Suspended Animation: The Incredible Lightness of Being Taylor Swift
There comes a time when the success one has is heavier than the reality of being suspended where one is. For Taylor Swift, with her catching-on-the-notes little girl voice, the break-out at 15 meant speaking truth to reality for a world of girls who’d been marginalized for their wide eyes, Hello Kitty backpacks and youth.
If the Knack once sang “But the little girls understand,” Swift took up their cause like Joan of Arc. Speaking loud, proud and strong about crummy boys who dissed them, mean girls who shunned them and the indefatigable faith that there was a boy who could make everything all right.
Not quite a fairy tale, as her personal life proved time and again, yet the reality of continuing to reach with your heart and refusing to relinquish your sparkle. But three albums in, it gets old. Your audience grows up. The moms you once made feel young now feel a little more worn in comparison.
At 22, what do you do? Where do you go? And most importantly, how do you not betray those little girls who made you… who are growing up too… but not at the same meteoric rate you are?
It’s a tough situation. And as important as avoiding a career misstep is, there is an entire industry whose health is also relying on the coltish blonde’s ability to navigate this transition. For if Alanis Morissette and LeAnn Rimes, both modern teenage supernovas and mainstream pop culture icons, flamed out, the transition to adulthood is far trickier than it appears. After all, when your career is built on the “oh, WOW!” speechless, hand-over-mouth reaction shot that’s become clichéd enough that Saturday Night Live satirizes it, you know it’s about the incredulity of youth.
With a rolling strum and a rolling high hat drum, Swift’s stark new song straddles the pissed off 20-something truth of being over the lame, entitled boy who’s clearly been outgrown. A laundry list of the transgressions and truths, Taylor walks the boy through a taut “how and why it’s gonna be” that leaves no question that done is put-a-fork-in-it.
Just the title says it all: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
Brash and honest, sung with that notion of the way these stories really get told, the conversation is both strident and real. This is a woman who’s emerged from her angry childhood to the solidity of burgeoning womanhood – and even if it’s waged in common vernacular, it’s a dismissal more than a meltdown.
Swift in her emancipation from expectation has traveled the world, working with some of pop music’s most in demand producers. She has explored. But more importantly, she has kept her head down and limelight low, to allow for an evolution that’s almost impossible in the spotlight.
Working with Max Martin and Shellback for the lead single from her October 22 release, Red, Swift’s vocals are processed and bulked up, the instruments sweep up beneath her without overwhelming and beats fall like punches. It has the same thrust as Martin’s best work with Kelly Clarkson, but also offers the half-sung, half-spoken details of the detritus of what won’t be.
“Hide away and find your peace of mind,” she taunts, “with some indie record that’s much cooler than mine.”
Even as she explains, “This is exhausting…,” you can hear the wisdom of been-there, done-that taking hold. And that is the moment when the girl truly becomes a grown-ass woman, capable of holding her own, telling you off and standing down in the face of a happily never after.
The hook is infectious. The melody swooping. The arrangement effervescent. But the bite? The bite comes from the singer’s own clarity. For every woman done wrong, this is a manifesto as potent as Ray Charles’ “Hit The Road, Jack” and as liberating as Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” But where the Jagged Little Pill singer served rage, Swift has figured out that revenge is, indeed, best served cold – and with a twist.
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