Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Taylor Swift – Mine



Mallory O’Donnell: How many first times is she gonna have already?

Alex Macpherson: Carefully signposted grown-up signifiers? Check. Subtle deflection of the purity ring mockery? Check. The brilliant hook that everyone will quote — “You made a rebel of a careful man’s careful daughter” — containing as it does several separate stories of its own? Check. “Mine” proves, once again, that Taylor Swift is a master crafter of both her songs and her career. And, lest that sound too clinical, it’s also rich in both the details of interest that keep me coming back to it — the way that the narrator needs to be convinced of love again and again, the fact that Taylor’s playing the sceptic to her boyfriend’s romantic – and the relatable emotion that makes me liable to well up unexpectedly in the final iteration of the chorus, that surging affirmation of love that demands you abandon yourself to it.

Hazel Robinson: Uh, it’s ok? The ‘careless man’s careful daughter’ hook is catchy enough, her voice is perfectly adequate. I don’t really get it, perhaps but then that’s always how I feel about Taylor Swift; this is some mid-tempo country rock about a love story and if that sounds like something to go batshit over, then you are going to go batshit over this.

Iain Mew: This sets its story up so carefully and beautifully that it’s easy to get swept along with it, and as a result the chorus really takes off and soars as demanded first go round. There is an awful lot more of its glossy leaping still to come after that though, and I find myself switching off a bit as the musical stakes start to outdo the emotional a little too much.

Alfred Soto: Showing the adaptability of the “You Belong To Me” chug and vocal intonations (“I was a flight risk, afraid of fallin'” — nice), Swift unfortunately thinks she’s got too much of a good time: this cuts too quickly to its chorus, by far the song’s weakest moment. Subsequent plays revealed how crowded the final mix sounds, and Swift herself firing her upper register on words and melodies that deserve less energy. In short, she’s as uneven as she ever was, but is real good at it.

Jonathan Bogart: The production could stand to breathe a little more, especially as the background vocals circle in search of a landing towards the end, but otherwise it’s everything I want out of a Taylor Swift single: churning romanticism tempered with sharply-observed, economically-worded psychological realism. You can tell she’s proud of the “careless man’s careful daughter” line — her vocal is double-tracked on it, popping out of the mix and sticking it in the head for days on end — and deservedly so, it’s as elegant an emotional biography as any four words ever were; but the emotional climax of the song, when she braces herself for the goodbye and briefly wavers off-key in an a wrenching act of musical vulnerability, is what sticks in the heart.

Martin Skidmore: Taylor rather rocks out on this, and it’s terrific. The lyrics are as strong and full of precise and evocative detail as usual, and she sings it with some real fire. This is rousing and moving, and one of her strongest and most confident vocal performances. Wonderful.

Anthony Easton: As much as I love her work, and slow danced to “Love Story” last weekend, there is something less explicit, less concrete, and less powerful to this work — even the line about being made a rebel, or being taken by suprise, all suggest that she is not an autonomous agent –that she moves from a “careful man’s careful daughter” to the lover of this anonymous man makes me wonder when she will have her own voice?

David Raposa: Small town girl, smaller town boy, two against the world, funky moose, blah blah blah. Kudos to Swift & friends for making me more curious about her deadbeat dad than the lovers’ existential slap-fight.

Katherine St Asaph: I really tried to get it this time, I promise. There’s little to say about the music — Swift’s backdrops are rarely remarkable. As for the lyrics, they’re clearly not Taylor’s experience (not that that’s a bad thing, but I’d feel bad judging if so). The speaker’s presumably a normal kid dating someone in college, and she’s been in the public eye since her mid-teens. To write about herself here, she’d have to have dated a college guy at age 14-ish. Taylor’s family also seems pretty nuclear; the height of her father’s carelessness is practical joking. She’ll certainly never worry about bills until at least her thirties. I feel OK, then, calling out the speaker here as a total ninny. To Taylor, or her Taylor-analogue: Leaving a drawer of your things at a boyfriend’s house is not rebellious. A “flight risk” is something TSA agents call people who do not look like Taylor Swift. Paramore already did the “woe is me, love never lasts, except with you” spiel, and it didn’t ring true then either. And I know that better things belong to you and me and all of us than some boy. Wish Taylor would sing about them.

Jonathan Bradley: Since “Tim McGraw,” the most immediately appealing talent Swift has exhibited is her seemingly instinctual knack for turning everyday teenage experiences into concise pop songs. Because she had been a teenager throughout her career, she’s been able to do something rare in any medium: make smartly constructed art that was not only for and about high schoolers, but by one as well. Fearless came out when Swift was 18, and because it endured in the public consciousness for so long, those with a less developed understanding of the passage of time critiqued a twenty year old singer for sounding childish in songs she’d written before reaching adulthood. Which is all a lead up to saying that Swift is older now, and so she imbues “Mine,” a track about being in her early twenties, with all the vivid realism and narrative nous she applied to the material she wrote in her younger years. Like “Love Story,” “Mine” is a song that uses a plain story to explore specific emotion; the true thrust of the former was “This love is difficult but it’s real,” not fairy tales, and the latter seems to grow from the intricate phrase, “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.” This line unfurls into a narrative that can’t quite be contained in four minutes. So Swift is doing some of the same old — she’s still fighting in the early morning hours, still breaking and making up — but she’s now left home for the big city, begun sharing a lover’s bedroom, and started thinking about having to pay the bills. It’s excellently reminiscent of Ashlee Simpson’s excursions in post-adolescence at times, but throughout it’s Taylor doing everything she does best. Not only is she as talented as ever, she’s allowed her music to mature as she has.

