Monday, September 21st, 2009

Taylor Swift – Fifteen



Martin Skidmore: This is lovely, and very precise in its evocation of how heartbreaking and all-consuming love can be for teenagers. As it happened I read one of the magnificent Alice Hoffman’s teen novels this afternoon, which may be why the delicate specificity and emotional conviction of this reminded me of her, and I can’t give higher praise than that to a song of this kind. I also confess that the typically moronic La Roux attack on her makes me more disposed to love her. Still, I don’t need bias to admire this: it’s rather beautiful, and one of the most acute and intelligent analyses of a key pop theme I’ve heard in ages.

Chuck Eddy: I’ve thought this song was slightly lacking in the hook department since the album came out, but hearing it on the car radio is already proving me wrong. And as unfair as it may be to Lily Allen, girls fretting about being 15 makes me care more than girls fretting about being 22. Though maybe when my daughter hits 22 I’ll think otherwise.

Hillary Brown: Compared to “You Belong with Me” (which in retrospect I keep upping my rating on mentally), this points up all of Swift’s weaknesses as a singer-songwriter: the tendency to outstay her welcome, the repetitiveness, the thin vocals, the high school soap opera, and so forth. None of this means it’s a bad song, but it’s nearly 5 minutes long!

Alex Ostroff: I was surprised to learn that this relatively unassuming track was Taylor’s next single, but underneath its reserve there’s a fragile beauty. “Fifteen” pulls Taylor’s standard trick of breathing life into generic situations, but musically and lyrically, the devil is always in the details. The bridge begins powerfully, with the desperation in Taylor’s voice at “When all you wanted was to be wanted,” chunky guitar chords and a warm cello counterpoint. But the centrepiece of the song is buried in the final verse, matter-of-fact and quiet, and punches me in the gut every time: “And Abigail gave everything she had to a boy / who changed his mind.” And then Taylor aches: “We both cried.” And so do I.

Renato Pagnani: The range of emotions she manages to shoehorn into “Fifteen” is astounding; the wide-eyed optimism of the first day of class; the pit-of-your-stomach nerves of your first date; the comfort and strength that having your BFF (the red-headed Abigail) around you gives you; the tender empathy for your friend who thought she was going to marry him; the wistful desire to go back and tell your fifteen-year-old self what you know now. Taylor can’t do that,of course, but she realized what she /could/ do—write a song and tell present fifteen-year-olds that they’ll survive high school, as unlikely as it might seem at times.

Anthony Easton: It is nice to have a teenager speak about teenage angst and, more importantly, it is vital for someone that age to say out loud — the whole thing is a con, a set of rituals, and the feelings you have are legitimate, but keep aware, be careful, do not give away yr integrity too closely. There is no nostalgia here, there is no attempt to guide behavior, nor to check the hormones because power and ambition are more important. It is a warning not to fuck, but not to fuck to get out of town, or because you are not sure of yourself, or because fucking makes you lose a bit of autonomy, or because fucking is scary are all legitimate. I think that in small towns where there is little to do, and boredom encroaches, and in conservative circles where all sex is suspect, a message about not having sex to maintain or extend personal autonomy is a message that needs to be heard. The rhetoric around abstinence is explicitly patriarchal: it is still mired in the desire for an imaginary purity. Swift has built a corpus of work about that, about maintaining self, about the authority of one’s own vision away from the dominant trends of both Nashville and Hollywood.

Martin Kavka: Taylor Swift is perhaps the best country songwriter since Dolly Parton. But while the backdrop of Parton’s songs is a genuine love for the region in which she grew up (even in bittersweet songs such as “To Daddy” or “Malena”), Swift’s “Fifteen” is far more jaded. Life in a small town is nothing more than being teased by popular bitches, and having your pants taken off by boys through their rank dishonesty. They are places that will fuck you up no matter how many wiser eighteen-year-old girls warn you of this fact. And so when you flee them, you flee into the warm arms of pop. “Fifteen” is country music for people who hate country. The fact that it’s such a good song makes this a real conundrum.

Ian Mathers: She really is sui generis at this point; even compared to the other pop-country singles I’ve liked here (there have been a few, I swear), my love for “Fifteen” feels wholly different. I’m sort of in awe of how good the melody, the vocal performance and, crucially, the lyrics are. Anyone who at 19 can write such a bittersweet song about looking back at being a teenager, and make much older people think about their own high school days with a bit of a lump in their throats, has got something.

