a beat dripping with more destiny than “I Knew You Were Trouble”. And the men! Now, for the first time, nameless, sedimentary, not only ripe for mocking but actively mocked, turned into pleasurable comforts, not lingered on but, at last, thrown away. It is distinctly wonderful to hear Taylor Swift growl, won’t you come on over baby we could shake, shake, shake. After all, the last person who would have accepted a moon-eyed single about men from Taylor Swift is Taylor Swift herself. Given over instead to reinvention, her music becomes something it never was before: self-aware. If longing is country, then triumph is pop. And here she is.

Katherine St Asaph: I feel like I’ve pissed off the world’s most insular wizard, who has doomed me to be the contrarian on every Taylor Swift song. Single after single of supposed singular girlfire left me grumpy and unmoved, and now her new one is a tiny, sour-sweet raspberry hard candy piece and it’s great. A backlash was due — Red‘s singles cycle petered out, Swift’s image took some tabloid hits. In times of adversity businesses batten the hatches, which in pop means Max Martin and Shellback on everything and less personality, and the grumbling associated with that. Then came the video: so close to being OK, then enter that scene, like twerking clockwork. At first I thought the team was just going for a lazy Evolution of Dance, Except I’m Taylor Swift And I’m Totes Awk! theme, and all they took away from Miley2K3 was that people called her slutty — but no, it’s Mark fucking Romanek, who directed “Scream,” “Closer,” “Criminal,” and “99 Problems.” He knows how controversy works; more pertinently, he hasn’t done any videos this decade except “Picasso Baby,” U2 and this, so this clip is probably just a deliberately cynical way to funnel your clicks into his kid’s tuition jar. The song, however, is great, mostly because it stands alone. Taylor isn’t rapping, she’s doing cheer chants or perhaps Leighton Meester; every spoken-word interlude in music is not rap. The rest is concerned solely with caramelizing Robyn, Miley, Christina, “Problem,” “Happy,” Bella Thorne and the tabloid bullshit (“I go on too many dates, but I can’t make them stay”) into limitless hook sugar. It is inessential and indelible. Like “Get Lucky” and “Call Me Maybe,” it’s got an endlessly snowclonable chorus; meme aggregators gonna gate-gate-gate-gate-gate. It is also a massive earworm.

David Moore: In my parallel universe where the Spinto Band’s “Shake It Off” became an OK Go-level indie smash thanks to the viral video they never actually made, Taylor Swift might never have had the inspiration to provide this mildly corrective vanilla-scented air freshener for the overripe saccharine funk that’s hung in the air at least since…how long has it been? Back when Allison Iraheta failed to break through with the then-latest Cheerleader Barbie iteration of Martin/Luke, there was, I thought, more than a whiff of desperation to the whole sound, but I didn’t realize that what I’d assumed was just the last gasp of Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” was in fact mere prelude to our unfortunate few summers of mandatory fun. So even though I’m officially old and cranky enough to prefer the Spintos’ sleeper to Taylor Swift’s effervescence with telltale beads of sweat on the brow (to say nothing about Mariah, let’s not bring her into this), this squeaks through on an embarrassing curve. (Dear god is it possible that the best trying-too-hard clap-clap-pop salvo of recent years was really by the Jonas Brothers?)

Kat Stevens: A non-controversial fact about T-Swift: at 5’10” she is a good six inches taller than Svetlana Khorkina, one of the tallest Olympic gymnastics gold medallists in the last 30 years or so (and definitely the only one to win a medal doing a floor routine to Demis Roussous). HOWEVER rhythmic gymnasts tend to be a bit taller on average than their artistic counterparts, so that’s at least one sensible decision made by Swift in this video. Khorkina was originally told she would only ever make it as a rhythmic gymnast, but she decided to invent a number of skills on vault and bars that would suit her taller frame and turn her ‘disadvantage’ into something spectacular. Swift does not have any initial disadvantage as far as I can see, and this song is about as inventive and spectacular as me doing a forward roll.

Micha Cavaseno: Words are not able to suit me in describing my disdain for this young lady’s discography. I am going to quote the words of occasional TSJ subject and modern poet Jeffrey Williams AKA Thugger Thugger on this subject: “PLEASE GET THE FUCK OUT MY FACE.”

