1989: Tay Tay Finds Her Stride

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History’s most revered artists are not the ones who come busting down the gates with their style already clearly defined, but rather those who developed their voice in distinct eras. It would seem history favors the slow burn as opposed to the iconoclast. Miles Davis was famous for the radical reinventions of himself he would perform every few years, from his bebop beginnings in Charlie Parker’s quintet to the genre-defining hard bop of his Blue period and his groundbreaking electric fusion records. Picasso as well famously began crafting his distinct artistic style during his somber Blue and subsequent, jollier Rose periods before beginning to flirt with African influences and finally developing his signature cubism, creating his most enduring works like the haunting Guernica. Even in heavy metal’s own microcosm of the musical universe, bands like Gorguts, Voivod, Isis, Katatonia, Meshuggah and each of the Peaceville Three took until at least their second album to find their respective voices. Though each inhabits a disparate strain of the same broad musical phylum, they are all also in turn defined by one singular characteristic beyond their defiance of metal’s ringing cliché of “the early stuff was better”: each is regarded as an innovator of their particular style. The aforementioned are collectively held in high esteem for their convention-obliterating art across genres, media and disciplines. Allow me to be the first to induct a new name into these hallowed halls: Taylor Swift.

With the release of her fifth album, 1989, Swift is the latest in a long line of creative artists leading careers dictated only by their own supreme artistic drive. Rather than follow trends, Swift, like others before her, creates them. Since the release of her self-titled debut nearly a decade ago, Swift has undergone a personal and musical revolution the likes of which the pop world has hardly seen since David Bowie last changed genders. She’s not the first to attempt to do so and surely won’t be the last, but she is made an outlier purely by nature of her success. Soon after the release of her own self-titled album in 2001, Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson pulled a complete career 180, abandoning her contemporary Christian sound, rebranding herself as Katy Perry and assaulting the radio with a slew of trashy pop hits. While Perry has indubitably enjoyed great financial success, her transformation was an overnight affair from “girl next door” to “girl with over a dozen Facebook pages dedicated to her breasts.

Swift’s evolution has been far more natural a metamorphosis. Her musical style from Taylor Swift to Speak Now could most accurately be described as pop with faux-country trappings. Much light has been made of her early, formulaic approach to songwriting: simple, four-chord pop songs dressed up in just enough banjo and pedal steel to be called ostensibly country. Swift could easily have remained complacent and scored hit after hit with middle school girls, but chose instead a far more ambitious career move. Stagnation is the sworn enemy of real art, and if 1989 accomplishes nothing else, it proves Swift is anything but static.

 


 

Perhaps it may seem inaccurate to imply Taylor Swift exemplifies “real art.” To hear the renowned philosopher Theodor Adorno tell it, pop music of any stripe is a simple, repetitive tool used to pacify the masses. According to Adorno, pop music synthesizes entertainment values and mass art. Rather than work as a tool of the composer to express the ineffable, pop music is art commodified for the masses, standardized for generality and accessibility. Because the music industry is just that, an industry, it exists solely to sell art rather than to promote its creation. Its approach is by necessity formulaic: recognizable musical and lyrical motives allow songs to be digested en masse without excessive listener discrimination, a concept standing in direct opposition to Adorno’s fundamentalist Marxist individualist outlook. Devoid of personability, pop music is purely a product, and one that represents to a tee the problems of capitalism. Commercialist forces drive each song to sound like a “better” version of any other, stripping away any hopes of genuine personal communication. Musical standardization reflects the oppressively alienating power of capitalism itself. The fleeting pleasures mass art proffers are distractions from said alienation, and as such drive consumers to demand ever more music to self-medicate and keep them unaware of their true condition.

tswiftchartAdorno’s analysis becomes even more critical when he considers the implications of mass art’s rise to prominence. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, communities each had highly individualized artistic traditions. Industrialization and the subsequent population centralization in urban areas both contributed to the replacement of folk art with mass art—for a tangentially related example perhaps more relevant to this particular site’s readers, consider Cosmo Lee’s brief blog post “Has the Internet killed regional sounds?”, in which he argues ease of access to just about all of recorded music has contributed to increased homogeneity among bands across a multitude of styles.

And yet, according to Adorno, no complaint can be made if a culture cannot bring itself to contribute something of greater value to itself. If a more satisfying alternative is unavailable, nothing is particularly wrong with pop music. For Adorno, objectively better music does indeed exist. To his generous credit, Adorno avoids simply contrasting popular and classical music. In fact, Adorno is unafraid to knock classical music (or rather its audience) down a peg. Classical music, in his eyes, exists only to pass the time for disinterested, indiscriminate listeners who applaud its familiarity without comprehension.