Edward Okulicz: Taylor’s gift is that when she sings about her own life, she does so with such clarity it might as well be yours as well. “Fifteen” is a reasonably good demonstration of this, though it is a little bit distant emotionally, the stories a step removed, the chorus a touch overlong and the her vocal performance here is restrained and detached. Of course that’s just nitpicking; it’s a pretty tune and the numbness is part of the point. It’s not what she does best, but she does it well.

Alfred Soto: From the opening mandolin strums — reminiscent of “Back in the High Life Again” — to the way her voice rushes and ascends as she remembers those cute “senior boys,” Taylor Swift’s confidence never wavers. The choral melody isn’t as strong as the rest, which makes sense: she refuses to yield to a situation she hasn’t worked out as singer and songwriter. The kid’s 19, right? Failing to reach the necessary detachment only adds to her charm.

Melissa Bradshaw: Taylor Swift has tapped into a globally captivating mode of writing about small town America. “Fifteen”‘s honeyed chorus sounds designed for 15-year-olds, while her narrative will transport older listeners back to their formative teenage years, and the song’s technically deft and moving climax shifts the lens onto the inevitable heartbreak of adulthood. It’s the antithesis in mood to “You Belong With Me”, and the perfect complement. She is also saying something big and universal about being a woman. This, in combination with her undeniable talent and her appeal for a massive demographic, makes her every bit Beyonce’s equal.

Jonathan Bradley: Swift’s touch is sufficiently light that when she sings of flying after a date, her feet could plausibly have lost contact with the earth. “He’s got a car,” she marvels of the boy on the football team who asks out the adolescent Taylor, and her voice becomes even higher and more girlish than usual as she describes the thrill. And sure, first kisses and sports studs can make for painfully clichéd subject matter, but despite the soft touch, Swift sings of them with an appropriate weightiness. “Fifteen” is serious enough about the small triumphs and crushing confusions of high school to be plainspoken about them. She has an astonishing ability to elucidate the exact feeling of being young and in love, and her precision and detail reminds, without a hint of melodrama, that such a state is something very amazing and very crushing indeed.

John Seroff: Swift’s wise-beyond-her-years high school elegy sounds like it should come from the pen of Paula Cole or Dolly Parton; this kind of rock-solid songwriting should be out of the range of anyone in their teens. “Fifteen” doesn’t overdo its lyrical pathos, overwhelm with production or overstay its welcome. It’s an expression of pure vulnerability, gentle, inclusive and surprisingly, honestly wistful. There’s a lovely attentiveness to silences, brief introspective pauses that give this song the body and soul that sets it apart from goopier, less creative fare. Swift’s ubiquitous critical praise never quite clicked for me before, but ‘Fifteen’ has me eying the bandwagon… I suppose I have to go get Fearless now?

70 Responses to “Taylor Swift – Fifteen”

  1. ah I’m so glad you love this Melissa, I didn’t know you liked Taylor!

    this would’ve been a 10 from me but I didn’t have time and couldn’t put it better than Sasha F-J did in his Fearless review – glad to see all here didn’t have this problem.

    so given how much we all love Taylor, and how obvious her incredible talent is to us, why are there so many people who dismiss her? not just dumb-as-rocks La Roux, but – esp in the UK – the dominant critical consensus is that she’s just sappy teenpop by a boring clean-cut blonde girl.

  2. Nice Steve Winwood ref, Alf, though that strummy-strum-strum reminds me more of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn.”

  3. Seems like a valedictorian address but slower to me. Actually, more like a popular senior’s op-ed in the high school paper. But slower.

  4. It’s not awful (I couldn’t work up the energy to slam or praise it by the deadline to write a blurb) but I’m surprised how enthusiastic people are about a slice of blanket sentimentality that can’t even rouse itself. Though “Swift’s wise-beyond-her-years high school elegy sounds like it should come from the pen of Paula Cole” is otm.

  5. I don’t see how regrettable sex automatically makes for an anti-sex message. And, call me naive if you will, but Abigail could have “g[iven] everything she had” in an emotional sense — not that it makes a difference really, but I think we should be wary of confusing country music with conservatism.

  6. “like a valedictorian address… like a popular senior’s op-ed in the high school paper”

    this is pretty much exactly right– but this is what is so wonderful about it, that it is yes quite obvious, and ‘i didn’t know what i know now at fifteen’ is a very conventional sort of thing to say and to sing about, and still this song makes me cry. It is just like a valedictorian’s address, in that way – you know it’s general and platitudinal and the valedictorian and you barely ever spoke and she’s going on about things that never involved you, and still you’re sitting there in your stuffy cap and gown and tearing up because in this instant it feels absolutely personal and you are saying goodbye to a whole part of yourself.

  7. nb i have never actually sat though a valedictorian’s address.

  8. apparently!