Edward Okulicz: A little too similar to “Forever And Always”, and without that song’s glorious melodic pay-off, this at least packs in a few good lines and a big dose of the charm that sold so many copies of Fearless. But not as many of the hooks of that record. Still, autopilot Taylor Swift is reliably above average.

Frank Kogan: The tune’s nice and hummable, but the ringing, chiming guitars make the sound far too samey, covering up Taylor’s expressive hesitations and wobbles. I like what the lyrics are getting at (“You learn my secrets, and you figure out why I’m guarded/You say we’ll never make my parents’ mistakes,” “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter,” etc.), but they never seem to get there. Hope the ideas fill out over the course of the album.

Michaelangelo Matos: She can’t resist her dumb movie endings: Whoa, he vows to stay, surprising her and only her. High-grade, of course, and I’m glad she’s taking it upon herself to mature. But if tomorrow’s going to be a fairy tale, too, I’m probably not going to care. Fairy tales are for kids.

47 Responses to “Taylor Swift – Mine”

  1. Would’ve scored this an [8] or [9].

  2. For the life of me, I will never understand what this artist has to offer to grown adults.

  3. That’s assuming most music “offers” anything to so-called adults.

  4. lol, “that brilliant hook which everyone will quote” but that I misquoted. Will, please fix that typo?

    This insidious idea that a songwriter’s art has to be their own personal story down to the very last detail needs to die, seriously.

    Another idea that needs to die is that “kids” and “adults” are different species.

  5. Yeah, my blurb wasn’t along the lines of “This isn’t about you-Taylor SO IT IS HORRIBLE” (well, all except for that “bills to pay” part, because seriously.) and less along the lines of “Oh good, this isn’t about you-Taylor, now I don’t have to feel like an asshole for the rest of it.” I might have over-edited that part out when I was trimming the blurb.

  6. And making up for it in under-editing: “more along the lines.”

  7. @katherine “all except for that “bills to pay” part, because seriously.”

    Because seriously what?

  8. Because seriously, someone of Taylor Swift’s stature is going to have no problems paying any bills, or at least substantially fewer problems than the rest of the world. And no, she’s not talking about herself, but she’s still the one singing it. It’s hard, at least for me, not to at least raise an eyebrow.

  9. Yeah, that bit certainly caught in my throat as well. In general, though, I thought this was far more lyrically sophisticated than her previous efforts –except– for the “careful man’s careless daughter” line everyone’s so fond of, which sounds clunky and high school poetry-esque to me.

  10. She can’t resist her dumb movie endings

    Actually, happy romance endings are pretty rare for Taylor. This, and that Valentine’s Day one-off, and “Love Story” (where the ending really was a surprise), and “Our Song” are the only ones that come immediately to mind. The main character gets the guy in the video for “You Belong With Me” but not in the song.

    Kudos to Swift & friends for making me more curious about her deadbeat dad…

    Don’t know whom you mean by “& friends”: Swift is all alone on the writer’s credits this time out – which isn’t to say that she might not have listened respectfully to comments from Borchetta or Chapman (I mean, I assume she would, if they made them), but still…

    I really tried to get it this time, I promise.

    Sorry, I don’t believe you. I think you were looking for reasons to carp. For one thing, it’s not at all obvious why you’re brought up short by the bills-to-pay thing. Is it that some of Taylor’s other work seems autobiographical, so you’re having trouble making the transition to fiction here? Would you have the same dissonance with any successful act using that subject matter (say, Parton, Haggard, Lynn, Rimes, Springsteen, Mellencamp), or is there something about Taylor that makes it harder to take? That’s a genuine question, ’cause Taylor is definitely doing something unusual with her image. I find her various looks quite admirable, since no matter what bond she professes with her fans, she’s not going for the country everywoman or the teen everygirl look. But is it the juxtaposition of her image and those lyrics? As I said, this is not obvious why you think there’s a problem. (Also – and I know it’s not the same thing as young unmarrieds w/ utility bills to pay – but if Taylor were to walk away from her career, or flop, who knows what business interests might be at risk. Not that I’ve done any research on this, but I can easily imagine that for Taylor not working may not currently seem like an option. But then what’s at issue here isn’t the actual Taylor’s actual work compulsion, but… well, what is at issue here?)

    I don’t think she’s a ninny for her play on words with “flight risk,” especially when she’s the one who feels at risk – and anyway, whatever the opinions of TSA employees, a probation officer, for instance, might think someone who looks like Taylor is a flight risk, not that this is relevant to the character in the song: Taylor’s finding a compact way to say that the character (1) tends to bolt from relationships because (2) relationships are a risk, which is why (3) she’s afraid of falling in love/falling over (image of Taylor plummeting from the sky). Pretty good for eight words.

