Taylor Swift goes proper pop? Surely nobody will have an opinion on that.
Katherine St Asaph: This is going to be this year’s “Countdown,” isn’t it? A melody seemingly chosen to make Taylor’s voice sound as yelpy as possible — bless her heart when she tries this live — an underwritten jam-session chorus with wimpy Max Martin drums that plod, not stomp, lyrics that confuse teen speech patterns with timeless resonance, that lazy, culture war-baiting “some indie record that’s much cooler than mine” line (no, Taylor, it’s not that your detractors find you “uncool,” though it’s hilarious if you imagine this is a defense of working with B.o.B), a spoken-word section that people will read volumes into when it’s no different than any spoken-word section since pop’s year zero. I’ve said Swift needed to find a new sound, but this isn’t it; it’s slapdash where Speak Now was professional. Predictably, everyone will love it.
Anthony Easton: I am interested in the argument that Swift makes here — that one of the reasons that she broke up with this lover is that he is claiming her work is inauthentic, or that his “indie” songs are more authentic than her (and she doesn’t define what she does), but cutting and pasting spoken sections that could be conversations or voice mails or something like this, makes the same intimacy = authenticity calls that the indie-loving boyfriend makes. It should be a done fight, that emotional texts come from a number of places, and claims of authenticity intertwining with intimacy are pretty permanently flawed, but I think that Swift plumbs the lines of authentic vs. emotional, especially as it relates to her own work, with a lot of grace here. I am not sure it’s a great song, but it’s really really smart. I am pretty sure that this is about John Mayer, and the image of the dude who sings “Your Body Is A Wonderland” listening to indie as a way of seducing Swift is really, really funny.
Edward Okulicz: Taylor Swift is erudite and emotionally literate if not always smart about it, and she projects this in an accessible way, but she’s also still a young woman. “Together” celebrates how the vagaries of an interjection such as “like… ever” and how in its own way it can say as much as one of those long-form letters she sang on Speak Now. She could go into detail, but she doesn’t need to (we know she could if she chose — Swift is nothing if not deliberate in her word choices). Essentially, the lyrics might be self-parody, but they’re affectionate self-parody. The beats are like fingers pointed in accusation, suggesting that the jarring attempts at introducing dance-esque beats to mixes “The Story of Us” and “Love Story” have actually led to a worthwhile place. It’s not a knock-out perfect Swift single, but it suggests she’s always finding new ways of being a clever, diverting, radio-friendly, unit-shifting populist goddess.
Alfred Soto: Because the stomps and vocal swoops bear the influence of Gotye and other pop hits so obvious I won’t name them, I distrust the chorus rush. Other than the euphoria of being mean — who else gets away with it in contemporary pop? — she’s doing nothing more than jabbing herself in the breast plate with an adrenalin shot. And Swift sings the indie line that all the indie-suspicious critics adore with unseemly emphasis; she’s like a villain with a pencil mustache winking at the camera. Get over it.
Brad Shoup: Countering iPod-commercial pop with that classic Backstreet sound: what couldn’t go wrong? Basically just the wordless sung bits, and the swoop Swift puts on the multitracked “we,” turning it into “whee!” Maybe I wouldn’t be reading so much relish into the ride if I hadn’t heard her sing this song before. For someone who’s spawned a cottage industry of twitty guessing games, she sure sketches some generic boyfriends. The fly-on-the-wall spoken bit is a canny touch; it distracts from the grey acoustic fidgeting and the Avril-demo melody, and satisfies pop fans who want to hear Kimbra’s other other side of the story.