  9. “Swift’s wise-beyond-her-years high school elegy sounds like it should come from the pen of Paula Cole”

    Maybe, but does Cole have any songs this pretty? If so, I’d like to hear them. At any rate, when the album came out, I said a lot of it reminded me of Lisa Loeb (and not just because of the glasses Taylor sometimes wears); thought it was a major singer-songwriter retreat from the far catchier debut. And this song was one reason why. Still think the debut is the better record, but several singles in, I’m starting to come around to this one. (And the song that really chokes me up, “The Best Day,” hasn’t even been a actual single yet.)

  10. 1. Taylor Swift
    2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
    3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
    4. Taylor Swift
    5. DJ Quik & Kurupt
    6. DJ Quik & Kurupt

    to be expected i guess but sheesh…

  11. Maybe, but does Cole have any songs this pretty?

    ‘I Am So Ordinary’, ‘Oh John’ and ‘Hush Hush Hush’ (leastwise before Gabriel shows up) are in the same category for me; YMMV of course.

  12. also congratulations to everyone (but will) on abstaining from Kanye gags.

  13. Don’t get the YYYs love, but otherwise that top list is pretty much OTM.

    This song was an early favourite from Fearless for me, and it still holds up. All the good things have been said about it so I don’t know what to possibly add. Other than this: After a while you realize how many different emotions, and perspectives, and observations the different tracks on the albums provide.

    Bradshaw says: “It’s the antithesis in mood to “You Belong With Me””, and it feels like every track has its antithesis on the album, or at least a totally different take on the same subject. What a big piece of work that album is! How completely it covers its subjects… The ‘repetitiveness’ doesn’t really exist, yes there’s “kissing in the rain” on several tracks, but it’s used to underline different things. I’m really nervous as to how she’ll find new paths, lyrically, on the next album. Although experiencing worldwide fame and life on the fastlane isn’t the worst source of inspiration.

  14. “esp in the UK – the dominant critical consensus is that she’s just sappy teenpop by a boring clean-cut blonde girl.”

    once again, we learn that british people are the worst

  15. i’m baffled by the slight criticism here of it not having a huge, rousing chorus. clearly it’s supposed to be a tender ballad? having a chorus like “love story” would seem out of place i think.

    renato’s blurb is v good. this part is crucial: “The range of emotions she manages to shoehorn into “Fifteen” is astounding; the wide-eyed optimism of the first day of class”

  16. er i meant to cut that off after the semi-colon

  17. it’s also another testament to her incredible songwriting ability that this song doesn’t come off as preachy as all. the “you’ll do greater things than dating the quarterback of the football team” could land really badly in the wrong hands i think. the song really has this kind of sisterly quality about it. that line is also one the one that sounds most valedictorian speech to me.

  18. Is there much of a UK critical consensus around Taylor Swift? I think Lex is overplaying it a bit.

  19. I think it’s just immensely difficult to get UK dudes worked up about country, no matter whom its sung by or how good the song might be – I bet if you asked hundred people on a British high street to name a country artist our survey would probably say:

    1. Dolly Parton
    2. Billy Ray Cyrus
    3. Shania Twain (at a push – she codes more as ‘pop’ over here I think)
    4. Er um er um

  20. really has this kind of sisterly quality

    Right. My full blurb actually started out calling it “Big-sisterly singer-songwriter advice about how this, too, will pass.”

  21. (I might be stating the obvious here, but I like to think I pay attention to popular music and *I* know bugger all about country)

  22. ARGH comment box submitted too early! I meant:

    “…and *I* know bugger all about country except what I hear from Frank and stuff on here.”

  23. We don’t exactly get too many songs written and sung by, and written to boring cleancut blondes, so hooray for Swift!

  24. I still don’t get Taylor Swift and get the feeling I never will.

  25. “esp in the UK – the dominant critical consensus is that she’s just sappy teenpop by a boring clean-cut blonde girl.”

    I don’t often say this, but UK otm.

  26. its a silly comparison as per – what’s the ‘critical consensus’ on her in Canada, Australia etc. she is popular in all these places anyway plus western Europe generally i expect.

    i get the ‘Taylor is SO good at this (apparently) it should make people with kneejerk resistance to country-pop/highschoolculture pay more attention and try and appreciate her strengths on their terms’ argument but when does that ever happen really.

  27. when does what ever happen?

  28. Yeah, and that’s where my basic sticking point arises. She’s clearly talented, but that talent translates to music I couldn’t care less about, with the caveats that I have no problem on principle with country-pop and that a significant portion of my favorite music right now is being made by people younger than Ms. Swift.