    It’s not at all clear what the character’s rebellion consists of – that’s one of my complaints about the song – but nonetheless she’d hardly be a ninny for engaging in rebellions that wouldn’t be rebellions if someone brought up differently did them in different circumstances. And – see “Fifteen” and “Tied Together With A Smile” – Taylor herself knows that better things exist than some boy. But it’s pretty much all of Anglo-American popular music (with the exception of some hip-hop and metal, the latter of which is only semi-popular now) that has been unable to sustain subject matters other than romance. So I don’t see why you’d call out Taylor – or the character – in particular for simply breathing the sociocultural air. Which isn’t to say that I wouldn’t want Taylor to try more subjects – that’s one of the points I made at the end of my decade’s end piece* – but then that’s because I think Taylor is talented and I find her mind interesting.

    *”In Taylor there’s the singer-songwriter’s insistence that the story be her story. But almost all her songs are love stories, good love and bad love, the latter predominating. That can’t be her story forever, even if pop music insists it be. So, what stories exist beyond these?”

  11. Don’t know whom you mean by “& friends”

    The band?

  12. Having bills to pay is such a common trope in pop (like…off the top of my head Destiny’s Child, Dido, Aretha, Biggie) that I can’t really fathom how it could particularly grate this one time. It might not be a concern of those songwriters IRL, but it’s certainly a concern of their audiences, and it’s a way of making the song relatable. Which is a particular hallmark of Taylor Swift’s songwriting; her stories are only ever partially hers, because they’re her audience’s as well.

    Basically I think that particular criticism is on a par with, for example, criticising Alicia Keys for singing about being broken-hearted even though she just got married.

  13. Fwiw, I underrated huge chunks of Fearless at first, and I love Taylor, so I’d surely be happy if I could hear this song in the way that Lex and Martin and the Jonathans are hearing it; last year’s Jukebox discussion of “You Belong With Me” got me to understand just how good that song is; and this song’s excellent “flight risk” metaphor flew right by me until Alfred and Katherine brought it up.

    So… just what is the sophistication you guys are hearing in this song (in comparison to the complexities I hear in “TimMcGraw,” for instance (and here))? What are the evocative details (in comparison to the ones that Jonathan brought out in “You Belong With Me,” the typical Tuesday night, Taylor listening to her crush while he talks to his girlfriend on the phone)? The drawer full of her stuff is a good quick way of showing that she and the guy are half living together (and presumably having sex), but this is something Ashlee’s done far better. (Admittedly, it’s not really fair to Taylor to use “Love Me For Me” and “Better Off” as the standard here, since those may be the two best song lyrics of the ’00s, and ‘most everything else will fall short too, but Jonathan did bring Ashlee up.) What I feel I’m getting with “Mine” is a summary sketch of a story, but the story itself never comes to life.

    Not that I require songs I love to have either sophistication or evocative details (my favorite Fearless track is the utterly obvious and naked “You’re Not Sorry”). The too-much-guitar-ringing is the most crucial reason I end up middling on “Mine.” But the so-far-unperceived-by-me shades of meaning in the lyrics could be a reason to listen through the ringing for long enough that this song finally hits me.

  14. The band?

    Well, then we’d have to figure out how the guitar and bass etc. were making us more curious about the deadbeat dad than about the lovers’ existential slap-fight.

    (By the way, I think the writing on Jukebox is admirable: I love that Katherine resurrected the word “ninny,” and I’m all about existential slap-fights.)

    Lex, I do think that there’s something about Taylor’s image that is baffling to nonfans, so that when the songs don’t fit their image of her image, something seems off – in a way that things don’t seem off with Alicia and Biggie. But this just me guessing, since Taylor doesn’t seem off to me.

  15. Well, the way the band hold back, come in, hold back etc, very much helps shape this song’s shifts between intensity and throwaway as light and shade (or is that shade and light?): there’s very obviously a relationship between our investment in different parts of the story and how the band are playing at any given time…

    On a superficial listen, I’d agree the effect would be the other way round — intensity usually being the route to greater curiosity? — but I’m not exactly familiar with all her other songs, or how the band play there.

  16. Frank — what Mark said (more eloquently than I would’ve). I wasn’t trying to say that so-and-so was explicitly responsible for such-and-such, but just for the sake of expediency crediting / blaming the entire Swiftian enterprise for this.

  17. All I can say is that, like I said, I really did try. It’s worked before. Take Katy Perry, who I utterly and completely despise on principle and would gladly trade in for fifteen Taylor Swifts if it were possible. If ever there was a song to dismiss outright, “Teenage Dream” would be it; it came right off the heels of a single I wanted to like but didn’t, I’d just watched the faux-cutesy-sexy video for that and disliked it even more, and I think the latest thing I’d heard about her was some kind of scratch-and-sniff promotion on her CD, something an Onion contributor is probably very upset about. And the first time I heard “Teenage Dream,” it was just ending on the radio station, so all I got was the “skintight jeans” line, the worst part of it. There are countless things to complain about in the song, but it didn’t get the [0] it was going to — I had the blurb written up and everything — because I heard it one last time and loved it despite myself.

