Saturday, January 15, 2011

OK, Taylor, You Can Speak Now

Or Forever Hold Your...

One of the songs from Taylor Swift’s new album Speak Now is called “Never Grow Up.” Here’s why it is a perfect example of why The Inky Jukebox likes its writer.

It’s the kind of songwriting where not a single word sounds out of place; it cleverly shifts two thirds of the way through from future to past tense; it sounds like a song that has existed for eons; she sings it as if she’s been singing it forever; you only have to listen to it once and you already know it; and it serves as a metaphor for Taylor Swift’s career as a whole. She is growing up. What this song (and the whole album) proves is that growth can be a good thing.

At The Inky Jukebox, we like artists who write their own material, and can really sing and really play their instruments. Taylor Swift is obviously, clearly pop; her work clearly and obviously appeals to young girls (my 8 year-old daughter is still hyperventilating because I promised her I would take her to a Swift concert this summer). But a Taylor Swift record is pleasant to hear. It is charming. The songs are smart and catchy. I wonder if it is possible for the human animal NOT to like Taylor Swift. I understand that I could possibly be writing from under some evil spell – (how can one like both Lemmy AND Taylor Swift??) – but it’s been years now and I’m still under the spell.

I first heard of her (as did most folks) because of the human interest story: she’d written a song about famous heart-throb singer Tim McGraw and posted it to her MySpace page; a zillion fans later, she got a contract with the newbie company Big Machine Records. They released that song as a single and it became a legit hit. She was brought up on stage at an awards show as a gangly 19 year-old to perform her song, accompanying herself on her guitar in front of everyone in the business — including Tim McGraw (and his wife Faith Hill). As soon as the song ended, she introduced herself to them: “Hi, I’m Taylor.” It was almost nauseatingly cute. Imagine the balls to do that, though. It's become a classic country music moment.

That moment is ancient history now. Today, Taylor Swift is a music business phenom; bestselling artists two years in a row; world tours under her belt; awards galore; Saturday Night Live gig; Tim and Faith are best pals; Big Machine records have become industry leaders (having recently signed the veterans Rascal Flatts), their empire owing itself entirely to their young find. I don’t know why I am telling you all this because it must be completely redundant. You already know this. Consider it context.

Taylor Swift has capitalized on mesmerizingly ambitious live performances in front of huge audiences. The last of these was to deliver what is now the second hit off her third album, “Back To December,” which has the added teen interest factor of being about studmuffin Taylor Lautner, with whom Taylor has a brief fling. I thought it was stunning: what an accomplished performance to deliver sitting at a piano in a ball gown with an orchestra at your back! Wow! (Here's the official video.)

Other notable performances include her being drenched in water at the end of “Should've Said No,” the video lingering to include her open-jawed look of disbelief that she’s just done that (and that George Strait was giving her a standing O from the front row).

In “Love Story” she whips off one dress to reveal a very frothy wedding dress to match the ending of the song, something only a girl with her figure could pull off. "You're Not Sorry" is pretty darn awesome too.

The album was born in its own legend: while on a place to Japan, Taylor’s team heard that what they’d planned for the first single, “Mine,” had been leaked and was going viral. They made a snap decision to release it then and there, two weeks ahead of schedule. By the time the plane touched down in Japan, the song was a Number One hit.

I’m going out on a limb and calling Speak Now for Record of the Year at the Grammys. And, when it’s eligible, “Back To December” for Best Song. I thought her song "Fifteen" was one of the best of that year too. 

Oh, and I cannot tell you how glad I am that my dughter’s pre-teen years have coincided with such a clean-cut, polite and scandal-free role model. Of course, the drawback of this is that she thinks all boys arrive on white horses and look like Taylor Lautner and all girls wear ball gowns. Mind you, she’s also obsessed with drawing unicorns leaping over pink mountains, so who knows.

Go, Taylor, Go.

She just turned 21. Grow up, but never grow old.

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