    I still think her boosters here are more drawn to the idea of a teenaged country starlet who writes her own songs than to her actual music.

  29. You totally lost me with that last claim, Rodney. Where’s the evidence for that, with so many people here explaining what exactly they like about her actual music? Are they lying?

  30. Those claims are always incredibly annoying. More than explicitly claiming her music is worse than the worst music ever made before would ever be. The IDEA that those of us who constantly feel the need to put on her album, many many months later, are somehow walking around to ourselves with those tunes stuck in our heads in PRETENSE because some vague idea about it we love. That’s how we’re attracted to check out artists, and why their music often disappoints. Personally I don’t endlessly spin tracks I don’t love.

  31. You guys are right, that was a shitty claim on my part. It’s probably just my personal frustration at seeing such high praise for music that seems so plain and featureless talking.

  32. Rodney, I get your frustration and I don’t mean to be patronizing, but there’s two cardinal rules worth acknowledging here:

    1) Your Mileage May Vary: There’s no accounting for taste and two equally intelligent, broadly traveled omnivorous listeners can still arrive at totally different conclusions
    2) Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire: Even if you find a popular song utterly without quality and interest, it is still a work that several people spent a great deal of time and effort producing and there’s almost always something redeeming in even the worst artwork. It might not be something that appeals to you (see rule #1) and it may well be a quality that you’ve found elsewhere done better, but there’s almost always definitely something worth gleaning when you talk about a song that has been embraced by tens of thousands of people.

    Coming to terms with these rules as a mantra has GREATLY opened my capacity to enjoy things like Taylor without self-consciousness, irony or doubt.

    Swift’s an impressive craftsman and really REAL vocally. Those qualities may seem plain and featureless to you but I see some things to value in truth and workmanship.

  33. Those rules also allow people to enjoy Coldplay, Animal Collective, Mastodon…but I wouldn’t expect those acts to get anywhere near this level of approval across the board. Maybe I’m just surprised that anyone could or that it’s this kind of music that proves so agreeable here.

  34. I will never understand the love for Taylor Swift. It’s not that I dislike her — she’s too bland and inoffensive for that –, but there is absolutely nothing original about her. I mean, I feel like I’m staring at a nekkid emperor here. “Teardrops on my Guitar” was “Breakaway.” “You Belong With Me” was “Girl Next Door” by Saving Jane. Who does this one rip off?

  35. Steve, I think you’re too hung up on Taylor Swift as being “this kind of music” when what everyone has consistently written is that she’s a uniquely talented individual artist. It’s not as though all country regularly scores highly here. I actually take this sort of unanimous across-the-board approval from a panel with such varied tastes – not even approval, real enthusiasm and love for her music – as proof that we’re right, she has something special about her. I mean, look at the usual scores. We don’t agree about anything!

    Also you are surely not still surprised after last time?

  36. “I mean, look at the usual scores. We don’t agree about anything!”

    OTM. We rarely agree on excellence…things that score incredibly high also tend to score incredibly low. Dave’s controversy index will hopefully back me up on that. Most agreement tends to occur in cases of tracks we collectively deem mediocre.

  37. First Timer: but there is absolutely nothing original about her
    I think what is genuinely original about her is her application of country songwriting techniques to teen themes. Country doesn’t have the fascination with youth that, for instance, hip-hop and rock do, and Swift’s introduction of this subject matter seems, within her genre, genuinely revolutionary.
    (E.g. Think how Julie Roberts’ cover of “Girl Next Door” felt like playacting in a way “You Belong With Me” didn’t.)

  38. Steve: Rule #1
    First-Timer: Rule #2

  39. Alex, tell me more about this controversy index?

  40. I don’t think I’d be so stymied if I found anything in her music that I actively disliked, on the basis of understanding that people might find attractive qualities that I find repulsive. But I don’t any kind of negative reaction to her music, or get anything from it, positive or negative at all. As it stands, I can’t imagine giving her work any mark more extreme than a [5] or [6].

    While I think Rule #1 is completely entirely apt, I disagree with Rule #2. No ones compulsed to like anything because it’s popular.