    I didn’t even go into this with poor expectations. I’d heard nothing but good things about the leak (after I wrote this, I read an interview with Taylor about the new song, citing her as saying something along the lines of “Oh, it’s about boys and love, of course!”, but I hadn’t seen that yet.) And, well, there’s the whole “critical darling” thing.

    And perhaps that one last listen is going to change things again, but I just don’t see that happening. There’s nothing in the music that catches my notice — i.e. I can’t completely hate “You Belong With Me” because it’s catchy. To my ears, though, “Mine” sounds just like the rest of the acoustic John Mayerish goo that floats in and out the ears without ever drawing attention to itself. There are probably subtleties, but I can’t hear them. (And probably I hear things elsewhere that others can’t.)

    And the lyrics, on their own, just produce more and more things to complain about. It’s not something I have to seek out, in other words. It’s less about “breathing the sociocultural air” in this case than actively contributing to it. At this point Taylor’s enough of a role model that she almost becomes an archetype.

    As far as the bills, I’ve been thinking this over a bit more — I seem to recall someone bringing this up elsewhere, and I might be outright quoting someone without attribution (I honestly can’t remember who, or even enough to know where to look) but a lot of Taylor’s appeal among teens and girls is that people get the sense that she’s been there, that she Knows of What She Sings — e.g. the whole Abigail storyline. I’ve heard this almost verbatim from several people. So when she mentions bills, it shatters this idea completely. It also sounds tone-deaf, sort of like that one “Bag Lady Papers” memoir where the author agonizes about how the economy is forcing her to give up her maid. (Disclaimer: I’ve only read interviews with the author and a few excerpts, so maybe I’m completely misrepresenting the story, but it’s just an analogy.) It’s bitter and a bit unfair, but it’s there, and I’m not the only one who noticed.

    It isn’t quite the same as singing about broken-hearted when you’re married, either, because presumably singers can remember a time in the past when they were. Taylor’s 21. She’s just at the age where she’d start to worry about bills if she weren’t a worldwide celebrity.

  18. The “flight risk” line I just took as meaning that she was subject to panic attacks. Do people not use the phrase in that way?

  19. To sorta piggyback / co-opt Katherine’s kvetching about bills bills bills — obviously, I’m guessing Swift’s songs aren’t that true-to-life, even if they’re informed by her life experiences. So even if she’s trading on the idea that She Is Everygirl, I’m totally fine w/ her stretching the truth a bit, or a lot, & fabricating a character that she sings about in the first person (since “I” is a whole lot more immediate than “she”).

    My own beef w/ this song in particular is that the writing’s weak and/or sloppy. This song is telling a story that’s been told so many times, and not doing a particularly good job at telling it (tho given the way some of you scored this, more than a few of you disagree w/ me). And that bit in my blurb about caring more about her dad than her & her beau — maybe it’s in a phrase that’s a little clumsy (that “careless” / “careful” juxtaposition sounds a bit too writerly to my ears), it hints at an angle in these sorts of songs that rarely, if ever, gets explored. & the fact that she briefly eludes her “careless dad” before going back to the Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us cliche checklist is even more maddening than if she just stuck to that particular script w/out the intriguing (if brief) detour.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into 4 whole words (yeah “maybe”), and I’m not saying that the sort of universal for-all-ages songwriting she’s essaying here is an easy thing to do, but given that little tantalizing sidebar, I just wish (WONKY US SPORTS METAPHOR ALERT) she’d swung for those particular fences instead of just settling for the bunt base hit.

  20. Hey, Cee-Lo’s new song is about being broke and watching your girl go off with a richer dude. Even though he is fantastically wealthy and successful in real life!

    Re: “Mine”, the thing I like best about the way it’s crafted is the sense that love, for its narrator at least, is a stuttering, stop-start process. The three iterations of the chorus all take place at different times, and it feels like this is over a period of years – the first verse situates the song in college, but the second verse is clearly post-graduation, which is where the “bills to pay” reference comes in handy; plus, “sitting there by the water” has an undertone of pastoral innocence to it, and when this changes to “city lights on the water” it indicates to me that the couple have grown up and are leading adult (not student) lives now.

    Anyway, despite the rush of the chorus each time, it’s always followed by a step back; those ecstatic rushes aren’t enough to break down the narrator’s fundamental cynicism (and I’m not convinced even the final reel shows a permanent change of heart). It’s this tension between the rational sceptic of the verses and what happens in the choruses, when she lets herself get swept off her feet, that makes this a really compelling song.

  21. Thanks Lex, that does enrich the song for me. My initial reaction to this song was that its imagery wasn’t vivid enough, that the words were stand-ins that didn’t bring the story. That may still be where I end up with this – the fight at the end doesn’t live for me, seems there ’cause the plot needs it, but doesn’t have any specificity. (Yet even as I write this I am feeling the motion of her running into the street, an echo of the foreboding/foreshadowing at the start where she calls herself a “flight risk,” even if I’m not feeling the argument that propelled her out the door. Maybe 6 is too low.)