Hazel Robinson: This is a fucking great song of such terrific, summery magnitude that I would play all day every day if I could get through it without bashing my head onto my desk again and again and again in a desperate and futile protest against white female popstars seemingly thinking the best response to haters is to make a repellent, racist video. Why, my fellow white people, why?

Josh Winters: That bleating horn gets a bit grating when you really focus on it, and the corny-as-hell bridge nearly kills the whole thing. And yet somehow, despite all of that….

Patrick St. Michel: It’s ironic that a song about ignoring everything has opened the thinkpiece floodgates. It’s the video, though, that’s really getting the attention, which is warranted but something I don’t really want to focus on (because there are dozens of other articles about that). “Shake It Off,” the song, is incredibly simple on purpose — Taylor Swift has made the sonic equivalent of a “Dance Like Nobody Is Watching” poster, a fitting introduction for what she’s calling her first official pop album. It guns for this fall’s slumber parties and awkward dorm mixers, scalpelling out anything that could be read as too personal (well, almost anything — if “media industry people” had a better ring than “haters,” the “too many dates” line would make a lot more sense). It boasts an awkward-on-purpose breakdown that attempts to bring “hella” back into the lexicon. Like “Happy” before it, it abuses repetition to maximum effect. It has been out one day and it’s already the top foreign song on the Japanese iTunes charts, and it will only rise higher worldwide. “Shake It Off” isn’t remotely complex, but complexity doesn’t turn you into a global smash.

Jonathan Bradley: Taylor Swift launched her career with a song about a covert backroad hook-up and a few singles later, she was coming on like a junior Miranda Lambert, spreading nasty rumors and starting fires. Yet the world discovered her and fixed her in place as a fairytale naif — a persona she hardly disavowed, but one she never embraced exclusively either. Now nearing her 25th birthday — she’s been of voting age for most of her career — she’s evincing an ever more powerful desire to abandon the youthful earnestness that never fully defined her anyway. “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “22” were both big pop moves, but they were also an embrace of adulthood as an opportunity for new immaturity. In this mold, “Shake It Off” is gleefully vapid, with Swift boasting in the opening lines that she goes “on too many dates” and has “nothing in [her] brain” like an honors student urging everyone to join her in doing shots. The (sick) beat, augmented by a joyously tacky dollar store Swizz Beatz horn line, is matched only by the void of a second verse as a declaration that, for Taylor, growing up means trading hang-ups for hook-ups. She ends the tune hitting on a random hottie, which makes sense after a chorus warning that “players gonna play” and “heartbreakers gonna break.” Once upon a time those sobriquets might have referred to lovers callous and careless, but this Swift seems happy to adopt them for herself, no matter which haters hate-hate-hate-hate.

Juana Giaimo: The three main singles from Red showed how self-conscious Taylor Swift is about her position in the music scene — just remember “with some indie record that’s much cooler than mine”– and about what the audience likes about her too: the drama. Of course, that self-consciousness also showed how aware she is of the people who criticize her. But the message of “Shake It Off” is clear: the pressure (either coming from the outside or even from herself) has gone away, and she feels free to do whatever she wants. This can be seen in the lyrics, but also in the casual style of the music. While perfectionism characterized Red, this time she looks for a (safe) change. Some have already mentioned that the brass is rather shallow and that the bridge is an old trick that doesn’t fit into the song, but that is exactly what Taylor may be looking for: to get away from the Taylor Swift structure and just experiment with the sounds. Being catchy and memorable is an attribute people look for in singles, but “Shake It Off” maybe aims for something different: the present. That is, to sing along and dance while listening to it to make you feel empowered and encouraged to leave your old self aside — at least for three and a half minutes, because we still have to see what the rest of 1989 has to offer us.

Mark Sinker: is this the mpla

Josh Langhoff: For a song about the innate spring of music that transforms Taylor into a reckless fountain of Terpsichore, “Shake It Off” could have been called “Try Too Hard.” It’s not just the sentiment, whose paradoxical depths — recording a big budget pop song about how little one cares — have been plumbed better by Taylor herself, not to mention Fred Durst and others. The music’s exhausting too. All those repeated word hooks sound as forced as the “wre-eh-eck” in “Wrecking Ball,” the “following-following-following” in “Maps,” or the cheer of camp counselors performing some wretched skit. Any points go to Taylor’s expert vocal harmonies, the only things luring me out from under the covers during the next few months of “Shake It Off” ubiquity.