  41. Not compelled to like it, compelled to appreciate that if a plurality of your critically-minded peers see something of quality there that it exists.
    There’s lots of quality things that I don’t like; some because I’m not capable of appreciating them out of lack of learning or lack of experience. Some because of our old friend, rule #1.
    I thought the Nicki Minaj from earlier was real banal crap but the majority here saw something I didn’t. I disagree with them. But seeing so many folks laud it with praise gives me pause. I’ll try to be more patient with the next work of hers I’m presented with. I may not crack it, but I’ll give it a shot. I’ll do that three or four or five times before I put Rule #1 in play and give up on her completely. But I’ll do that reticently because I WANT TO LIKE ALL THIS STUFF. It’s more fun to enjoy things than not, so as an active listener, I’ll make an attempt to move to the song and fight to find something of value because, trust me, the gains of trying to find something positive far outweigh the joys of dismissal and cynicism.
    I know it’s unfashionable, but I’d be happiest if I loved everything I heard. Unfortunately, we DO have Leona Lewis coming up…

  42. I’m all for trying to find the value in things, but sometimes have to acknowledge that there isn’t any.

  43. I understand the appeal of Taylor Swift, but I think this song has a little too much pandering for me. The chorus is the part that really hits home (“you’re gonna believe them”) but this is just another run of the mill Taylor Swift song. One of those tunes that plays at the climax of an episode of Dawson’s Creek, or 90210.

    I’m not saying that teens can’t connect with the music – clearly they have. It’s just that Miley Cyrus could do the same thing and people would consider it campy and an obvious draw. Taylor Swift is a nice person who is definitely talented, but this is just another teen pop song set to country guitars.

  44. I kind of resent being told that I should like something just because other people do.

  45. That’s an unintended interpretation of what I’m getting at but I do think we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns.

    Quick parting thought? This was my first time listening to Taylor Swift critically that something clicked; I had tried her prior single and didn’t hear much of value. If you’re not hearing it, that’s regrettable to me because I made a discovery and it’s in my (and I daresay everyone who posts here) nature to want to share the joy of that kind of discovery. If I can’t properly explain to you why ‘Fifteen’ has merit in a way that you can at least say “I get it, it’s just not for me”, then I think the fault is mine. But the minute you try to explain to me how there is not merit here, that my reasons for enjoyment is invalid, I become rock solid sure that the fault is yours.

  46. … but sorry to strawman you for the purpose of pontification here Rodney; your comments likely don’t deserve it. Just taking the opportunity to vent a little personal philosophy. Doing two of these a day bring the question of value and worth of both this exercise and pop music to the forebrain. I’m taking a tip from Yoko and sayin’ yes.

  47. I already recanted on my attempt to invalidate anyone else’s reason for liking her. I can see the things people are pointing out as reasons for liking her, but it remains purely academic to me, as I don’t get any enjoyment out of those things.

    Fwiw, I prefer her previous single, which I still didn’t like that much.

  48. John, I’m kind of with Rodney here, not on Taylor, whom I love, or this song, which I like a lot. But it’s not necessarily true that what a lot of people like will necessarily have something good in it. I think what is true is that within all the liking among all the many and varied likers there will be at least a few interesting reasons and resonances. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the thing that was liked is worthy of the reasons and resonances. E.g. – I’m desperately trying not to exemplify Godwin’s Law here – I got an email from and evangelical Christian just when the Abu Ghraib photos were unearthed back in ’04; the email contained a photo of George W. Bush and some children, the fellow who sent it saying that you could tell by the kind look on Bush’s face that he cared about the children and their education, so the media should stop swamping us in pictures of Abu Ghraib and should instead show this photo. Perhaps this man’s argument was not the most rational I’d heard in my life, but the thing is, I knew the man a little, and I knew there must be an interesting story somewhere underlying his assertion (“cares about their education”). I never did hear it and I haven’t seen the guy in years, but I do have faith that there’s an interesting story. But George W. Bush would have had fuck all to do with what’s interesting in it.

    This hasn’t anything to do with Taylor, just my aversion to the argument, “If thousands of people like it, it must have some merit.”

  49. I like Rule #2, but I’d spin it as “Smoke Can Sometimes Be Just As Interesting As Fire.” I’ll give something a series of subsequent listens (like Fuck Buttons) after reading others praise it, but then my interest isn’t in objective aspects of the song, but in deepening my understanding of others’ subjective takes on it.

    The above is stated with the caveat that, for me, a Venn diagram depicting the relationship of “things that are academic” and “things that are enjoyable” is pretty much a diagram of one circle.

  50. Also, there’s a principle in economics and sociology called “cumulative advantage” or “the rich get richer.” Say that there are two songs on a Poptimists poll that I haven’t heard, one with seven ticks so far and the other with three ticks, and I only have time to listen to one. I’ll almost always listen to the one with seven, since I’ll want to know what my friends are listening to and liking, and my working hypothesis will be that in liking it they know something; and if I like the song myself I might tick it, raising its score to eight. And the next person who comes along in the midst of her busy day to check the poll may also listen to this track but not the other, and you can see how this will continue. The thing is, seven votes to three votes is not a significantly significant difference, and the two songs could each be the sort that has overall equal appeal over at Poptimists, but the random chance of which people happened to show up and do the ticking first will determine which of the two songs gets attention. Now, this doesn’t mean that a song that no one can tolerate will do well, or that one with a lot of appeal has no advantage over one that has little appeal; just that, everything being equal, there’s an ineradicable element of chance as to what hits and what doesn’t. And once a song or artist does hit big, the song or the artist is not easily dislodged, even by songs and performers with as much or more appeal.

