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DO YOU REALLY LOVE TAYLOR SWIFT’S LOVER? HOW COULD YOU?!?

THE THREE TYPE OF TAYLOR SWIFT FANS

1.The first are people who have followed her from the beginning, when inexplicably she became a critical and commercial supernova in the world of country music. She was a teenage wunderkind, the female Garth Brooks. Thirtysomething or older, nearly always white and often Southern, the local country music station was probably on their radio dial before she showed up, but remain fixed there as she became a mega-star. These folks are the kind who like to say(and now lament) they knew her when. It’s a crowd who believed her success benefited country music as a whole, even if could also insist she wasn’t  really “country.”

2.People who began obsessing over Taylor Swift after she turned from country music to pop. Mostly female, but more multiracial, cosmopolitan and non-Southern. They loved her “confessional” lyrics and connecting the dots, so to speak, to her personal life, endlessly reported upon by the gossip and celebrity websites. Some grew up as a fan. Many see her as representative of them, as a female hero/ine.

3.The under twenty somethings who have only known her as a pop star. This is the Tik Tok/Spotify crowd. If they care about her at all.

THE GROUP MOST ANNOYED BY TAYLOR SWIFT

The first group, without question. Particularly the male fan, perhaps seduced by her beauty and aw-shucks nice-girl-next-door attitude(or schtick, take your pick), who overlooked his reservations about her “authenticity.” If country music male fans lean more toward the “traditional” camp, she had always been a problematic figure. From Delaware?!? She ain’t like another teen sensation(Lee Ann Rimes) or a legendary one(Tanya Tucker). And there ain’t a shred of honky tonk in her voice. Where’s any evidence she ever heard of Patsy Cline, much less listen to her? Or Loretta Lynn? Or Emmylou Harris? Just maybe Dolly Parton. Just maybe.

But she was polite, said all the right things and deflected any criticism. You could never dismiss her very public role as a singer/songwriter, which added to her cred. And anyone who could write country gems like these might be able to melt the heart of even craggy purists:

and

Like myself.

But now this lot considers Ms. Swift as nothing more than a carpetbagger opportunist, disloyal to her original fan base, the people who made her a star, disloyal to country music. An absolute traitor. Eager to ignore her, or dismiss her upon mere mention. “She left country music–alright, country pop–to compete with the likes of Lorde? Katy Perry?!? Lord, I wish that girl had stayed up north in Delaware!”

Sure, there are other groups who dislike her. Her celebrity, her attitude, friends, feuds, music. But they don’t feel betrayed by her. Frankly they don’t have a right to be.

FACTS

Her seventh album. Released on August 23, 2019. Has sold the equivalent of three million records around the world, streams approaching one hundred million. The typical pop album with a lineup of producers, most notably Jack Antonoff and Sounwave. Critically acclaimed.

OPINION

Even after two months of listening to Lover I still have no feelings toward it, other than a loathing of the video for the title track(but that is for another column). As with Lana Del Rey’s current release, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, it’s just another contemporary pop record which leaves me confused, prompting neither allegiance nor repulsion. “It’s pleasant,” will always be damming praise.

Maybe you don’t need to have an opinion on everything. But that defeats the purpose of a blog, doesn’t it?

Well, in honor of her seventh studio release…

SEVEN CONSIDERATIONS OF LOVER

1.I grew up on 1980s synth-pop music–and loved it, but Lover is like a heroin overdose to these ears weaned on everyone from Ultravox to Heaven 17. Too often this music is overproduced and overwrought, making all that music I heard before Swift’s birth date of 1989 sound amazingly tasteful. “Cruel Summer” especially sounds like bad Daft Punk.

2.Did she even go to high school? What is this obsession with high school? Not only is it a trope lyrically but I haven’t heard the use of so many “cheerleader”-esque back up vocals since the one-hit perfection of Toni Basil’s novelty new wave smash, “Mickey”:

Or Gwen Stefani during her solo heyday:

Again, isn’t she thirty years old? Why is a thirty-year old woman still obsessed with high school, or trying to be the current voice for high school girls? “Miss Americana” is the most irritating example of this annoyance.