    I think “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter” would have been great as a single line in one of the verses, a tantalizing glimpse of a whole set of extra stories in the character’s past that now motivate and shadow the present. But as a line that shows up in every chorus, it’s insisting that rebellion is a main part of the story, while refusing to tell us that story, making us guess.* Compare to “He’s got a car – and you’re feeling like fly-i-ing” in “Fifteen”: it’s relying to some extent on our understanding of cars in teen culture, the car representing freedom and speed and sex, wheels taking you beyond supervision; but “flying” is so unexpected and noncliché, despite making perfect sense when you hear it, that you get the freedom and exhilaration, you would even if you’d been teleported in from a planet that had no cars.

    *I am with David in wanting to hear more about dad than about the romance. But I do consider that the lyric writer’s doing.

  22. By the way (and this isn’t directed at anyone in particular), calling Taylor “pop country” or “country rock” doesn’t capture how unique she is in the current musical landscape. She really is occupying no man’s land; this is just not that obvious, since she’s in the center rather than on the margins. But she’s crossed over and stayed crossed while not losing the country audience, and that’s something that Faith and LeAnn weren’t able to pull off. And she’s doing absolutely nothing to satisfy the country audience’s constant need for reassurance that their way of living is a right way.

    And while country’s long been full of busted romances and lost highways, they’ve all been in the context of an ultimate moral order, even if it takes an afterlife to impose it.* While Taylor, in her small way, has pretty consistently given us a world in which social relations with her age group don’t work for her (and although “Mine” is an exception, the social relations not working is the backdrop to this exception). And there’s the occasional hint that no one told her it wasn’t going to work, and this makes her angry.

    *If you find such attitudes at all interesting, or you just want to know more, I recommend the first Eric Church album, Sinners Like Me.

  23. As I say, I’m really not au fait enough with country or what’s getting called country to know what’s typical and what’s atypical: what struck me here wasn’t lyrics at all — I have to make a very conscious effort to listen to words in songs at all, and they’re low in priorities list at the best of times — but how this voice and this band interracted: it was thinking about this intuitive closeness that actually cleared my head about Grinderman (I’d been thinking, re GM, are they up to something that I’m just missing? — which actually I think they probably ARE, but they’re so NOT taking care of business the way Swift and friends do that I was comfortable going with my non-clued-in-judgment…)

    The question of whether Swift’s band ARE her best intuitive friends in this song — or are not really getting it and keeping her too “samey”, as Frank argues — I’m staying agnostic on, cz I just don’t know the wider territory well enough to decide. But the question of the break she’s making, if she’s making one, is going to start impacting on those who work with her, also, at some point…

  24. Jonathan, I took the “flight risk” to be her drawing an analogy between her skittishness – which you can call “panic attacks,” but she’s specifically saying she’s got a tendency to bail on relationships – and a judge’s determination, when imposing bail, that someone is a flight risk. So she’s warning the listener and the boyfriend that she’s liable to bolt. But the fear of falling is both a fear of falling in love, and a fear of the love then crashing, as it always seems to do. So flight has a double meaning here, at least for me, both “fleeing” and “soaring.” She’s a flight risk (because she might flee) and soaring is risky (because there’s always a crash).

    David and Mallory, I like the literariness of the careless/careful juxtaposition. And if the country radio stations are willing to go with this song, I like the idea of a writerly lyric on country radio.

  25. The band here may well be Nathan Chapman and Taylor overdubbing lots of parts (though I’d guess that a drummer would be brought in, and perhaps all the musicians are).

    My impression is that Chapman is very much Taylor’s guy. Story is that Liz Rose brought him in to do some demos early on (Liz cowrote a number of Taylor’s best songs), at Taylor’s urging he was then allowed to produce three songs on the first album, two of which were singles and became big hits, and then he was Taylor’s co-producer on Fearless.

  26. like a lot of people the person in this song i’m most interested in is the father, but like frank i count that as a literary success.

    there’s no line in this song better than the “flight risk” one, and that’s, like, what, the third line? so that’s unfortunate, but swift still avoids cliche more carefully than 99% of… i was going to say “people who write songs like this” but let’s just go with “people who write songs”. also she makes use here of my favorite pop song trope: the modification of the chorus on its final iteration to deepen/develop/comment upon the earlier choruses. this is a rote use of the device (you’re mine -> i’m yours) and isn’t all that inspired, but it still gets a point from me. and w/r/t that line by the way:

    “And I know that better things belong to you and me and all of us than some boy.”

    none come to mind.

  27. Well, Taylor herself seems to think there are (“Back then I swore I was gonna marry him someday / But I realized some bigger dreams of mine”): like being a wildly successful businesswoman, maybe; or coming up with vivid imagery and striking metaphors.

    (Theon, whoever you are, I’m liking your comments a lot.)

  28. Speaking of Taylor’s being a wildly successful businesswoman, I haven’t done any research on the matter, but the bare bones that I know of her story – her making the rounds and plugging her music from age 11, at age 14 or 15 walking away from RCA when they wanted to keep her in development, pushing to get to use the relatively young and unknown producer she thought was doing a good job – suggests she might have plenty of experience in paying bills, negotiating contracts, choosing or dismissing contractors, maybe even meeting a payroll, as well as understanding the necessity of making meetings and not blowing off gigs, and how her performance and her putting or not putting in the work might have financial consequences for a lot of others. Not to say that she couldn’t have farmed out a lot of this, but my sense of her personality is that she’d have kept her hand in, and is likely to have way more knowledge and wisdom on the subject of bills to pay than most people her age, or most people reading or posting on the Jukebox.

