Suspended Animation: The Incredible Lightness of Being Taylor Swift

Holly Gleason | August 15th, 2012

taylorswiftThere 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.

 

  1. Ben Foster
    August 15, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I’m afraid I still can’t quite stomach this song, but I like the positive points you brought out on it. Very interesting ready, Holly.

  2. Rick
    August 15, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Holly, I always enjoy your writing style a great deal. On the other hand I just wish this article was focused on subject matter I gave a dang about. A feature on Eden’s Edge on the other hand would be something truly worth a look. Oh well…

  3. MH
    August 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Swift has figured out that revenge is, indeed, best served cold – and with a twist.

    Is that twist “arrogance?”

    That’s why I’m hearing in this song.

  4. Patrick
    August 22, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Could you have tried any harder to find value in this silly silly (money generating) song.
    Unfortunately, everything you did find to say says more about you and your desire to find “truth” in a hamburger.
    Why can’t you say this girl grew up and now has no voice for kids so is now trying to have a pop adult contemp career?
    Sorry to say, this reads like you are trying way to hard to find something in Nothing.

  5. robin hunt
    August 22, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Patrick said it best. Shame on you.

  6. Heather
    August 22, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    I totally agree with Patrick. My friends and I have been Tay fans since we were 11 and 12 years old. We are now in our second year at college. WE grew up and away from her boy dissing songs and this one is the WORST of the worst. Her vocals are really bad and the talking and the OOOOO’S are grating on our nerves. We hoped for better and maturity but we got more of the same. In our opinion she took a giant step back. When we were YOUNG teens we liked her songs (even though we always know her vocals were bad. We took up for her live singing by arguing that she had an off night. She has just lost us as fans (even though we have been heading away from her for awhile now). She can keep singing and acting like a 12 year old (we liked it when we were 12 too) but we want songs with substance and someone who can actually sing in key. BTW-there is NOTHING COUNTRY about this song. She is a POP artist (and we always knew that).

  7. Heather
    August 22, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    BTW—a friend just told us that Taylor’s song has one of the biggest drops on country radio ever—ever.

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