The Singles Jukebox End-of-Year Best-Off 2009, Round 2: “You Belong With Me” vs. “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”
Right, y’know what? This has been delayed long enough now. Basically, we got snowed with blurbs for each of these second round matches. And we couldn’t figure out how to order them, or edit them, or do anything with ‘em. So we spent the intervening period staring at the pages before us and fretting til our eyes rolled back. And now it’s… January. The Stylus Decade done been and gone already. So over the next week, prepare to be hit with some of the most bodged editing this side of an X Factor special guest montage, as The Singles Jukebox End-of-Year Best-Off 2009 rockets into the knockout phases.
The second round format is simple. The writers are presented with two songs. They vote for one of them. The one with most votes goes through (the quarter-finals… bit more complicated than that. But we’ll drive off that bridge when we come to it).
First up – the red-hot favourite for the tournament, Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”, takes on the redhead rank outsider, Florence and the Machine’s “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up). Now, most people would be picking T-Swizzle to walk this – but then, no-one expected Florence to even make it to the group stages, much less qualify from them. She’s been providing upsets all the way so far – can she topple the biggest giant of them all?
Martin Kavka: In the young-women-discovering-themselves division of the Best-Off, we have one woman who miraculously makes a very ordinary feeling into something extraordinary, and another who makes something mysterious sound really mysterious (and therefore extremely attractive). To whom can one give the edge? Does one penalize Florence for the way she pronounces “who” as if it were a German neologism, “hü”? Does one penalize Taylor for taking a breath in the middle of “see” and “me”? For me, it comes down to a search for this kind of piddling detail. And so, I’ll give the edge to Taylor, because once the pedal steel appears, like an Appalachian foghorn in the distance, you know that there’s a subtlety here that will keep the song from being an anthem for future stalkers.
Erika Villani: If I could somehow jam these two together, Florence’s giant tantrum of a chorus and the unfussy truth of Taylor’s details, I would have my perfect song. But, like a teenage boy torn between a moody, stylish brunette and a wholesome, dorky blonde version of the same girl, I have to make a choice — and I chose to give my crumpled-up sheet of notebook paper bearing the words “I love you” to “You Belong with Me.”
Anthony Easton: A perfect pair, modulated voices, raw emotions, and a feminine taste for melodrama that even Mulvey would understand. I think it is going to Florence, because though I love Swift, there is something a little stranger and more fecund in “Rabbit Heart”, plus I have run out of things to say about her.
Chuck Eddy: I like “Rabbit Heart” a lot, for a Double-A song, but Taylor’s in the majors, where almost nobody hit for a better on-base percentage all year.
Dan MacRae: I’m not sure if ol’ Flo was cheer captain at Camberwell Art School, but Taylor’s t-shirt n’ sneakers straightforward pop thunderbolt wins my heart over. Plus, this expands my knowledge of banjo outside of Steve Martin and lovable Saturday morning cartoon doofus Doug Funnie.
Matt Cibula: The patented Swiftian dramatic pauses win the day over florid neo-Bush movez. I’m American btw.
Briony Edwards: “Flo” has a much stronger voice than Taylor, and the whole track shows a level of creativity and talent which just isn’t reached by her competitor.
Alfred Soto: “You Belong With Me” is simply too inescapable, too true, too perfect. Actually, not perfect — a dance remix a la Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” would have wrung every drop of pain from Swift’s vocal.
Rodney J. Greene: Taylor’s teen-country anthem is well-crafted but kind of definitively not my thing. Its execution is quite impressive, but even in reaching its full potential, I’m not hugely impressed. Florence’s song, on the other hand, feels held back. I want it to be better than it is, because, as hard as it tries to reach full glory, it feels like something could be done better. And by “done better” I mean “done with a disco beat.” Florence is here, now I want the Machines. Assuming the perfect disco mix of this exists, probably wrecking a dance floor somewhere on Earth this very moment, that’s where my vote goes.
Renato Pagnani: If Florence were to embrace her inner disco diva, like she does on the (spectacular) recent 12” version of “You Got the Love,” she could make some devastating tunes. I feel like there’s a epic in “Rabbit Heart” that’s struggling to break free of the shackles of a specific aesthetic (one that includes more harps than four-on-the-floor beats). “You Belong With Me,” on the other hand, is one of the best songs of 2009, so this match-up is really no contest.
Jonathan Bradley: Florence has a mighty wail and a satisfyingly dramatic chorus; even without the delicious, fatalistic crescendo it culminates in, I might be inclined to give it the win. That is, of course, if it were not up against Taylor Swift’s incandescent ode to teen heartbreak. Florence gives better than I expected, but she’s a candle in the sun, and if you thought she had a chance against Swift in winning me over, you just haven’t been paying attention.
Iain Mew: The continued progress of “Rabbit Heart” baffles me in that very particular way that is reserved for songs which do a lot of things that I tend to love, but which I still don’t get at all.
Mallory O\’Donnell: As much as I might rail against this notion, the Taylor Swift track is far more interesting and nuanced than “Florence” making a shrill pre-Raphaelite nightmare out of things we once lauded Kate Bush for.
Alex Macpherson: Taylor’s image belies her depth, while Florence’s image disguises – badly – only her shallows.