    Taylor’s career trajectory and choice of romance songs are similar to Rihanna’s and Beyoncé’s, and she’s covered songs of theirs in concert (“Umbrella” and “Take A Bow” and “Irreplaceable”), yet her image and social role and maybe fan demographics (or, more accurately, how her image and role and fans are misperceived by her nonfans) makes her vulnerable to derision and dismissal along lines that Rihanna and Beyoncé aren’t, at least that I can tell. Maybe some people write RiRi and Beyoncé off as ninnies too, and I just haven’t run across it.

  29. Actually at the time I was a little put off by how, on The Writing’s On The Wall, Destiny’s Child pushed a (to my ears) fake and clichéd wised-up knowingness on the subject of romance and finance, coming across to my mind as fake adults (which is how many adult performers come across to me too), though I thought some of the music was fabulous. I was delighted when in “Survivor” they revealed themselves to be regular old petulant, self-righteous, hypocritical adolescents.

    Taylor tends to code as “girlie” (on her first album) and a bit more “womanly” (on the second), while making those roles contain a lot of toughness and anger, but also being real emphatic about how girls and women get hurt and how she gets hurt. I can see how if you’re reading the codes but not really getting into the songs, you might not notice the toughness and anger, or that as a “nice girl” Taylor’s not always very nice – that what these roles now mean may not be what you expect.

  30. Actually I think the Beyoncé of ten years ago came in for a fvckload* of contemptuous derision, routine racist and sexist nonsense about her intelligence and her politics and her puppethood, often from people who should have known better. The manner in which she’s since ridden it out — certainly changing minds about her intelligence and her puppethood — probably did a lot to change the perceptions of the kind of music she was then making: and maybe to start shifting the modes of diva R&B towards all kinds of topics other than air-we-breathe boy-girl stuff?

    *Don’t know how to convert this to a comparative measure…

  31. i was probably being kind of obtuse re: things more important than some boy. the “fifteen” line is yeah def. about how the boy ended up with a mediocre ranking on the narrator’s list of “big” things, but “fifteen” is a song about a concluded (and very youthful) love affair written from a later perspective, whereas “mine” is about a continuing love affair the narrator still thinks of as a major one. so yeah she may someday feel about this guy the way taylor in “fifteen” thinks about her high school boyfriend, and she won’t be wrong, but for the moment she really is convinced he is the best thing that has ever been hers, which i’m sentimental enough to think is a good and maybe even important way to feel about a present lover, and difficult to contradict.

  32. Obviously I can’t speak for Taylor, but I’d be amazed if her parents didn’t handle some and/or most of the financial aspect of her early career. She was in her early teens, after all. Part of this is likely contractual as she was a minor, but in my limited experience/observations, it’s pretty typical for parents to handle this in the performing world. (Which often gets them labeled as stage parents — actually, as stage mothers more often — and sometimes the slur is warranted, sometimes it isn’t.)

    Or even if she did pick up some knowledge along the way, the “bills to pay” in the song are a world removed from any of that. They’re the bills that a guy paying his way through college (if he even is; that’s how the narrator implies it is, but who’s to say his parents aren’t picking up the tab and he’s got a job mainly for spending money?) would face.

    I wasn’t writing Taylor off, by the way, — that’s what the whole “she’s not speaking about herself” bit was about. I agree; it’d be an asshole move to do that. I’m writing off this oblivious character she’s written, who is supposed to be sympathetic but who just frustrates me for reasons I’ve already explained. I don’t doubt Taylor’s intelligence; to me, she’s always seemed like a musician who due to market demands was thrust, or thrust herself, into an Archetype role.

  33. What market demands?

  34. [i]What market demands?[/i]

    Paying the bills, perhaps?

    The “oblivious character” is something you made up, Katherine, since you’re claiming that the [i]character[/i] is oblivious because [i]you[/i] think that [i]Taylor[/i] can’t know anything about economic necessity, and that the character is a ninny because people who look like Taylor Swift have no right to use the metaphor “flight risk.” There’s no logic in your argument, and it’s pretty damn offensive. (By the way, Taylor’s best friend is in college on a swimming scholarship, though I don’t know if that’s necessity or just good luck.)

  35. Destiny’s Child pushed a (to my ears) fake and clichéd wised-up knowingness on the subject of romance and finance

    Isn’t this an absolutely typical teenage thing, though? That insouciant conviction that you’re more wised-up than anyone else and especially the adults, that sense of know-it-all immortality (and the eye-rolling seen-it-all-before world-weariness that goes hand in hand with it). And that voice was perfect for who Destiny’s Child were, which is why The Writing’s On The Wall is a classic album for its attitude as well as its sounds.

