By Conor Bulkeley-Krane
CatlinSpeak (Portland, Oregon)
In 2004, an exuberant and ambitious 14-year-old Taylor Swift moved to Tennessee to pursue her dream of becoming a country music star. Swift had signed an artistic development deal with RCA Records, and spent the next year learning from country music industry professionals Liz Rose, Troy Verges, Brett Beavers, Brett James, Mac McAnally and The Warren Brothers. Rose said in an interview with ole, a music blog, that instead of her usual writing sessions, which involved her doing a lot of the work while the “star” barely participated, Swift’s sessions were “some of the easiest I’ve ever done. Basically, I was just her editor. She’d write about what happened in school that day. She had such a clear vision of what she was trying to say. And she’d come in with the most incredible hooks.”
RCA Records tried to constrain Swift, and wanted her to follow a strict, traditional music path that would not involve her writing and publishing her own music for a while. At the age of 15, Swift left the record label because she felt that she was ready to write an album. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Swift recalled “I genuinely felt that I was running out of time. I wanted to capture these years of my life on an album while they still represented what I was going through.”
At a performance at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe in 2005, Swift caught the attention of Scott Borchetta, a DreamWorks Records executive who was starting his own independent country music label: Big Machine Recordings.
It was then that Swift began a prolific music career. Swift wrote almost all of the music on eponymous first album, “Taylor Swift,” receiving help almost exclusively from Liz Rose, her old friend. For her next album in 2008, “Fearless,” Swift wrote seven of the songs without any help at all, an astonishing number in the music business, and she co-produced the album. It was at this time, however, that some of Swift’s music began bleeding into the mainstream. Eight years ago in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Swift commented on her growing popularity: “I love turning on pop radio and hearing my song,” admitted Swift, “But,” she posited, staying true to her vision, “I don’t look at it as crossover as much as spillover.”
For her next country album, “Speak Now,” Swift wrote all 14 songs alone and once again co-produced the entire album. It was then, however that the pop leech latched on to Swift’s back and began sucking at her creativity.
For her next album, “Red,” Swift wrote an impressive 9 of 16 songs, but the pop presence began to grow. Pop music writing legend Max Martin (the legendary ghost writer who is behind most pop hits of the last two decades) joined the writing process. At this time, her producer encouraged her to to branch out and to “test herself in other situations.” Caramanica of The New York Times found Red “less detailed and more rushed than her usual fare.”
Swift’s music at this point became less focused on her personal, heartfelt experiences, and more focused on songs that had generic morals that a wider audience could relate to. Also, as can be seen in “I Knew You Were Trouble,” Swift’s characteristic country style was replaced with derivative pop production that was focused on vanilla dance rhythms and receiving radio exposure.
Her artistic integrity understandably deteriorated since she spent less time writing her music and more time seeking endorsements. Swift had exclusive album promotions through Target, Papa John’s Pizza, and Walgreens. She became a spokesmodel for Diet Coke and Keds sneakers, and released her third Elizabeth Arden fragrance titled Taylor by Taylor Swift, and continued her partnerships with Sony Electronics and American Greetings. On the album tour, AirAsia and Qantas acted as the official airlines for the Australian and Asian legs.
Recently any semblance of Swift’s creativity is lost in the vanilla, derivative, contrived, dull piece of calculated “music,” that is her latest album, 1989. Swift wrote a whopping one song alone, and she replaced her old band and co-writer Liz Rose to make room for a team experienced in designing music for mass appeal. It is no surprise that Taylor had so little to do with her album, because she was spending the time leading up to the release of her album advertising her first clothing line in Shanghai, China. Swift made her clothing line with Heritage 66 Company, and Bloomberg reports that it will be sold through one of the largest e-commerce companies in China, JD.com, in a bid to specifically target Chinese shoppers. When she had free time from taking advantage of trans-pacific markets, Swift served as a poster girl for Subway, Keds, Target and Diet Coke.
All sense of Swift’s once respected and inspired sound is now lost in the generic pop of 1989. “Shake it Off” and “Blank Space” in particular demonstrate Swift’s departure from her country roots. Neither songs contain the country guitar chord progressions or the folk-inspired acoustic drums that defined her earlier music. Rather, both of these works are composed of the substance free and basic pop formula that has ruled the radio in recent years.
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