Monday, November 17th, 2014

Taylor Swift – Blank Space

In the end, we couldn’t choose between her and Azealia


Luisa Lopez: Just before I started writing this, I saw a headline that read “Taylor Swift is so much more fun now that she’s jaded.” Yeah, what a bore all that romance was! Now we’re in the age of striking Gone Girls who ruin their men. But Taylor Swift was never really icy, and a woman with a musical heart that goopy could never really have shed it for something snakelike and detached. Which is why on its own the song is not as funny at first — it has an emptiness (all those hollow synths!) you wouldn’t usually find in her vengeful fare, like she’s wrapping herself in a coat that’s too big, that leaves too much space. But the music video is so fucking good that it somehow elevates this reasonably clever pop song into something like catharsis, where Taylor Swift doesn’t shed her goopy heart at all but turns it into something huge and embarrassing and insatiable. Like if “Love Story” had gone on a few minutes longer. Like girls who feel there’s something missing inside them that only being in love can fill. Now these real, ugly feelings are made funny and palpable and great. Now having a blank space can be a weapon. Now having something missing can be revenge. Keep writing.

Danilo Bortoli: “Love’s a game, wanna plaaaaay?”: this “Blank Space” line is where 1989 really starts, the first moment we get to listen to classic Taylor. Everything that comes before it is just irrevalent for the great narrative that is Taylor Swift. It’s all in this song: the word plays, the hard to believe but perfectly quotable storytelling, the Manicheism: it’s either going to be forever or going down in flames. But the difference with this ultimatum is that it’s not as dramatic as any of Red‘s ramblings. It’s actually the sound of Taylor coming to terms with the post break-up (almost spirituous) tone that permeates the entire album. It’s the sound of a simple, self-empowering proposal: you can come whenever you want (and most importantly, at your own risk), but don’t expect her to beg you to stay.

Edward Okulicz: The world reckons it has Taylor Swift pegged, but she can still send herself up with much more wit than the world, so here she is doing it again. She’s a man-eater, and she admits it, but she’ll remind you that dating can be a game with low risks and a high payoff if you have a cache of several million dollars and a dozen insanely quotable lines. The way she speak-sings some of those best lines like they’re throwaways shows her more in touch with her inner Twain (Shania, not Mark, silly) than ever before, and at various points in time I can detect the DNA of “Party in the USA.” “Blank Space” is Taylor weaving her influences and her contemporaries together with intelligence, self-awareness, and hooks for days.

Crystal Leww: “Blank Space” is supposed to be Taylor Swift playing a character of the crazy boy-obsessed bitch that she’s supposed to be, but I can’t help it: I find this instantly relatable and insanely quotable. I am a girl around Taylor Swift’s age, and I’ve appreciated Taylor Swift’s turn to slutting about with abandon; her music has always been about capturing those little moments in extraordinarily fitting ways. “Blank Space” is her firing on all cylinders, playing to those lyrical strengths. I practically sighed the first time I heard “oh my god, look at that face/you look like my next mistake” and “I can make the bad guys good for a weekend” and “darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” She will never top that line in “All Too Well,” but Swift consistently does this, consistently makes phrases that stick in your mind, creates lyrics that are so specific yet so universal. “Blank Space” is a showcase that proves that she’s still doing it, pop or not.

Juana Giaimo: If in “Shake it Off” Taylor wanted to show that she is now careless towards what other people say about her, in “Blank Space” she’s showing the opposite. She is self-aware and she wants us to know it. The music doesn’t sound casual anymore, but instead is extremely structured with short lines in the verses that fit exactly into the steady beats. It reminds me of Red‘s singles, characterized by their perfectionism and also for the stereotype she built of herself in them  — melodramatic in “I Knew You Were Trouble”, overcomplicated in “We’re Never Ever Getting Back Together,” and immature in “22.” In that sense, “Blank Space” is a conservative song among Taylor’s singles. It works because that is exactly what people expect from her, but she went a step further by detaching from that character and saying: “this is not me.” 

Alfred Soto: As concept and pun the title fascinates — the world’s biggest pop star seeking anonymity or recasting herself as the screen on which fans project fantasies? Neither. “Blank Space” begins with soul sonic force synths out of Club Nouveau’s “Why You Treat Me So Bad” but segues into a finger-wagging acoustic-anchored admission of caprice and recklessness. That’s what distinguishes Swift from her contemporaries: they envisage the route to maturity as the accumulation of compromises and mistakes out of which something called adulthood emerges; she on the other hand assumes that holding fast to a natural ebullience with the expectation that she’ll fuck up is worth it so long as she’s teaching bad boys how to be good. Adults act like kids. Especially in a move to the big city. Especially in their twenties. Docked a notch for not writing “Starbucks lovers.”