Alex Ostroff: The stop-start fingerpicked bit and the touches of cross-fading and fake DJ noises in between the strums are vintage The Matrix-era Avril (think less “Complicated” and more “Mobile” or “Nobody’s Fool“) and there are far worse directions Taylor could go in sonically in search of chart dominance. For example, the 4×4 Max Martin thump that takes over in the verses and the chorus. (The Country Mix of the track improves the situation vastly by filling out the chorus with fiddles and guitar power chords that wistfully remind me of “I’m Only Me When I’m With You” and “Should’ve Said No.” Miss you, Taylor of 2006!) The ‘indie’ line will draw cheers from some and boos from others, but it’s not a line in the sand, and I’m not entirely certain that it’s Mean-Girl-ing indie bros either. It sounds more like the sort of thing that passive-aggressive dudes in deteriorating relationships say to try and unnerve and undermine you; and she’s parroting it to her best friend over the phone — Can you believe he said that? — or to him during the final fight — Did you really say that? It’s a little bitchy, perhaps, but it’s not a taunt. She’s not angry. She’s tired. The spoken word interlude makes it clear: “This is exhausting, you know?” Which is why even in my beloved country mix, the chorus feels off. It should at least sound fed up, and instead Taylor sounds as triumphantly lacking in nuance as a Kelly Clarkson post-breakup anthem. At least in the verses, she dismantles his bullshit with some relish. (Which: extend the line from Fearless to Speak Now to Red, and maybe this genericism is what we get when there are fewer and fewer personal experiences to draw on that have a sense of grounded place and space instead of a celebrity existence that is everywhere and nowhere? Drew vs. boys on football teams vs. Stephen vs. Jonas Brother vs. John Mayer or whoever. Nashville high schools vs. Hollywood, etc.) I guess maybe what I’m saying is that, in the past, even when Taylor’s subject matter was uncomplicated, her perspective never was.
Pete Baran: Taylor is here continuing in her project to record a song for every possible event in a persons life. Here is the Charlie and Lola break up song, which has an irresistible title, which is even more irresistible in the song when you discover it is actually “never, ever, ever.” It loses a mark for self reflectivity in the second verse, and instantly regains it for dissing indie records.
Andy Hutchins: One of the secrets to writing songs that will end up being in everyone’s vernacular is to write them in the form of conversations that actually happen. On the fifth listen, this sounded exactly like conversations I heard my former roommate’s girlfriend have about the former roommate who she should probably never have gotten back together with. The difference is that Taylor has the sheen/crunch-pop stuff down to a science, and never sounds like she isn’t the smartest person in the room. Like, ever. Smart women should win as often as she does.
Iain Forrester: I don’t think that I am invested enough in either Taylor or in the overstated musical or lyrical enactment of young relationship conversations to fall for this. It’s like I can see all the parts which should be funny or thrilling and get part of the way there, but not far enough that its one-dimensional sound doesn’t come through just as clearly. Apart from the level of disdain that she manages to put into the word “talk” in “talk to your friends.” That I can get behind wholeheartedly.
Mallory O’Donnell: Is this a Funstyle outtake?
Jonathan Bogart: I intentionally did not listen to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” till just now, after I’d absorbed nearly a week’s worth of excitement, dismissal, even-handedness, and caviling, and I’m not sure a) what business any of us who aren’t young women from sixteen to sixty-six gearing up to finally shut down the needy asshole in their life have listening to it or talking about it, b) what useful concepts are being served by making fine distinctions between “country,” “pop,” “nineteen,” and “twenty-two,” c) why anyone’s complaining about the tempo not being fast enough for Max Martin when it’s clearly positioning itself as an anthem, not a dance song, or d) why no one’s talked about internal rhyme schemes and the self-reinforcing nature of the sloganeering title especially when chanted over and over again.
Josh Langhoff: Taylor’s always done teenpop — she’s effortlessly broadened teenpop’s scope to include country, or maybe vice versa, an accomplishment either way — but in taking on the classical teenpop template here, she’s produced a classic of the form, mostly because of her still-evident songwriting craft. The first ace line — “I remember when we broke up/The first time” — turns out to rhyme with “‘cuz like,” so she establishes the song as part parody, a tone that never lets up. Spoken interlude: bratty! (Shania’s were always so stiff.) Four chords: well-deployed! Whiplash plot developments: impossible to follow! At the end of each chorus, the extra “ever”: clever! And there’s real emotional heft, as well — mostly the giddy joy of a master excelling at whatever the hell she wants. We-EEEE!
Patrick St. Michel: The news hook is the Max Martin sheen, the twang of her previous singles replaced by the hands-together-now clomp one associates with Katy Perry or Kelly Clarkson. It’s what doesn’t warrant inclusion in headlines, though, that’s just as important: Taylor Swift still knows how to write about being a teenager. Here’s the song about that eureka moment when a teen finally gets over a significant other and gets cocky about. See the almost snotty way Swift says “what” after learning they need space, or the indie-record bit, or her meatheaded impersonation during the talking. She’s not just over her ex though, she’s over the old her as well, evidenced by the way she mockingly says the way she once said “I love you” and just generally sounding burned out on everything. The production matches the mood of the song – this is a celebration of maturing, and it deserves an upbeat soundtrack.