    More on this subject here.

  51. “If thousands of people like it, it must have some merit.”

    I think that this is pretty much true, but only when we’re discussing art. I’m saying this as someone who finds the Eagles abhorrent, but there we are.

    I think extrapolating this dictum into fifty million Nazis can’t be wrong is a red herring and suggests that moral absolutes are as open to personal wont, learned preference and impulse as aesthetic ones are. They aren’t.

    “Worthy” of artistic merit assumes that there are hard and fast rules that determine what artistic merit is and there simply aren’t. The question is whether or not you’re capable, willing or open to embracing the presupposed dormant merit residing within anything crafted by an intelligent hand. You may be in possession of facts or opinions that supersede that thing’s inherent merit but that really only impacts YOUR enjoyment. Knowledge of Daft Punk renders Kanye’s Stronger that much less impressive, but knowledge of Birdsong renders Daft Punk that much less impressive, ad infinitum. It doesn’t make any of those songs less enjoyable to a listener seduced by a catchy hook.

    Everything we’re listening to here would have been openly derided by the greatest critics of the time as unlistenable trash less than a century ago. Likely we’ll all reach a point where the day’s music no longer resonates. I want to celebrate the days while it still does.

    Very little of which probably speaks to the subject at hand, but I’m given to rambling.

  52. I don’t mind your rambling, since I’m hardly hostile to your attitude. With me, I can’t disentangle art and politics so easily; but in general I’d say as a working assumption it’s good to assume there’s some merit in what people work so hard at making and that a lot of people care about. And I doubt that, say, a totally incompetent and artless country song that was full of pandering xenophobia would become popular. But a competent country song that was full of pandering xenophobia might become more popular than it would without the pandering xenophobia. Which is to say that some songs may owe a good deal of their popularity to what’s bad about them, and I might want to work that into my working assumptions as well. Or also, if almost everyone including schmucks likes a song, maybe there’s something necessary that’s missing from the song (e.g., something that would offend the schmucks).

    At this point I’m just splitting hairs, since fundamentally I think your attitude is fine, at least provisionally.

  53. Well Christ man, I should hope so; it is (to at least some small degree) partially derived from your own writing!

  54. John, I feel like you’re this close to arguing for objectivity in criticism.

  55. [blush]

  56. As for whether Taylor’s wise beyond her years, well, she’s got craftsmanship and artistry beyond her years, and she must have a lot of wisdom because you don’t achieve such craft without knowing how to work with others and being able to hear criticism and show up for creative work even on days when the well seems empty. That said, there are plenty of kids at age 18 (her age when she released Fearless) who question and battle stereotypes even when the stereotypes run to their advantage, and who consider themselves as culpable and confused after breakups as the person they were dating, and understand that when people change their minds it’s because they don’t know what they’re about yet, and so forth.

    (Not a comment on this song in particular, which after all is called “Fifteen” not “Eighteen,” but I don’t think Taylor’s done nearly as much justice to eighteen as Ashlee Simpson did to nineteen.)

  57. Speaking of 15 vs. 18:

  58. I’m guessing the video to this will be incredibly literal. I hear Abigail the real life redhead was involved in shooting it.

  59. […] for This Love [6] Jason DeRule – Whatcha Say [7] Mumford and Sons – Little Lion Man [7] Taylor Swift – Fifteen [9] Delphic – This Momentary [5] Los Campesinos! – The Sea is a Good Place to Think of […]

  60. Beautiful video:

  61. That dress is crying out for Michael Kors to make a witticism about a bib.

  62. When Taylor tells you what it’s like “when you’re fifteen,” what she actually means is “When you’re fifteen and you’re an attractive blond girl.” I’m none of those things, so no senior boys hit on me when I was fifteen. I wish Taylor Swift had cut the crap and just said “When *I* was fifteen.”

    I really don’t get what you people are listening to here. We know absolutely nothing at all about what happens to that senior boy with the car that Taylor dates, just that it ended, but she feels free to tell us about how Abigail’s most painful secrets, because it’s sure easy to be honest and confessional about shit that happened to someone else. A cautionary tale about having to console a *friend* who screwed up does nothing for me.