Jonathan Bradley: Swift drops punchlines over an 808 drum line and a vaporous pealing that reimagines the “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” break. “I can make the bad guys good for a weekend,” she demurs, too wicked to believe, and with cause: “I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream” occupies that spot when verse two comes around. This is territory she’s covered before, most notably in “22” but also subsequently on “Shake It Off“: that the libertine possibilities of youth are something to be celebrated, but also something that must be nurtured. (You gotta, after all, fight for your right to party.) This makes sense, because adulthood in its earliest incarnation is about recreating ourselves again and again until we work out a way to be — to have decided what it is to be happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. Taylor is so determined to reorient herself toward immediacy that she sets eternity and conflagration off as equivalents. “We’re young and we’re reckless” — that’s the motto — yes, but she really finds the apotheosis of her insatiability in an echo of her last single. “The players gonna play,” she shrugged in that song, but here it’s a roman candle explosion: “I love the players, and you love the game!

Patrick St. Michel: Self-aware, funny Taylor Swift — Good! Big shouty chorus — Not as good!

Brad Shoup: “You love the game!” she shouts, and besides being the least-masqueraded line here, it’s the truest. Folks are forgetting the “Shake It Off” video, New Yorkers are forgetting “Welcome to New York.” It’s just nice to have something everyone can talk about, y’know? Even if it contains an Avril song written by Sia. The refrain takes the long way to the takeaway, the spoken lines are ham cubes — it’s a singer/songwriter’s idea of a pop song, with all the care lavished on the zingers and none on the hooks. 

Thomas Inskeep: The music is nothing to me, all of the vapidness of why I don’t generally care for what passes as Pop 2014: of course Max Martin and Shellback are to blame. (Though I will grant that some of the empty space helps accentuate, well, the “Blank Space.”) But the lyrics have sunk in upon plenty of listens, and this is one of the most Taylor Swift Taylor Swift singles I’ve heard yet. It also sounds like an incredibly honest song from a professional, successful 20-something woman. I wouldn’t seek this out, but I wouldn’t necessarily turn away from it, either.

Will Adams: “Blank Space” is one of the least sonically compelling offerings from Max Martin and Shellback on 1989 — much like its preceding single; I hope this isn’t a pattern. It’s plug-and-chug 808 stuff with some acoustic guitar jangle to lighten up the mood. Meanwhile, though Swift can still deliver a killer line (“I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”), she sings the song in five different voices and doesn’t quite know what to do with any of them.

Sonia Yang: I like Swift when she’s cheerily shaking off her critics, but I love her even more when she goes the snarky route by penning a song from the perspective of who they make her out to be — a manipulative black widow who runs her factory-issue boy toy dry, tossing him as quickly as she acquired him and casually moving on to the next one. This track is a sleek slice of minimalist synthpop and Swift’s sly vocals are enticing, especially the way she coyly warns “I’ve got a blank space baby, and I’ll write your name.” Side note: I would definitely watch a thriller starring Swift going all Basic Insinct on the Hollywood dreamboat du jour.

Anthony Easton: Can we just spend the rest of our lives talking about how brilliant that video is? If 1989 was a calculated deconstruction of her aesthetic as sleek and as successful as a leveraged merger, the video for this song might be a truly radical attempt to just burn the motherfucker down. I wish I had that much money to take the piss out of my own personae: WHITE HORSE, EXPENSIVE CAR, RED LIPS, MANSION, TREE, NICE SUIT, NIPPLE SHIRT, FIRE, COLLAPSE. A thousand points for the fawn, which is my new gender and my new patronus. Song [6], video [1000].

Rebecca A. Gowns: This is almost like Taylor read Sabina’s critique of her — that in her songs, nothing is ever Taylor Swift’s fault, which had me nodding vigorously in agreement — and tried to turn that accusation on its head. “Nothing is my fault? What if EVERYTHING was my fault?” I adore this move. I mean, obviously, it’s not a response to Sabina and our little music site flamewars, but it’s a response to the larger media machine, right, the one that’s like “She goes on too many dates! And she can’t make ’em stay!” And Taylor’s like, “Oh yeah? Well what if I drove them away?” Which, again, I love. But there’s a misstep, some clumsy foot twitch as she lands the flip; God, I wish she’d stuck the landing. See, the punchline to this sudden step-up to responsibility is: “…because I’m CRAZY!” And it’s not like, “I’m Gena Rowlands in a Cassavetes picture and my craziness is my vulnerability and my strength at once,” but more like, “I’m in a David Fincher picture and cuckoo-bananas. Watch out! I might hurt you! LOL.” (With the LOL included; Taylor’s still got her wry chuckles in the mix.) Which is so disappointing to me. This narrative has promise, but right now, it’s lacking a core. (You know, the instrumentation is sparse too, so perhaps this is the entire intention: the crazy woman trope performing a pantomime show for her lover comprised of boyfriend tropes. In that case… game, set, match.)