Sabina Tang: This is what bothers me about Taylor in her twenties: the self-image she communicates hasn’t kept up with her growing privilege and reach. Taylor tended to present as the awkward, uncool, normal-ish kid — not popular or bullied but sidelined — even though she was objectively blonde/thin/gorgeous and a multi-platinum selling songwriting prodigy. At one point it seemed like she would knowingly complexify this stance (eg. the “You Belong With Me” video), but now it’s like… “I dance badly like a normal white girl! Indie boys will never think I’m hip! I am so surprised I won another award!” I know this is projection, by the way. Celebrity h8 is embarrassingly revealing about the h8er and says little about the celebrity. Here’s what I hope this gut reaction says about me: I’m wary of people who position themselves as the underdog, the more so if it’s unconscious. The world is a riot of ladders, and one can be at top and bottom simultaneously — one can stand on the next-to-top rung and still look up. The worst shit in the world happens because people believe they’re still punching up when they’re punching down or sideways. Taylor Swift is not the worst, but in retrospect it’s easy to be wise and big-picture and only a little bit acid when you’re 16 and life hasn’t really happened. Eventually, things have to go wrong not only because h8rs like me say this or that, or indie boys are objectively terrible, but because you fucked up. If you can shake it off, you can afford to be generous, or at least to model generosity in a pop ditty. No such relaxation yet, though; she still cares too much about not caring that she’s uncool. God, 24 is a ungracious age, isn’t it? I’ll check back again in two years.

Sonia Yang: The previous album’s Martin & Shellback track, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” was a clever piece of irony in which Swift gave her critics exactly what they wanted and expected, a silly “stereotypical Taylor Swift song” about boys. This time, she addresses her detractors more directly and flippantly, quoting the tired lines tabloids spew about her and brushing them off. With its infectious beat, “Shake It Off” not only sweetly gives haters the finger but is the go-to jam for those days when you just can’t get started because too many things are dragging you down. It’s also the first song to successfully combine a meme phrase and a horn section.

Will Adams: Straight out of the “Roar” School For Comeback Singles, “Shake It Off” delivers a reedy haters-gonna-hate anthem that couldn’t be any less relatable (in that it’s pretty easy for someone of Swift’s overwhelming success to shake off the critics) or compelling (in that at every turn, the song recalls other, better works, from 3LW to Avril). For all of their faults, at least the Red singles retained some semblance of Swift’s aesthetic, but she couldn’t be more anonymous here.

Thomas Inskeep: I compare this move to Gwen Stefani’s first solo album: she’s been inching in this direction for a while, but rather than a toe-dip this is a head-first dive into the pop pool. And as it goes, it’s not half-bad. T-Swift’s spoken-word “rap” is embarassing, but no moreso than you’d expect, and this sounds exactly like you’d expect an upbeat, pure pop song from a 24-year-old superstar to sound (especially factoring in the contributions of Max Martin and Shellback). This will, for better or worse, be the unavoidable single of the back half of 2014.

Brad Shoup: The pump-up drumwork and horns — not peppy, more coronary — place the whole song in a cheerleading context, not just the sprechstimme. Of course, she’s cheering herself. Despite its callous attitude towards hating — one of our prime and vital industries — I found “Mean” quite affecting, and the same is happening here. Swift’s imperfect voice straining its range helps; that it’s in service to a fine melody wielded bluntly helps even more. She tries to grind us all to dust with that repetition, both in the refrain and in the final minute, and the effort’s affecting. So we have a sturdy affirmation anthem with a vulnerable vanilla center. No wonder that this fluff sounds so serious.

Danilo Bortoli: This is the point where Taylor Swift finally develops her very own Avril Lavigne syndrome (both sonically and ideologically), a case in which artists’ songs keep portraying a vision of youth as fullfield as artificial. Strangely, this is exactly what makes Swift’s sound so perfect in terms of execution (this one is no exception): everything is where it’s supposed to be, but “Shake It Off” is vague about what it wants to do, a problem that comes out as the “Who are ‘they’?” question. Of course, “they” are her critics, people who come prepared to pin down on every word she writes. But there are others, like me, who understand her weaknesses, but prefer to rationalize them in order to enjoy the fun of it. (I know this is beyond uncritical, but never mind, I prefer Hermeneutics.) This was a small price to pay until now.  Naturally, all these temporary solutions crumble down when her response to the critics is the ridiculous poetic license present in lines like “haters gonna hate” and “fakers gonna fake”. Still, this is considered to be perfection. But, still, a really boring kind of overachievement.

