I want to like it. I really do.
By “it” I mean “Shake it Off”, the new Taylor Swift single debuted Monday – the first song from her fifth album, “1989”, set to drop October 27th.
I want to like it for so many reasons. First it’s no secret that I am a sucker for a good pop song, and T-Swift has always delivered that catchy, feel-good chorus, my permanently 16 year-old musical sensibilities crave. From the country twang of “Our Song” in her early days to her recent tip-toe into dubstep influences with “I Knew You Were Trouble,” Taylor has always come through with an undeniably contagious pop beat paired with lyrics that just have to be belted out on the top of your lungs in the car.
Then there’s the fact that I’m attached to Swift’s tunes. I have so many great (and not so great) memories tied with each Taylor Swift album. I was 16 when Taylor made her debut with her first, self-titled album, and it was instant love. High School Me fantasized about what having a boyfriend would be like to “Our Song”, and how dramatic and powerful breakups would be to “Should’ve Said No.” At 18, I cried hysterically to her next album, “Fearless”, in the aftermath of my first actual relationship and inevitable heartbreak. “White Horse”, “Forever and Always”, “Tell Me Why” — I cried ugly tears to them all, confident that life was surely coming to an end. Yet I soldiered on, and at 20, I saw Taylor live in London during my semester abroad for her tour for her third album “Speak Now”, and danced and sang amongst the Brits, flaunting my own American accent for the one and only time during my four-month European excursion. Then “Red” came out days before my 22nd birthday (Swifty has a thing for October, it seems) and my last memory of the night was dancing on a couch, dressed up as Tinkerbell, as one does, screaming the lyrics to “22”, of course, clutching a bag of wine. Ahhhh sweet memories and lack-there-of. In the five years that Taylor has made Grammy award-winning albums, I too, clearly matured.
Finally, I want to like it because I want to like her new album. Why? Because it drops on my birthday (If only I was born in 1989, and not 1990, it would be truly uncanny). And what would be a better present for my 24th than being reassured that even though I’m edging toward the mid-twenties mark, I am still not too old for Taylor Swift.
With all I clearly had riding on this, you can imagine my excitement when I saw “Shake it Off” was released with a music video yesterday afternoon. It took four minutes for me to realize that the time has come. I am officially too old for Taylor Swift. Or maybe she’s just regressing.
Here are my problems with it in no particular order:
1. The music: The song begins with a fast paced drum-line beat and I’m pretty sure I’m at a high school pep rally…okay….Then Taylor starts to sing…at least I think this is Taylor, doing what I think is singing. It is shrill and high-pitched and sounds heavily auto-tuned, so I check the link to make sure I didn’t click on a pitch-adjusted bootleg version. Nope, this is the real deal. As it continues, the shrill verse transitions into a chorus with the assistance of trumpets. Trumpets. I have figured out by this point that there will be no country twang whatsoever. This is the new Taylor, making a statement that she can keep up with Katy Perry and Lady Gaga and be a Pop Princess too. Except… all I feel is nostalgia for her old sound.
2. The lyrics: Oh god the lyrics. In the first two verses, Taylor screeches- I mean sings- several pieces of gossip and judgement that the cruel, harsh world of the media has thrust upon her. For example: “I stay out too late/ Got nothin’ in my brain” followed by highlighting her infamous love life: “I go on too many dates/ But I can’t make ‘em stay.” Okay…where is she going with this? Well, she rises above (“But I just can’t stop cruisin’/Don’t stop won’t stop movin’) and takes us to the chorus, of course! With literal fanfare, she delivers the moral of the song with lots and lots and lots of repetition. She calls out the haters who are gonna hate (hate hate hate hate). The players who are gonna play* (play play play play). The fakers who are gonna fake (fake fake fake fake). The heartbreakers who are gonna– you get the point. Then she proceeds to embark upon the whitest “rap” that has ever attempted to be rapped. And I wish it was endearing. Or intelligent. Alas, it is neither.
Just a tip from a concerned citizen: If you want to draw attention to how ridiculous it is that critics think you’re dumb, don’t release a completely vapid song with stupid, stupid stupid lyrics!
*ALSO Does anyone remember 3LW? I don’t care if they only had one album in the early 2000’s, this line is straight from their single, and I call bullshit.
3. The video: I wonder what the thought process was behind releasing a video with the song. Perhaps the producers and Taylor sat down and listened to the track on it’s own and thought “Wow. This is really generic. It’s not nearly as ground-breaking as we thought it was going to be unless people can SEE WHAT WE MEAN.” And so, the idea for the world’s dumbest music video-maybe-came to fruition. Show Taylor- a successful, beautiful, talented artist-singing a generic song with an irritating beat, doing a bunch of different dances she’s terrible at, because she’s relating to her fans, who are also bad at things. We can all Shake It Off together, because we’re all the same! Except no, we are not. Which brings me to the message.
4. The message: One of the things that has always distinguished Taylor as an artist is her ability to relate to her fans, and put words and music to shared experiences. It’s an incredible talent that has connected many fans, myself included, to her songs, and her as a recording artist. Taylor is clearly changing the genre of music that she is producing (Something tells me that this song will not be making even a guest appearance at this year’s CMA’s). She’s so successful that she’s earned the right to explore different genres, I can’t fault her there. But I do believe that in changing her sound, “Shake It Off” also hints that she is changing one of the things that makes her so wonderful — her ability to relate.
The message of this song seems to be: “I don’t care what the haters say, I’m not gonna let it get to me, I’m gonna keep doing my thang!” Trite. Generic. Overdone. And honestly, deeply annoying coming from Taylor Swift. In her music video, she invites fans to dance with her at the end, relaying a final message that she is one of “us”. Um. No. She is not. Last time I checked, Taylor’s a multi-platinum recording artist billionaire with a super-model body and perfect hair. I don’t know about the average fan, but none of those things describe me. For each of her “haters” out there, she has millions of adoring fans who worship her. With all she has going for her and all she has accomplished, I don’t feel any sort of sympathy or empathy towards her. You’re literally a billionaire. Your music might not be for everyone, your love life might be the talk of Twitter. But you’re Taylor F*cking Swift. At the end of the day, you’ve got it pretty good. I can’t relate. I don’t think many of her fans can relate. And I don’t think making them relate was a conscious goal of hers with this song. It’s all about Tay (Tay Tay Tay Tay).