3.Her songwriting has just gotten worse and worse as she continues down this pop rabbit hole. I am still at a loss on how immature she sounds–people complain about “toxic masculinity,” but what about female “arrested development?” On “The Man” she gripes that if she were indeed a man she would be taken more seriously and not scrutinized with the same intensity. Maybe so, maybe not. But if she were who would be applauding her deteriorating skills as a wordsmith. I guess there’s nothing wrong with “confessional” lyrics–Joni Mitchell made art of them, Sylvia Plath epic, unforgettable poetry. But too often Swift’s lyrics are at a schoolgirl’s journal level, as myopic and juvenile. Girls and women might swoon at this dross, but some of us consider it as no more than female navel-gazing. For example, “London Boy” merits its collective critical scorn.

4.Ditto for her “celebrated” new “political” stances. As I previously state about Lana Del Rey, she’s no Phil Ochs or Bob Dylan. And her Leftist cheerleaders in the media should be embarrassed for espousing such a view. Yes, some have complained of the peculiar self-involved nature of her declarations, of tying her celebrity status into a victimization that is equivalent or can be aligned with “regular” people and their sufferings. It’s all Twitter-lite, social justice warrior musings to merit likes on her social media outlets. “The Man” is facile and unconvincing, although it far exceeds the merits of her much discussed LGBT. anthem, “You Need to Calm Down” which is god awful

5.The less said about “I Forgot That You Existed,” “The Archer,” “Paper Rings,” “Me!” and “Afterglow” the better.

6.Please, God, no more of this white girl staccato rap/singing! No more white “urban” pop in general! Talk about “cultural appropriation…” For every time she(and her producers) get it deliriously right in the past:

and I think on Lover‘s “False God”:

the other efforts are embarrassingly bad. “I Think He knows” is atrocious. It’s a nightmare. Why not wear blackface next time? A minstrel would be more honorable singing this dross.

7.”And now for something completely different…”: There are tracks I would wish to hear again…and again.! Tracks where some of the continued hype about her appear justified. “Cornelia Street” hooks me despite my reservations about its generic qualities. It’s a moving minor key ballad whose melodramatic melancholy is somehow transcended by slivers of real vulnerability. She really inhabits the crooks of its melody and the sob of its arrangement.

I’m taken aback by the vintage 1950’s ballad feel of the title song. It’s an early triumph in the track listings, especially when you consider the many unremarkable tunes which follows it.

The brevity of “It’s Nice to Have A Friend” is a bummer, but probably par for the course on Lover. There is an admittance of real loneliness offered here which registers as sincere, and a truer peak into her world than all the hyper journalistic entries in her catalogue. And the production by Swift, Louis Bell and Frank Dukes wisely accents her sentiments against what sounds like a baroque chamber pop minuet mashing up with highly insular calypso. Staccato keyboards and a ghostly steel drums pulse play out as wonderful illuminations of the narrator’s inner state.

But by far the loveliest moment on Lover–and one of the finest songs of Swift’s career–is the emotional powderkeg, “Soon You’ll Get Better.” It’s the best song here by a country mile–pun intended. For so long I was caught up in the Taylor Swift returns to country pop! narrative that I completely missed the autobiographical nature of the lyrics, nor did I pay attention to the emotional bruising of her voice. I had to read that the track is about her mother’s recurring battle with cancer before it sunk into my dense head. How many times did I completely ignore  a verse like

And I hate to make this all about me
But who am I supposed to talk to?
What am I supposed to do
If there’s no you?
Delicately backed by the Dixie Chicks(where have they been? But that’s another story) vocally as well as musically throughout, this is a far greater “political” statement than anything else she’s attempted on Lover. Humanizing Swift is a difficult task in 2019, yet “Soon” reminds us of our universal affinities. It certainly makes me feel terrible for panning a record that millions of people love, even if that is the only honest response I can have.
The Hermit of Mink Hollow

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