Edward Okulicz: If Taylor wanted a sick beat for her can’t-get-me-down banger, she should have stolen the one from Tove Styrke’s “Even If I’m Loud, It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking To You,” of which this feels like a less interesting sibling. The spoken word bit is Stump meets Stefani. The farting horns straddle “hook” and “atrocity” like a tightrope walker. I’m sure the chorus’s melody is just as pillaged as the words, and I know it’s just as tired. The song is pretty good for a Jessie J song, but in the end that’s really all it is; it feels like a nondescript melange of a bunch of fun stuff that Swift does competently but other people do better.

Reader average: [6.08] (36 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

67 Responses to “Taylor Swift – Shake It Off”

  1. I was talking with my friend today about the video, and he noted that it’s got a narrative line. Basically, Swift tries on various styles of dance/shaking it off, from ballet to rhythmic to twerk to Gaga-robot (??) to break to cheerleading, and only in the end, when the rest of the Gap-dressed folks join in, does she ‘stay true to herself’ and dance the way she wants to dance. So in that sense, it would seem that she’s very aware of how she doesn’t fit in the other styles (not that being aware of appropriating absolves oneself from critique).

  2. Also, cj, I got u.

    That ain’t got nothing to do-ooo, with me and you-oooo….

  3. feeling so attacked right now :D

    i spent a lot of time deciding whether to italicise, how to cap it up etc — i regret nothing [/hedonismbot]

  4. I’m surprised non of you guys mentioned that the beat seems to be taken from two The Kills songs simultaneously: Last Day of Magic and Sour Cherry. Apparently Max Martin has been listening to Midnight Boom recently.

  5. Yes, yes, Mark, but what do you MEAN???

  6. Her dressed up in hip hop/J.Lo style I saw as a nod to how popular those styles are in Asia.

    this strikes me as a massive stretch

  7. Say that they’re “global” street fashion, then


  9. Her female back up dancers stole the show from her at the VMAs. I assume the tux and shimmer approach was supposed to be ironic or some story where awkward TayTay crashed the ball except she was clearly invited judging by her make up, hair, outfit, and the fact everyone keeps following her around adoringly. Her awkwardness did not read as performance as much as amateur. That Chelsea Handler white joke and the disinterested-but-forced-to-be-politely-engaged look from Gwen Stefani pretty much summarized the sentiment. Also, her live vocal for this song is pretty horrible. That whiny, bratty tone needs the producer’s polish, because she could not sustain it.

  10. Oh and she took a dig at Nicki Minaj’s snake. That was the best part. I also valued her refusal to jump. We already know Cheryl Cole would have jumped, but she’s much needier for pop relevance, right? Wrong.

  11. I don’t really care about her music but I just watched the video and it made me feel incredibly annoyed at her. The digs and the fake clumsiness and pretty much everything about her feels artificial in here. She even looks like she is pretending when she’s ‘having fun’ in the video.

    Sabina nailed it ‘she still cares too much about not caring that she’s uncool.’

  12. Best part about this though is that I heard and loved Tove Styrke’s “Even If I’m Loud, It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking To You” thanks to Edward.

  13. Ya shoulda heard it and loved it when we gave it a 7.00 a few months ago. That bit I wrote is part of my apology to the world for not being there to [9] or [10] it myself.

  14. Feel like the scrutiny of her “authenticity” is really bizarre and gendered and boring, tbh

  15. Whenever I hear this on the radio, just as a song amongst other pop songs, I *super* enjoy the chorus, then feel *so* uncomfortable when the bridge/breakdown part happens. All of the spoken parts sound like they’re shamelessly taken from other people — like her imitating someone who she overheard at a party and thought was cool and blase. But it comes off as not cool and not blase; very self-conscious, or perhaps not self-conscious enough??

    In any case I always feel like the chorus has me going about 60mph into Summer Party Zone then the bridge pops up as a big gray wall. Or even — turns it all inside out into a joy-sucking vortex. Depending on the day.

  16. yeah this is a [9] for me now

  17. i recently and awkwardly learned that my next door neighbors can hear me singing/belting super loud at 2-4 am and this song is the reason why [10]