For Adorno, only music that offers “truth” is of any lasting value. Arnold Schoenberg and other radical composers offer more “truth” than any other music of the era, challenging and engaging listeners with alien sounds in direct opposition to the standardized harmonic and melodic framework of pop music. “Truth” here is defined in a most interesting manner: the recitation of conventionally true things represents not truth, nor does that of transgressive or socially opposing concepts (within the capitalist market, the anti-establishmentarian views of punk and hip-hop are nothing more than another marketing scheme to appeal to and draw in unsuspecting listeners). Artistic truth is relative to the setting of its inception, yet somewhat contradictorily, integrity is granted only to art created autonomously of its socio-economic context.

This serves to impose a number of limitations on art. A general desire for aesthetic beauty places a premium on that quality, thus turning it into a capitalist end goal; the quest for beauty curtails autonomy, thus objectively good music can no longer be aesthetically pleasing. Music—or art of any kind—that can be easily understood at a superficial level neither discloses or opposes the socio-economic framework of the culture at large and is therefore unworthy.

There are a number of problems with Adorno’s argument. The easiest to address is that of the nature of beauty and its role in capitalist artistic creation. Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, among many, many others in the jazz world, produced both commercially-oriented, easily-listenable records as well as some the most challenging in the genre. Adorno claims any music that achieves popularity is inherently lacking in artistic truth, for any message accessible to so many people must by nature have been watered down to achieve profit. Coleman, Coltrane and the aforementioned Miles Davis stand in stark opposition to such an assertion.

Far greater is Adorno’s oversight regarding class struggles. Again, he admirably makes the important distinction (or perhaps in-distinction) that classical music is not exempt from criticism solely by virtue of tradition. Still, as a Marxist, it seems incongruous of Adorno to sing the praises of rather highfalutin members of the art world and folk art while condemning new music that attempts to convey similar truths. In other words, Adorno makes the inherently classist move of adulating high art while disregarding the lowbrow. In his attempts to discern between truthful art and the watered-down music of the masses, Adorno fundamentally betrays his Marxist philosophy.

An ideology based entirely on class unity, Marxism seems as if it should be diametrically opposed to Adorno’s imposing barriers of entry to the world of true art. Marx’s original stated goal was to dismantle the bourgeois, and yet Adorno’s philosophy (at least in regards to music) works against said purpose, lengthening the divide between the high and lowbrow. Put plainly, the barriers between high and low culture are inherently classist in a manner that a true Marxist would deem wholly counterintuitive to the cause, and yet Adorno seems to seek to extend such barriers.

Still, perhaps such walls should exist. A distinction between Taylor Swift’s new album and the triumphs of man seems necessary at a cursory glance, and yet in an age where such disparate elements are easily accessible by anyone with a computer, perhaps this is not the case after all. Little evidence is necessary for such a claim: when anyone regardless of socio-economic status can reasonably access and create art, culture is essentially classless. Globalization and digitalization have removed the prohibitive barriers to entry that once forbade the lower castes from enjoying the same art as the upper crust of society. Culture now moves fluidly among the classes independent of socio-economic context: Adorno’s wishes fully realized.

 


Ostensibly, of course, this meandering wall of text is a review of Taylor Swift’s 1989. As alluded to earlier, 1989 finds Swift defining her style for herself. While her earlier albums fell neatly into the vague, country-fried annals of pop music populated with Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler and other goddess of American Idolatry, 1989 breaks new ground. Where its predecessor, 2012’s Red, flirted with cross-genre pollination—the arena rocking opener “State of Grace” and the dubsteppy “I Knew You Were Trouble” sticking out in particular—1989 embraces new sounds with aplomb. Gone are the plinking banjos, limp pedal steel and muted guitars that once formed the backbone of Swift’s sound to signify “I swear, this is country music!”; in their stead are gutsy synths, pulsing basslines and driving electro drums. Even the ill-planned rap section of lead single “Shake It Off” has its place: Swift dispels the album’s aura of high drama with her charming, just-cringeworthy-enough persona and simultaneously gives a nod to her former incarnation as acoustic guitar-toting country diva.