Frank Kogan: Taylor uses the seeming frailties of her voice to go from pissiness to joy to steel while sounding utterly natural, bending her voice from near speech to exuberantly silly melisma. Florence, in contrast, dresses her voice up expensively and sounds imprisoned in her clothes; that’s something of the point here, the chorus coming along to release her, not from clothes but from rigidity. I can see how a listener might hear poignancy in it, but that’s not enough when pitted against Taylor’s virtuosity, and Taylor’s got an even better chorus.
Cecily Nowell-Smith: Florence’s sobbing voice is so perfect in “Rabbit Heart”, among all those lace-tangled histrionics and harp flourish, that something built of very obvious parts becomes, in its romantic-novel melodrama, sublime. Taylor, meanwhile — I know I’m not supposed to, but I start thinking about the cheer captain girlfriend, with this boyfriend whose humour she doesn’t get, who keeps hanging around with this other girl who clearly fancies him. I just can’t help feeling that no-one comes off well in this situation. Also I can’t stop wondering if I would prefer it as sung by Avril Lavigne. But, you know, it’s okay: I get to favour Florence, this one time, safe in the knowledge that my Jukebox compatriots will do the right thing, pick the other girl, and consign the madwoman to the attic.
Alex Ostroff: Melodrama done right. It’s not easy to credibly pull off “Here I am, a rabbit-hearted girl, frozen in the headlights. It seems I make the final sacrifice.” That Florence does so, movingly and desperately and JOYFULLY makes “Rabbit Heart” one of the best moments of the year, no matter how much I adore Taylor.
Doug Robertson: Florence lacks subtlety, but uses this to her advantage in bellowing triumphantly over the Swift in a manner which makes it clear that the winner here isn’t sitting on the bleachers, she’s out in the field, happily getting down and dirty.
John M. Cunningham: “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” starts out promisingly, with a slinky verse that uncannily echoes Gang Gang Dance’s “House Jam,” but its turn toward the anthemic leaves me cold; “You Belong with Me,” on the other hand, is a veritable master class in pop songwriting, as well as proof of the power of Taylor Swift’s aw-shucks charm, as she manages to fool us for four minutes into believing she’s a total wallflower instead of a born performer.
Jordan Sargent: As far as British mainstream astral-disco goes, I admire that Florence, as opposed to, say, Bat For Lashes, really goes for the jugular; that said, “Rabbit Heart” is a bit too vocally operatic for my tastes. “You Belong With Me” is the year’s quintessential populist anthem— it has brought listeners together and seeing as Swift’s songs should aim to serve no other purpose, this one is another in an increasingly long line of near perfect singles.
David Moore: Taylor does more with a Tuesday night than Florence can do with what seems to be an entire abridged history of mythic signifiers.
Al Shipley: This wouldn’t be a contest even if I actually remotely liked “Rabbit Heart.”
Michaelangelo Matos: I gave “You Belong With Me” a 7 in regular season play but it’s snuck up on me a lot — and not because I was all that often exposed to it, either.
John Seroff: Taylor has been one of my major revelations this year, a surprisingly deep (if admittedly narrow) songwriter with a gorgeous voice and a genuine knack for harnessing hormone-drenched emotion in the service of subdued, honest pop. “Rabbit Heart” is more than a pleasant enough Eurythmics Xerox, but not that much more.
Ian Mathers: In a lot of the matchups here in the second round “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” would sail through – the good songs on Florence’s debut have a frenzy about them that’s rare in current pop and it’s terribly compelling. But Taylor Swift is basically the Ozymandias of Singles Jukebox ’09; look upon her works, Florence and the Machine, and despair.
Tom Ewing: After helping Florence through to the second round I feel I have a SPECIAL BOND with her. Also surely this time I’ll be the only one. Actually this is a pretty close tie for me: faux witchiness vs real indiepop heartache, and I’m only voting Flo because I’m doing these draws in a good mood.
Anthony Miccio: This Florence lady shouldn’t be encouraged.
Edward Okulicz: A nightmare draw for “Rabbit Heart”, which is exactly as clever as Florence thinks it is; it’s shockingly unfair to put it up against “You Belong With Me, which sounds timeless already, and has all the emotional ups and downs you could ever want; wrenching in sadness (though never wallowing) in the resigned verses, and then so drivingly catchy and propulsive in the chorus, you feel as if Swift is a truly irresistible force in all senses of the word. Two great songs, but only one truly exceptional one — and that’s Swift’s.
“You Belong With Me” – 26 (Martin Skidmore, Iain Mew, Chuck Eddy, Dan MacRae, Frank Kogan, Alex Macpherson, Mallory O’Donnell, Martin Kavka, Michaelangelo Matos, Jessica Popper, Andrew Casillas, Pete Baran, Ian Mathers, Alfred Soto, Edward Okulicz, John Seroff, John M Cunningham, David Moore, Al Shipley, Anthony Miccio, Jordan Sargent, Renato Pagnani, Erika Villani, Jonathan Bradley, Matt Cibula)
“Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” – 7 (Briony Edwards, Rodney J Greene, Alex Ostroff, Doug Robertson, Tom Ewing, Anthony Easton, Cecily Nowell-Smith)
And so the girl on the bleachers gets through as comfortably as most would have expected her to in terms of score – but the blurbs suggest that this wasn’t quite the walkover we’d have imagined. A fine effort from the Camberwell lass, then, though we’d not mind if her version of “You’ve Got The Love” would please just go away for a bit now.
Stay tuned for the second match-up: Croydon vs. Colombia, as “Hyph Mngo” faces off against “Loba” for a place in the quarter-finals…