Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Taylor Swift – 22

“Hi, I’m Taylor Swift, and this is Jackass.”


Rebecca A. Gowns: This song is ostensibly about friendship and going out and having fun with your best girl friend, except the climax of the hook goes “I gotta have you” — and we’re already two-thirds of the way through the song. This makes me think that this is a song about going out and having fun with your best girl friend and then what is this her lips look so soft I wonder if she would sleep in my bed tonight I wonder… (“you don’t know about me but i’ll bet you want to“)

Patrick St. Michel: Twenty-two-year-olds rarely sound this excited about their age. Most people I know treat 22 as the first birthday not worth getting worked up about, an opportunity to get drinks with friends and post “I’m so OLD!” to Facebook. It’s a weird age for Taylor Swift to lionize in her bubbliest song to date… until you remember this is Taylor Swift, teenage-feelings (and demographic) master. This is a song aimed at adolescents who think being 22 would be awesome because of the freedom to make all sorts of crazy decisions. Or at least ones that won’t cost Swift that Papa John’s money, like poking fun at exes or breakfast at midnight (the safest meal of the day, she didn’t even spring for a burrito). This is Swift at her most over-produced, both negatively (the “hipster” bit) and positive (the music itself). Turns out “22” is sorta complicated.

Alfred Soto: The continual scorn she lavishes on “hipsters” undercuts her self-assurance as lethally as that thick synth riff slathered over the nostalgic chorus; we don’t need a reminder another volley in the “poptimism” war. The song’s perfunctory chordal structure and Swift’s uninflected vocal demand these Max Martinisms like a dead car battery require a jump start. Her worst single.

Katherine St Asaph: Taylor Swift’s savvy enough to know that her young fans are growing up with her and that tweens turned teens like narratives about people slightly older than them. If only this didn’t mean rosy inaccuracies for every life stage; when she transitions to adult contemporary she’ll release “35,” and it ain’t gonna be an Amy Jellicoe story. The music was already a retread circa “Teenage Dream.” The delivery calls for a sneer that’s unsuited both to Swift’s voice (compare “Safe and Sound”) and to the yearbook-safe lyrics; it’s like Ke$ha singing about finding a stranger in the Alps. The “who’s Taylor Swift anyway?” aside is cute but nonsense, whether she means Celebrity Taylor or High-School Underdog Taylor. The material’s so cloying that even cloying content farm Thought Catalog debunks it, and a statement like “we’re happy, free, confused and lonely in the best way” would be savaged if Ryan O’Connell (or Lily Allen!) wrote it instead of somehow infallible Swift. Never mind the deadlines; forget about the byline.

Anthony Easton: Nothing is going to be alright, and dancing when I was 22 was mostly terribly self-concious and horribly broken. I never got the carefree love of the 20s — everyone was incredibly anxious, and no one I knew was very happy, and the course was so unsettled. It was the exact opposite of everything being all right. For an artist who is pretty good about the nature of anxiety, this seems a mis-step. Except, you know, if she is slinging herself to a younger demographic — because 22 for a 14-year-old American teenager, one year after drinking, in college, away from her parents’ home, might mean freedom.  Swift becomes more interesting when you think of her not as autobiographical but using the tropes of autobiography to work through generational shifts for people slightly younger than her.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: In December, Sterogum writer Tom Breihan’s Twitter feed filled up with riffs on Taylor Swift’s “I don’t know about you/But I’m feeling 22” hook. My favourites: “I don’t know about you/But about 20% of my income goes toward gallon jugs of Carlo Rossi“; “I don’t know about you/But I spent several months where I should have been looking for jobs watching Veronica Mars“, etc. These jokes recognise that Swift is right in saying that there is something “miserable and magical” about being in your twenties, but lazers in on the fact that claiming your twentiesdom for all to see is an invitation to simultaneously wallow and celebrate self-obsessed assholism. So here is “22”, paced like a celebration but ratty with young anxiety, the real world looming in the form of deadlines and misjudged romances with “strangers” a desirable prospect. Swift’s squawks of something approaching desire (“I gotta have you!”) are awkward and mostly unbelievable, almost as though she still has to grow beyond earnestness into a real romantic identity on-record. Knowing the song that surrounds it, these lyrics could be a sly take on emotional puberty. On the other hand, it may just be awkward, indicative of her overly measured performances, and that is that. Swift appears too poised to make her romantic messes resonate as much as her twee imagery of, say, breakfast at midnight. But some moments in your twenties are realer than others, it seems. (Confession: I spent most of it playing Super Bomberman until 3am.)