    Even if Taylor Swift has never had to pay a bill in her life, I still don’t see how that makes the lyric invalid or even remotely a misstep. Also, I think the action in the second verse is post-college – “flash forward and we’re taking on the world together”, which is a much more interesting and compelling line than the one about the bills, because of how it fleshes out the narrator’s character: the kind of person who doesn’t find validation in relationships or dream about fairytale weddings, who instead is driven, ambitious and successful in herself, who sees the relationship she has to be in as more of a business alliance than a love affair at that point.

  36. This is why it’s a mistake to concentrate on biographical clues.

  37. Probably should have been more precise — by “market demands” I was referring to industry demands, not personal budgetary needs. It’s likely safe to say that whether a new artist can pay his or her bills is somewhat-to-very far down the priority list. Not to mention that this point wasn’t even related to the line about the damn bills.

    And I’m not sure how much more I have to say to make you understand that I am talking about the character, not the person, especially since I’ve explained it all pretty thoroughly at least three times over.

  38. Whether or not it’s completely premeditated–and I hear some of the relatively subtle vocal turns as little things she or her producer or someone worked out for her, to alleviate her imprecise pitch sense and flat phrasing–this has some good qualities. The stop-start aspect was remarked upon above; the pauses make me listen, and I think she handles the time element of the song pretty well. The big power chords toward the end are nice too. “A careless man’s careful daughter,” though, yeech, that’s not exactly brilliant in my book. In general, she sounds either terrified or trying to act scared, I’m not sure. Don’t hear anything particularly distinctive in the music itself, it’s functional and that’s about it, but it’s a good song. I’d be pleased to like it, and Swift, more, because I hear something in there that’s almost like real talent. But my objection to this would be not that it’s too careful but that it just isn’t detailed enough, even given those moments where she illustrates she could learn to sing more effectively. Functional (objectively pretty terrible) pop singing that’s a kind of genius, absolutely–how on earth do you even critique it? The obvious points about her archetypal quality and all that don’t get it. Baffling.

  39. So I’ve been thinking about this some more, and I am probably making a colossal mistake in wading back in here, but the argument exists again, I’m still not a Taylor Swift fan, and no amount of arguing is going to make me one. At the same time, people have complained that non-fans aren’t addressing the arguments themselves. This is my attempt to do so. (I’d do it on Twitter but, well, uh. Anyway, I’ve already used up about four tweets by now, no?) It’s a bit wandering and rambling, but eh.

    Hypothesis: I don’t think this would be as big a deal if Taylor hadn’t released “Fifteen” with the lyric “And when you’re fifteen…” which immediately invites “But I was fifteen, and it wasn’t like that! You’re not speaking for me.” Or even, “But I was fifteen, and it wasn’t like that… what’s wrong with me?” I know people think that. I know because once or twice, I thought that. And then there’s the line about Abigail, which is totally about virginity. “Giving everything you have” when used in reference to a teenage girl is code — abstinence class code, youth group code — for having sex. It’s code you might not have heard if you weren’t a girl (you don’t have to be a girl, but it helps) growing up where such things are widespread, but I’m hardly the only one to pick up on it.

    Things like this rankle some people — the same way that rom-coms do, for instance. It’s not a personal attack on Taylor herself as a person (emphasis, not redundancy), or at least it shouldn’t be. I think it’s fair to say that Taylor Swift’s at a certain level of fame where it’s impossible to separate her music from her persona, her persona from her perceived persona (or branding, as some people have mentioned, but I don’t think it’s entirely purposeful.)

    And one of the main flashpoints for feminist writers is the perception that there’s a backlash, that there’s this strengthening push for “purity” (of course it’s a loaded word, that’s the point) that’s targeted primarily at girls. Taylor’s image just happens to be able to fall within this, whether by a purposeful act of marketing or by coincidence. And there lies the criticism.

    Re: “The album is different / provides more context! ” That requires you to listen to album tracks. A lot of people don’t. Fans do, maybe, but not all fans. Music writers do, especially those who like Taylor. But these are small subsets. There are many, many people out there whose exposure to Taylor, or anyone else, comes solely from singles. No, I don’t have any statistics on this, but neither do you. (If you do, bring them out!)

    What bothers me, really more than anything, is the undertone, the aggregate undertone (NOTE: I AM NOT CALLING ANYBODY OUT. PLEASE DO NOT YELL AT ME FOR THIS.) that if you do not like Taylor Swift, you are a Bad Person who is missing obvious things and you need to stop disliking her immediately.

  40. I think “Abigail gave everything she had” encompasses emotions as well, but yeah, I’d agree that virginity is probably part of that line too. But I just don’t hear any slut-shaming or “purity ring” nonsense in “Fifteen” at all. It’s both natural and commonplace to regret your first time, whether because you were pressured when you weren’t ready or because you’d waited for someone you thought was special, who turned out not to be. I don’t think this is contentious, even if you were lucky enough to have a great first time. And neither do I associate that regret with any sort of shame: the song is all about rites of passage, those fears and regrets and obstacles that seem huge at the time but just a few years on are so minor. The tone of the song is “shit happens, and you’ll come out from it stronger” – look how rapidly she passes from one image to another – and it’s completely non-judgmental.