    I mean, let’s face it, Taylor Swift is not ever going to write a song about how she gave it up at age fifteen. Taylor Swift lives in a Norman Rockwell world where she perpetually has just kissed a boy for the first time last week. For the first time, one of Taylor Swift’s songs strikes me as calculated and guarded, and for the first time her ridiculous adolescent naivete really grates at me. And while she has the perspective to admit that fifteen-year-olds sure are stupid, she doesn’t have the courage to admit that she or Abigail had sex not because they were tricked into thinking they were in love, but simply because they’re silly hormonal teenagers who wanted to have sex, and for that reason Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” strikes me, if not the more honest song, at the very least the more interesting one, and certainly the superior one. Taylor’s got potential, but seriously, call me when she goes through two divorces and starts hitting the booze and starts making some actual country music.

  63. You had some semblence of an argument before that dumbass last sentence.

  64. The last sentence was a joke, kind of. But my sentiment is that for a songwriter who mostly seems to draw on personal experiences, she hasn’t experienced enough life to write songs about things that actually matter, and she doesn’t seem willing to tap into the kind of teen angst that would elevate what experiences she has had into something more compelling. I don’t dislike this song, I don’t dislike any of her songs. And I really like at least a couple. But she’s so CUTE. All her songs are just so freaking CUTE. And because of that, a lot of her songs just don’t connect with me, the same way that Owl City doesn’t. I can’t connect to a girl who thinks guys don’t look twice at girls who wear icky *T-shirts*, or dreams about a love story scenario where her overprotective dad is won over by her high school boyfriend’s plans to *marry her* (?!).

  65. MBI, I like your analysis of the Swift track but disagree with you — for one thing, Taylor *has* sung (implied) “giving it up” when you’re fifteen (maybe thirteen!) from song one (“Tim McGraw”), and it’s a constant undercurrent of a lot of her songs, including “Fifteen.” Thing is, the “you” in “Fifteen” is *Taylor*; she’s conveying how she feels to be of an age when she’s so confident and (without her knowledge, which develops over the course of her album) about to be completely broken down and reformed. The foreboding is already there — Taylor is saying “this is what you want” and suggesting “it’s not going to play out this way.”

    Abigail’s “giving it all” is a lot vaguer than Taylor getting stuck on the back roads with a guy in “Tim McGraw” — sex is maybe impied, but it’s not clear at all that this is exactly what she’s talking about. The key line there, though, is not “giving it all,” but “we both cried” — the girls faced with dramatically re-configuring their assumptions and expectations for this period of their life — Taylor didn’t know who she was supposed to be, but each experience tells her something about who she *is*, whether she likes it or not.

    As for the cuteness — well, I just disagree completely. Taylor is fierce, angry, often bitter, but she rarely has much of a sense of levity or cuteness about what she’s talking about. Usually it’s the end of the (well, “a”) world!

  66. Taylor would have been 15 in “Tim McGraw”; turns out she was projecting into the future as to what it would be like three years later to look back on this. The guy with the pick-up truck that tended to get stuck on backroads late at night was a senior boy, and she knew they were going to break up come September. And Taylor and Liz Rose were creating a song, not doing explicit every-fact-actually-happened autobiography, whereas “Fifteen” is both song and explicit autobiography. And I’ll bet IRL it was actually a car on the backroad, the pick-up truck being a sop to the country audience but also a way to rhyme “truck” and “stuck.” Also, I’m 100% certain that the “gave everything she had” in “Fifteen” does mean intercourse – but it obv means a lot more than intercourse, too, since intercourse doesn’t always mean giving everything you have; but it did to Abigail in that situation. Whereas the stuck car late at night doesn’t necessarily take you beyond making out; but Dave’s right, Taylor wants her head on that guy’s chest.

    I don’t like MBI’s analysis, since she’s projecting ugliness onto Taylor that isn’t there, and reducing Taylor’s complexity to simplicity in order to feel superior to her and to feel that she has nothing to learn from Taylor. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’d dislike MBI herself, if she’d stop the scapegoating.

    I don’t like my own analysis, for that matter, where I say, “there are plenty of kids at age 18 (her age when she released Fearless) who question and battle stereotypes even when the stereotypes run to their advantage, and who consider themselves as culpable and confused after breakups as the person they were dating, and understand that when people change their minds it’s because they don’t know what they’re about yet, and so forth.” Well, in “Breathe,” which comes five songs after “Fifteen,” she does feel culpable and confused after the breakup and explicitly says that she understands that people change their minds. And three songs on in “The Way I Loved You” she’s turning “You Belong With Me” inside out, ’cause she’s leaving the sensitive nice boy in the lurch in favor of the wild boy who gets her mad and into screaming fights at 2 AM, and she loves him insanely. So her songs cover a range of experience and impulses, the experiences and impulses not melding into one set attitude.