Brad Shoup: Swift’s hit self-parody! None of the self-directed digs hit as anything other than savvy PR. (It’s telling that the anonymous sniper asks “Who’s Taylor Swift, anyway?” — like a true star, nothing bothers her like not being famous.)  And her attempt to bridge whatever contradictions the Tumblrsphere’s put together is basically the crazy/beautiful bullshit with a few more adjectives. The Martin/Shellback production is flaccid, to boot: rote triggered synths on the chorus, rhythm guitar curiously backgrounded. I think there’s a lust object in the song, but he’s super hard to find among all the regard.

Ian Mathers: I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 31. So I’m clearly not the target audience, but this basically works, even if I still feel like her voice doesn’t suit this kind of production as much as it did her country-pop stuff. 

Iain Mew: If this was the first single from Red and Taylor Swift going pop was a draw in itself, there might be a point to it. As it is we’ve already had Taylor Swift going really really pop (complete with much better spoken bits) and Taylor Swift going pop with uniquely subtle dubstep, so this just sounds like the average album track that it is. Only the relish Swift takes in “You look like bad news/I’ve gotta have you” hints at the chance of being more. I would wonder how it’s a single but I live somewhere that made Nicki Minaj’s “Va Va Voom” a hit; as much as I would love to hear “Treacherous” (or hey, “Begin Again”) on the radio, the appetite for more Max Martin is proven.

Crystal Leww: Detractors criticize Taylor for not acting her age. I am in the same age bracket as Taylor Swift, and I can testify that 22 year old girls can sometimes sound exactly like “22”. Taylor really manages to sell the role. 22 years old feels like a jumble of vague adjectives that all contradict one another spoken at rapid-fire, no breathing rate: “happy, free, confused”, “miserable and magical”. She delivers the spoken “Who’s Taylor Swift anyway? Ew.” with the level of snottiness that the new, cooler girlfriends of the hipster ex-boyfriends who condescended down to her deserve to be represented with. Those who hate her pick her apart for letting her life to be boy-centric, and that’s fair; even on a track about going out with your girl friends, the hook turns into a song about a mysterious boy who looks like he’s “bad news”. But at 22, even on Girls Night Out, there are mysterious, tall, handsome men with great smiles hanging out in bars, and for some reason, they want to talk to you. Those (surprising!) synth drops match the lurching feeling in the stomach when you realize that they’re laughing at your ridiculous jokes and they want to dance, too. A lot of my friends are turning 22 this year, and I have managed to sneak this onto all of their birthday playlists. They have enjoyed the hell out of it, too. 

Edward Okulicz: Though an instant favourite, the pleasure of “22” has a shorter half-life than expected. That said, it still works, it’s just that a few months on, Taylor going pop doesn’t sound as strange, and “We Are Never…” does it better. That said, “22” sounds great played on a loop interspersed with “Party in the U.S.A.” and the world can use more songs like that. As a potential item in my future karaoke repertoire, this is surely a [10]. As a pop single in 2013, just a little less.

Josh Langhoff: I’ll forever hear “22” as the sequel to Miranda Cosgrove’s “Dancing Crazy,” a 2010 Martin-Shellback production with the same beat, the same willingness to not rhyme (thanks to writer Avril Lavigne), and a similar instrumental vibe, acoustic guitar anchoring snappy bubblegum, signifying the plaintive desires that power our dancing legs. The differences may be instructive: Miranda raps and rocks an organ like Avril in her garage; Taylor sounds sleeker but throws in an extra minor chord for more magical misery; Taylor’s lyrics flail for big old life summation while Miranda’s stubbornly resist significance — like “Jack and Diane” to “Brown Eyed Girl,” maybe? But all those elements amount to admirable curiosities, since these songs’ musical achievement is to make body and soul pop and lock in sync with beats and chords that yearn and most other one-syllable words you can think of, as though declaring “Raid kills bugs dead” somehow equaled euphoria.