    If anything, I hear the line as shaming the boy who changed his mind, not Abigail (and it’s such a great description, the understated “changed his mind”, capturing both the callousness and the carelessness but also the humanity. That’s what people do every day, change their minds, and when emotions go wrong…that’s just what it is, no matter how much it hurts. She uses that formulation again to even better effect on “Breathe”). And it’s one of Taylor Swift’s most feminist lines, because the lasting image that sticks with me is one of friendship and sisterhood, totally at odds with a culture that loves to stereotype teenage girls as “mean girls” constantly catfighting and bitching at each other.

    Also, for years I’ve been reading the feminist objections to the likes of Britney and the Pussycat Dolls for promoting a sexualised culture. Sometimes fairly, sometimes not. Does it not seem slightly schizophrenic that feminist consensus, when faced with a pop star who refuses to overtly sexualise herself, turns against her as well?* In any case, Swift pretty explicitly plants herself on the side against purity ring nonsense on this single right here (and has been referring to sex, albeit less directly, in her singles since she was 16).

    *I think both the pornification of pop culture and purity rings are unfeminist, but they also have to be reconciled with women’s own legitimate individual choices when it comes to expressing their sexuality or having sex; the criticisms of the pop stars have always seemed like red herrings – reductive of the artists involved and also tackling symptoms, rather then causes.

  41. Well first off, as I said to Hazel earlier today, I heartily encourage people to write about why they think Taylor Swift is bad or boring, just so long as they aren’t projecting issues onto her that aren’t merited in her music (and yes, I’m aware that the convo isn’t just about the music but aside from WBS’s pictures I’m glad that we’re not doing visual/contextual analysis as a Thing here, despite it obviously showing up in our reviews a lot).

    “And when you’re fifteen…” which immediately invites “But I was fifteen, and it wasn’t like that! You’re not speaking for me.”

    I agree with you! Except I don’t take the rhetorical gesture there to mean “when you, anyone” but rather “I, older Taylor, have finally figured things out about 15-ness, and let me share them with you!” I think that Taylor is being a little lazy here, or at least knee-jerk, and essentially doing to her 15-y/o self what a lot of people are doing to her — using her new “enlightened” experiences to discount the authentic experiences of someone not like her. I think that the Taylor of “Fifteen” was probably pretty damn smart, and probably HAD figured a lot out. When Taylor is 28, she’d probably write a song called “22” if Lily Allen hadn’t beat her to it. “When you’re 22, you STILL thought you had everything figured out, and you were STILL wrong. And now at 28 you’re starting to realize how little you know, and that’s probably a good thing.”

    I think it would be a mistake, though, to project that you onto others — Taylor is pretty careful about specificity of details. She wants “you” to know that hey, there’s a specific context for this. If you do recognize those details, and you do empathize with this character or this narrator, great — a lot of people clearly resonate with these stories. (I don’t, exactly. I appreciate Taylor more than I resonate with her, honestly.) But she’s provided all that context so that you won’t necessarily interpret the tone as generalized or didactic. And my complaint is that, within that context, it’s still too general and didactic! But not to me, to Fifteen Year Old Taylor, who deserves a more thoughtful song.

  42. I think the conflation of “don’t dislike this” with “don’t just make shit up” is one that plagues music criticism — maybe it always has. I think in an online world in which just “liking” stuff (by clicking it or displaying it) is a viable “conversation” option (if we’re willing to call the mating dance of presentation a conversation — I guess it sort of is) these issues may seem more pronounced. But in the case of the pro-Taylor contingent on Singles Jukebox, I think we’re pretty clear why we’re upset when people (most of whom dislike Taylor, but that’s not a prerequisite for this) misrepresent what she’s doing. I feel the same way about people who love Ashlee Simpson, e.g., and then proceed to tell me they love “dumb pop music.” NO! I would rather you DESPISE her and get her right than love her and get her wrong!

  43. FWIW I don’t really like Taylor Swift’s music either, however I am one of those annoying people who think that the feminists v critics argument concerning her is an interesting one.

    Taylor’s age (or perceived age, or even the age of the characters she sings about) is the sticking point which takes it beyond the normal feminist hand-wringing re: sexualisation of pop (or lack of sexual empowerment). Teenagers are obviously incapable of making rational and informed decisions about sex, so feminists, politicians, music critics and anyone over the age of 18 feel it is their duty to weigh in with their opinions on what is acceptable. The Pussycat Dolls can rot in hell as far as they’re concerned but Taylor is a poor innocent girl that must be saved from the Evils Of Sex/Brain-Washing Of Purity Cults (delete as applicable).

  44. Teenagers are obviously incapable of making rational and informed decisions

    Sorry, I can’t agree. The adverb bothers me. Difficult and at times heartrending, but they can.

  45. I read Kat as being mostly sarcastic.

  46. (Yes, I was)

  47. my participation in the recent Taylorgate was restricted to leaving a series of apoplectic concurrences on jonathan bradley’s facebook wall, so i missed the above aftershock. i was just coming back in here to say i’m starting to think this is a song about a girl’s relationship with her dad disguised as a song about a girl’s relationship with her boyfriend: a figure/ground sortuva deal, where dad’s the negative space. (for someone who tuned into it with their focus just so, it might be a song about a boyfriend disguised as one about a dad.) it’s neater than i thought.