    I love Deana Carter and gave Story Of My Life a rave review, but “Tim McGraw” delivers the bittersweet a lot more effectively than “Strawberry Wine” did.

  67. So chastened, I gave “Tim McGraw” a re-listen, and though I certainly liked it at the time, maybe I still underestimated it. I’m honestly not sure if I still think “Strawberry Wine” is better, but at the same time, I think I still stand by my assertion that “Fifteen” doesn’t measure up in any real way. “Fifteen’ is supposed to be super-personal, all the reviewers and Taylor Swift herself have said so, but I just don’t feel it — it feels distant and vague and guarded to me, not heartfelt. I don’t care that “we both cried” — I’m getting this grief third-hand here. It’s been passed on too many times, it’s diluted. I really don’t think I’m projecting any ugliness on it — I certainly don’t think there’s any ugliness in it — but it strikes me as very much a sheltered eighteen-year-old’s take on an even more sheltered fifteen-year-old’s life, and I really don’t think there’s much complexity to be found. And to expose my own ignorance here, I haven’t listened to her albums, just the singles. But all her previous singles (minus “Tim McGraw,” and I guess “White Horse”) sound pretty goddamn silly to me. The dream guy fucking proposes in “Love Story” — maybe I’m just too far past fifteen myself, but I cannot plug into that. At all.

  68. Really? I know very few teenagers who haven’t fantasized about the perfect marriage. ‘The Princess Diaries’ weren’t popular because of their wit. And that’s exactly what Taylor presents it as, a fantasy, a romantisized fairytale. She’s making the rules, so let’s get married, and ‘just say yes’. Since you’ve heard White Horse you should be aware of the interplay between the two, the meeting of a teenage fantasy world and reality, no more princess. Yes, Love Story is silly, unrealistic love, and that’s the point.

  69. yeah mbi – listen to these men, they know what they’re talking about: the most profound experience a teenaged girl can expect to have is being dumped by a boy and the ultimate goal of every teenage girl is (or should be) to get married and have her father’s approval, and art that acknowledges this truth is going to be as good as it gets in 2009 no matter how cliched, banal, blandly sung, or midtempo. DUH.

  70. I’ll agree that “Love Story” is silly, but there’s a context for it — one problem with judging Taylor by singles alone is that they don’t really present the full picture (judging Taylor on “Love Story” alone is like judging Ashlee Simpson on “La La” alone — both are songs that gain resonance — which isn’t to say they lose their silliness — in context). Mike Barthel wrote a good piece about “Love Story,” btw:

    I like the idea that “Fifteen” is “distant and vague and guarded” — it seems to me to be a song about thinking you have everything figured out and slowly starting to understand how much you have yet to learn. Which describes me pretty well at 15, certainly; there’s something almost didactic about the song, Taylor almost overplaying her naivete because she’s a little embarrassed by it. When you’re fifteen you don’t know who you’re supposed to be, sure, but you still are someone; lots of people would love to disown themselves at this age, or pretend they acted differently than they did, and Taylor does that a little in the song. It’s like looking through your old photographs and overreacting negatively to a picture of yourself; maybe you can’t really see yourself in that picture anymore, and maybe to your friends the resemblance is obvious, which can be unnerving to the (let’s say) twentysomething taking the look back. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that the Zone of Overreacting Regret has increased in age, too — I’m perfectly comfortable taking a somewhat harder look at myself at 15 than I am taking a harder look at myself at 19, at which time I couldn’t stand to think of myself at 15.

    It’s true that Taylor could sing about non-relationship angst (Ashlee certainly does), but her subject matter doesn’t change the depth of how her characters feel — boys are a muse, not an end in and of themselves. It’s a common enough confessional trope — boys as stand-in for the mess that is life; I don’t think the politics of this stand-in are self-evident (or self-evidently bad), just depends on what you do with it. The fact that Taylor is getting dad’s approval to be married doesn’t tell us much about what the song is doing — but whatever it’s doing, Taylor isn’t talking about the “ultimate goal of every teenage girl” (and neither are we men, who like it or not have actually listened to enough Taylor Swift to have an idea of what she is saying) — she’s singing about a fantasy, one that’s quickly second-guessed and dismantled a couple songs later. (Not my fault that others, e.g. movie trailer makers, like to use complex songs simplistically to strip away less-obvious readings — see also “Born in the USA” as Republican presidential anthem.)