Alex Ostroff: Back in October, this prompted a living room dance party in an apartment full of vaguely tipsy law students between the ages of 25 and 30. It was a lot of fun and relatively nostalgic and a little bit desperate and sad and forced. Sober, Max Martin’s production isn’t quite as exuberant as it seemed, and the spoken word bits are a little less charming than they should be, and nobody feels 22 anymore, but this is a darn good pop song, even if it’s not a great Taylor Swift song. If Ke$ha were in charge here, our heroine would end up drinking instead of sleeping, rather than dreaming. But when you’re 22 (or 24 or 26) and staying up all night, sometimes you don’t need to be drunk for your friends to start looking like bad news (or good ideas).

Scott Mildenhall: Take away Taylor and this could easily be mistaken for that bobbins Hot Chelle Rae single. She’s the only major difference between the two, so it helps that she’s stamped her mark all over it; less so that she’s done so to the extent that it feels more like a mission statement than a single. That said, for a mission statement, it’s not all that bad.

Will Adams: Once again, I’m torn. The chorus is an ace, winning if only by sounding like a super-glossed remix of Let Go-era Avril (specifically, “My World”). And while I’m not 22 yet, the tumbling down of “we’rehappyfreeconfusedandlonely” is a pretty succinct encapsulation of that recurring instability of youth. However, the brattiness presents the same problems I found in WANEGBT. For one, there was a reason Avril never ad-libbed much over her choruses – there was no need to have the last note land on anything but the tonic. For another, the inflammatory hipster/cool kids jabs are just lame. “Who’s Taylor Swift anyway? Ew!” falls flat because it’s inaccurate – seriously, who in my generation has never heard of her? – and aggressively defensive – she’s shaming people who don’t know her or don’t like her. It seems petty to belabor this point, but I can’t help cross my arms at Taylor’s insistence on fanning flames that weren’t even there in the first place. Whatever. Where is “Starlight?”

Reader average: [8.05] (35 votes)

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7 Responses to “Taylor Swift – 22”

  1. The shade Taylor throws at hipsters is one of the best things about the Red era. Is it petty if it’s true? Seems to me it’s not Swift who’s the defensive one here.

    (I agree with Iain most, esp. about the “I gotta have you” line, but sheer enjoyable hookiness makes it an [8] for me anyway.)

  2. A++++ to Katherine for the Enlightened reference.

    I should also mention this is my alarm clock music.

  3. This is totally a young lesbian anthem. I’m so happy

  4. soon you’ll see a tabloid headline reading, “DID TAYLOR SWIFT KISS A GIRL AND DID SHE LIKE IT?”

  5. I’ve read interesting things about reimagining “YBWM” as actually a love letter to the female rival before.

  6. “YBWM” is the ultimate high school gay anthem, the lyrics actually make MORE sense that way.

  7. Chris Randle and I and Isabel and some other people had a series of Tumblr posts a while back about how many many Taylor songs make more sense and/or are significantly more enjoyable when approached through homo goggles.

    I think we dubbed it Swiftian crypto-queerness?

    I don’t think I’ve ever listened to ‘YBWM’ as anything but a personal in-love-with-a-straight-dude anthem, but plenty of TS tracks can work for this. My personal favourite is ‘Picture to Burn’ as devastated/angry closeted small town high school breakup, because it makes the “So tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy / That’s fine I’ll tell mine that you’re gay” just as nasty but in a way where the lashing out isn’t just about cockblocking an ex but about something really raw and ugly and terrifying? Like a soundtrack for that cafeteria scene with Ezra Miller in ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’.