 

This isn’t to say the album is without flaw. Trite lyricism and twee hooks are two areas in which Swift needs no assistance, but OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder dishes it out in spades anyway on the unfortunate album opener “Welcome to New York”; the choice of Noel Zancanella as producer does nothing to help its overwhelmingly dull atmosphere. Elsewhere, the album can drag on a bit, though thankfully not quite to the extent of the hour-plus onslaught of Red. There are moments, surely, of transcendence where Swift proves she can write a solid, fun song that still carries emotional weight without falling into her perpetual ex-boyfriend trap. Still, Swifts trips over her own feet on “Style”, an ode to her time spent with—oh, how clever—One Direction’s Harry Styles.

In all, the lack of a “country” feel is 1989’s strong suit. Swift sounds positively revitalized after trading in the folksy tropes for retro synths. Her songwriting has improved and thankfully moved at least somewhat past the stale references to lost love that have up to now so dominated her discography. The choice of Max Martin as her primary collaborator was a wise one, but as a whole the album is frontloaded with weaker songs interspersed with the singles, and many listeners are sure to never make it to the far superior second half of the album. Still, 1989 represents Swift finally finding herself: after four albums, none of which spoke to the real her, Swift’s new identity—musical and personal—is exactly what the fans have been waiting for.

NO FLUSH

1989 is out now. Buy it from Taylor’s official store here.

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  • I will fight all of you.

    • JWG

      I sincerely look forward to this post.

    • Scrimm

      I’m on your side. Got some slick submissions in case they’re needed.

    • I now know the 5 people who are not getting Christmas cards for the Lynch family this year.

      GL

    • PrincePoopyPanties

      What will be the title of her breakup song with you after 2 weeks?

      “Joe Thrashed And Killed My Heart”?

  • Death

    Oh…

    • we all know you are katy perry’s biggest fan. No use denying it bro.

      • Death

        Y u rustle me jimmies?

        • because is fun?

          • Death

            But it hurts me. You are tearing me apart!

          • Are you trying to say you are also an Nsync fan?

          • this is an awful music video.

          • This song brought to you buy a rich white suburban christian family with way too much time and money on their hands.

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            I’d bang the dog shit out of her and make her parents watch. True story bro. Her vocals suck…………..my cock.

          • I’d carve a pentagram into her back while I’m doing it.
            Total Satan.

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            Yup, then your salty cum would sting her fresh pentawounds.

          • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu
          • I regret posting this video. WTF are you guys talking about?

            GL

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            Deflowering a ripe English girl…………………and Satan.

          • Death

            You’d bang that?

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            Sure, fuck it.

          • more beer

            I hope the only lube you would use would be you spitting in her asshole!!

          • Death

            Actually I was refering to The Room.

          • Oh hi Death!

          • Death

            Hi?
            My head is not working

          • I did nat hit her, I did naaat!

          • I miss you…

          • Scrimm

            That’s why its fun.

      • around here, i’ll fight W for that title.

  • The toilet’s crown fucking jewel.

    • Edward

      This is yet another reason why the Toilet Ov Hell is one of the best god damned websites on the internet.

    • Stockhausen

      A jewel that copulates with crowns?

  • “Rather than follow trends, Swift, like others before her, creates them.” -TolietOVHell

    I cannot sit back and believe that Taylor Swift has this supreme divine gift/ability to define her own career. Furthermore, what part of that album doesn’t fit into the modern hipster-poser-ass-independent mold that we all (mostly) despise? To sell 1.whateverthehell million copies in week is not something that one who “creates trends” has the ability to do.

    Flush.

    GL

  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    main mafia puppet of agenda 21 msm—applied “neuroticism” as being “social norm”–population control poster child–for non reproductive sex

    • Could you please suggest a molotov cocktail video combination to cleanse the almighty turlet today?

      GL

  • lmao @ the tags

    • Stockhausen

      There are always gems to find in Christian’s article tags.

  • Guest

    I feel like this is relevant again:

    • Sponge Of Mystery

      YES

    • PrincePoopyPanties

      Bif from Saxon had a lovechild with Gerard Duepardu, that’s doing 2000 Flushes ads? The Tidy Bowl Man would be proud!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxON5-ClGRE

      • Spear

        Lol, I’m not sure how I feel about that

  • Elite Extremophile

    TEAM KATY FOREVER

  • Katy is better, but Taylor Momsen>>>>>>>>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkOfFeBErqA

  • Death

    In other news, Design the Skyline reunites.

    • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

      So they were gone…

      • Death

        They were. Here’s what people had to say about this.

        “proof there is no god”
        “Why are you so cruel Mr. World?”
        “Infinite table flips on this one, fuuuuuu”

        • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

          In other news, where have you been. My life has been empty for two whole days.