Scott Mildenhall: Unreliable narrators are the best kind of narrator; all the more daydreaming ones concocting a story yet or even never to happen with such star-crossed inevitability. There’s a sense of control though, in, if not of, what is supposed to happen. Problems are inevitable, but they’ll only be yours. It cannily betrays what’s really a lack of self-reflection. Vicarious views, what I can do for, to, and with you, but little else; the cartoonish “nightmare” image and almost inadvertent admission of jealousy the sum total of direct evaluation. What sounds sad without the words — lump-in-the-throat imminence, bittersweet acceptance — becomes unease with them. The sadness is in what’s not there.

Katherine St Asaph: Strip away the gossip and the takes and the Styles and the Buzzfeed-boiler gifset video, and “Blank Space” is perfectly serviceable as a 2014 pop time capsule. The production is doorbell-Lorde, space to be filled with multitracked yelps, and there’s some “Bleeding Love” in there; Swift, despite her best claimed attempts, hasn’t becomes popmogrified enough not to keep the cadences from “This Kiss” and the acoustic strums from her past few albums. The song’s a prequel to “I Knew You Were Trouble,” with a few lines recycled from “22,” and just as unwieldy and lightweight as either. The tweetable lyrics are emphasized so hard they might as well be highlighted in gel pen. The rest are designed for memification — just now: “blue, berries, on the, floor, I spill things when I’m in the fridge.” The tabloid’s the test, though; bad songs are swallowed by gossip, but good songs are gleefully streaked. Swift deftly understands what the critics want to hate to become that girl for a song: the female PUA whose tricks are experience and “I’ve already married and divorced you in my mind”; the spotty singer (vocal teachers would be abhorred, character acting teachers would clap with glee); the rich preppy basic. The video connects the personae, and is crucial — Swift only gets away with “I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream” because in that scene she actually is: Taylor, more like tailored, like Lord & Taylor, like “which department sells domestic whirlwind armor?” Taylor knows, and goes. Taylor Swift in fact has twelve plaid wool skirts, until you cross her and she replaces the set with asbestos fiber. Taylor Swift bakes chai sugar cookies because the color hides the arsenic better. Taylor Swift uses her old coffee sleeves to deliver papercuts. Normally I tire fast of this sort of meme-assembly disguised as criticism, but Swift’s already playing that game. And she loves the game.

Reader average: [8.52] (68 votes)

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15 Responses to “Taylor Swift – Blank Space”

  1. Slaylor Slaywift

  2. damn, i thought no one wanted to do Jukebox Classic

  3. No controversy, no credibility.

    Fun fact! Taylor Swift has had the most contributors to a controversial track 3 years in a row! (“Shake It Off,” 24 contributors, “22,” 15 contributors, “WANEGBT,” 18 contributors.) But she’s never worn the controversy crown — Psy beat her in 2012.

  4. lol Maxwell’s waiting this one out

  5. No real talk, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

  6. I had basically written off the video as Ralph Lauren classism until Anthony’s review fanned lingering bits of doubt and I had to rewatch and reassess. And I think Anthony is credulous. Swift IS a leveraged merger – country and pop – and there’s no deconstruction here. Probably. I think the Amex sponsorship and condescending iPad interactive 3D widget tell us what we need to know. Taylor Swift is superrich and likes catalogue models and throwing tantrums on estates.

  7. On the other hand… I see now Swift has said the video is meant to be a parody of herself, or a parody of other people’s caricature of her, so maybe Anthony’s right and the Marxist critique needs to be packed away this time.

  8. One can have a marxist critique that capitualtes to the market–which is what Taylor is doing here, i think.

  9. Anthony, I think you’re right. Well said, thanks.

  10. Thank you

  11. So all these words mean that anon was too distracted by expensive things to notice a glaringly obvious self parody?

  12. Jbradley, I guess I’ll self-reflect on that. Ok, done. Yeah, it’s a self-parody, but that estate is still basically normal scenery for Swift the quarter-billionaire. She was just accused of tone-deafness by a lot of people for writing a song about New York that takes the breezy, penthouse view of the city (not sure I’m on board with that criticism). So I was primed to see it and jumped the gun. I thought the parody was in her behavior, not in the setting. I also wretch at iPad interactives and the rest. I guess the fact that I mistook the self-parodying Swift with her goes to show how effective a parody was, or how deep the caricature has sunk in.

  13. To me the video is just a marginally less domestic abuse-positive imitation of “Please Don’t Leave Me.” Not really getting the appeal.

  14. lol my god


    I like that Lambert’s kicker and my intro track.