Will Adams: I want to like Taylor Swift so badly. I really do. Blasting “You Belong With Me” in the car with my friends and sing-shouting along sounds like the highlight of a lifetime. Karaoke with her must be equally awesome. My inner curmudgeon won’t allow me; “She’s cloying!” it says. “Her lyrics are diary entries written in verse! She can’t really sing! She recycles the same four chords for her songs! She’s eternally surprised!” And while her appeal is no mystery to me, it’s not something I can fully endorse, like a cake with a fruit filling. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” appears to be a test to see if I can have a change of heart; it attempts this by stripping all of her idiosyncrasies in favor of sounding like a watery composite of everyone else – Pink, Avril, Katy, Ke$ha. But the facile sentiment on “Together” is not much different than her previous singles. The difference here are the focus group-minded contributions from extra songwriters. Max Martin and Shellback’s mechanical chug sinks the whole thing like a lead balloon, and the awkward attempts to inject personality range from biting (the nose thumbing at indie records) to eye-roll worthy (the “authentic” spoken interlude) to nearly unlistenable (“We-EEEEEE!”) and beg the question as to who decided they should be included. And yet, it’s quite catchy and immaculately engineered to spend six months on the radio And yet, she’s very pitchy on the bridge. And yet, my preference for pop sheen is telling me I should like this more than her organic country offerengs. I’ve never been so confused by a pop song. Maybe I’m just stubborn. Maybe I should wait until Red arrives so I can contextualize “Together.” Maybe my enjoyment of her will forever remain a distant possibility that lies just out of my reach. As of right now, I am utterly confounded.
Ramzi Awn: The most annoying thing about “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is that it isn’t actually as annoying as it should be. The kind of song that could easily be brought to life on a Gossip Girl episode, Swift’s new offering is as cute as it is possibly possible to be cute, with cute to spare. It is true, she may not have necessarily shied away from this angle before, but it’s particularly …. self-conscious on the track. And besides the coos on the chorus, the texture that past Taylor Swift songs have played with beautifully is lacking. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” will do what Swift needs it to do, but mostly, it is as memorable as a bad cupcake.
Zach Lyon: This is the point where I admit to officially being tired with Taylor’s lack of lyrical breadth. This reads like a thesis statement for a good 90% of the songs she’s already written, and it certainly doesn’t take us anywhere we haven’t been for three albums. I know it’s a perfectly BLEAURGH thing to quote myself, but I’m thinking I should apply the essence of those two sentences to every Taylor review until she actually writes a single song that is not about the same damn thing. And yes, Increasingly-Intimidating-By-The-Single Rock Critic T.Swift Fan Club, that’s an exaggeration; you don’t need to rebut with the few examples there are or the stretched-flimsy non-examples there aren’t. I once held that card. “Mean” is still a favorite. But we’re four albums into this and I couldn’t even get past the title without rolling my damn eyes. If it were anyone else and if it were, I dunno, 1998 or 2002 or 2005, then “WANEGBT” would almost be a successful pseudo-novelty-pop song that debuts and possibly ends a young singer’s career (“Call Me Maybe” is actually sticking out as a comparison). I might’ve liked it then — hell, I may allow myself to enter pop catatonia when it comes on the radio and take in the chorus for the next few weeks — but if you had told me that the things I liked about it were the exact same things I’d theoretically like about her next thirty singles, with differences only cosmetic, I’d look at you with tired eyes.
Jonathan Bradley: Let’s start — why not? — with the “some indie record that’s much cooler than mine” line, a tricksy piece of songwriting that has more facets than revealed on first listen. There’s the obvious reading, the one where it’s sung by Taylor Swift the multiplatinum recording artist, hitting back at some guy who never really respected her career no matter how nice he was to her. But it can also be Taylor the anywoman or anyperson, in which case “mine” would refer to the records she owns, and the zinger is at the expense of every supercilious douche overimpressed with his own taste. And these two readings play off one another, because lots of people who enjoy Swift are aware that plenty of supercilious douches consider pop records like Taylor’s to be frivolous and facile, and so a record like mine might easily be a Taylor Swift record. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is so incandescent because of these layered little tics, and Swift’s ability to deliver her dialogue with CW precision: the disbelieving what?; the snotty like, ever; and, of course, the just-stylized-enough spoken word interlude. And yet all of that’s frosting on top of a triumphant, gleefully bitchy, airy, stomping confection that should be her biggest hit since “You Belong With Me.”
Jer Fairall: Honey, the latest Selena Gomez record is much cooler than yours.