          • Death

            I’ve been pretty busy

    • What’s that?

      • Death

        Ignorance is bliss.

  • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

    Wait. Was this a Tay Tay review or Adorno article? I is confuzzled.

    • The answer is yes.

      • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

        I should have known. It was obvious.

  • Guacamole Jim

    #katycat

  • I’m team Breeyoncé

    • BREEE are never ever getting back together!

      /I stole this joke from W.

  • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

    Love this album. Love Tay Tay. Absolutely no flush and a nicely written review.

    In unrelated, but musical news. Soulburn has a new track out

    https://soundcloud.com/centurymedia/soulburn-in-suffocating-darkness

  • JamesGrimm

    sooooo….. cheap 80’s synth pop is in again?

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

    Fuck everything.

    • Shake it off.

      • omg stop it

        GL

        • Man we need some Gojira up in this bitch!

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            I could not disAGREE more.

          • You don’t even like Gojira? I really shouldn’t be surprised.

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            No, you shouldn’t. I’ve checked them out before. Fucking bored me to tears.

          • JamesGrimm

            trve.

          • Scrimm

            I Don’t get the Gojira love. At all.

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            Boggles my fucking mind.

          • Death

            I once tried to dig it but couldn’t.

          • Scrimm

            Yeah I have band members that really liked them as well but it always sounded like crap to me.

          • It took me two years and seeing them once in concert to totally fall in love. One must listen to that tracks at full volume to get the full sonic effect. I will not listen to them unless I have my quality head phones on. Not sure if that will help in your case!

            GL

          • Death

            Full volume? No thanks, I like my hearing.

          • Ok, 75%. You know what I mean…

            GL

          • Cock ov Steele

            I’ve tried but too disjointed for my tastes. I shall try again in time.

          • Pagliacci is Kvlt

            Chug, chug, chug, chug, pick scrape, chug, chug, chug, chug, pick scrape….

          • Scrimm

            That sums it up well.

          • Lacertilian

            man those pick scrapes make it.

          • I definitely didn’t like them at first. but they grow on you and they grow like a giant forest filled with aural pleasures that are just waiting for the wind to blow through their finely tuned leaves and draw you ever so closer to that coveted eargasm.

          • No we don’t.

          • omg stop it

            GL

          • Death
          • PrincePoopyPanties

            Sadly, it’s official: Brutal Truth is no mas.

          • HELL YEA! I ALREADY PRE ORDERED MY COPY BECAUSE SYLOSIS!

          • Further Down the Metal Hole

            Thanks for the reminder!

          • I shall join @george_lynch:disqus on this crusade to upvote your comment!

        • Cock ov Steele

          OMG I can’t even

      • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

        Nope. Long-winded as fuck.

  • I think it’s pretty lame that the record company is keeping it off Spotify so she can sell a couple million. Not me: I won’t listen to modern pop if I can’t stream it.

    The autotune towards the end of Shake It Off is fucking obnoxious and unnecessary. This girl can sing…she doesn’t need stupid played out autotune effects.

    • Autotune is the fastest way to make me stop listening to a song.

      • Stockhausen

        Truly, truly, I say unto you: me too.

    • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

      Just shove a cock in her mouth.

      • replace cock with knife and i’m with you.

        • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

          Knife, cock, tit, bazooka……whatever.

          • YourLogicIsFlushed

            This is the best list of anything ever.

    • MoshOff

      You know who can also actually sing? T-Pain. I was genuinely surprised.

      • Never heard T-Pain 4-Real.

        • MoshOff

          He relies on AT more heavily than Axl on reverse text correction.

          • W.

            It’s basically his thing though at this point. He uses it as an effect rather than a fixer.

          • Bob Saget

            I don’t think you’ve seen the latest NPR Tiny Desk Concert. T-Pain kills it!

          • W.

            I have not. I wasn’t knocking him, by the way. Just the autotune has sort of been his shtick so far.

          • Bob Saget

            It’s actually pretty funny – he even states that it’s weird for him to not be using autotune at the beginning of the performance and makes a couple jokes about it.

    • I’m with you. If I’m her label though… She’s in a rare spot where she can actually ship massive units.

      • True. They coulda at least put like two or three of the best songs on there as a teaser though.

    • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

      I have come across one or two occasions when autotune works as an effect, not as a way to fix your voice. All of these lasted only for a second or two though. It’s kinda bad in this.

    • W.

      Yah, I’m not gonna buy a T Swift album, but I’ll listen to Shake it Off on Spotify.

  • Pagliacci is Kvlt

    Taytay’s OK, but she’s no Deafheaven.

    • that band sux.

    • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

      Turn it to eleven and soon you shall be both Deaf and in heaven.

  • Stockhausen

    There may come a day when my heart of hatred softens for sounds such as these. But it is not this day.

    • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

      That must be when the void calls for you.

      • Stockhausen

        Does that mean there’s girl pop in the void? Or the void calls to me as the alternative to girl pop?

        • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

          There is only nothingness.

          • So then yes, there is girl pop.

          • Stockhausen

            I still have much to learn, or unlearn.

          • Cockypock Aioli

            The void lacks nothingness.

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            Paradox.

          • Cockypock Aioli

            Such is our cosmic predicament. As Camus said, the only real philosophical question is suicide.

          • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

            You fucking get it.

    • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

      This day we fight!

      (Actually you are on your own, I like this.)

  • Cockypock Aioli

    Awesome article. I wish I wasn’t at work so I could pull out my Marxist big guns that exist deep in the confines of my cobwebb-laiden brain and write a lot more. I will say though I’m not sure I agree with two points: 1) I think an argument can be made that your listed jazz artists did in fact reflect a larger popularity, or at least burgeoning cultural trend, and 2) even with increased accessibility to art there nonetheless still exists strong class associations and socio-economic context is in some ways more relevant than ever. I gotta put some more thought into all this though. Truly an achievement of an article.

    • Cockypock Aioli

      To clarify: jazz artist reflected a larger popularity that compromised any underlying “truth” of what they were achieving. Their music was not transgressive and accessible at once, but rather the outgrowth of the capitalist market forces at the time.

      • Sorry if I misread you (not english user), just to clarify to myself your last point: you argument that is the market itself that do the appropiation of the music?

        • Cockypock Aioli

          Well, this is a point I’ve spent a lot of time thinkin about and going back and forth on, and really I think there is a symbiotic relationship between the market and cultural forces, but in general, yes I think the market plays probably a more significant role in shaping and determining and ultimately appropriating artistic and cultural expression. I want to use soft language here though because this is a complex issue that I still have an evolving position on. At the very least, the market is always ready to respond and appropriate cultural developments. But, for example, here in Los Angeles was the reappropriation of “graffiti” into an acceptable art form the result of cultural evolution, markets realizing there is a commodity there to make profit, or both? I think the short answer is it is the trend of postmodern life to commodify everything and this happens both in markets and in cultural spaces. If any of this even makes sense :/ hehe

  • it’s ok if I tap with my shoe at the rhythm of that obnoxious tune you posted? why i’m feeling this, bros and sis? 🙁

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain
  • I would pound that so hard bro. I would top that right off. All day long bro.

  • I sure hope she re-posts this review on her Facebook.

  • Guacamole Jim

    This is an amazing article, Mr. Molenaar. Very well written; a great discourse on the current phenomenon of art without class distinction (at least in the western world). I’m curious, though, as to your second critique of Adorno: why does his view on high-brow and low-brow art have to necessarily perpetuate (or accentuate) class division? Wouldn’t he see the very existence of low-brow music as a means to pacify the masses; to maintain class division, and therefore would see it eliminated to make high-brow art the art for all people?

  • lucky harm

    I think she’s a murderer, like she’s truly trying to kill people with kindness

  • Xan

    *Megaflush*

  • There’s no Tay Tay like Tay Zonday http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwTZ2xpQwpA

  • Sponge Of Mystery

    i love all kinds of music and all, even pop (love Ke$ha, Owl City, Breathe Carolina, Lorde) but i fucking hate Taylor Swift so much (no i don’t have a good reason so don’t ask for one) 1 BILLION FLUSHES

  • Further Down the Metal Hole

    I’m actually happy about this. One post I don’t need to bookmark for later, cause there’s shite to listen to in here.

    You’re all just obsessed with their boobs.

  • PrincePoopyPanties

    I certainly wouldn’t’ mind eating a Nacho Bell Grande out of Tay Tay’s puckered poo hole, then taking a nap face down in there, just thought I’d put that out there. Or if I’m feeling romantic, I’d give her an Alabama Hot Pocket afterwards.

  • TrickleDownTacoRiff

    Goddamn there’s some smart mutha fuckers writing for this blog….sheeeeeeeet.

  • kIsS tHe PaNdA

    taylor does not create trends lol. The album is just her following earlier trends.