What should you be listening to? Taylor Swift, obviously. In this installment, put your ears to two sources: her recent Tiny Desk Concert (available on YouTube) and as well as her album Lover.
Why Taylor Swift? Because she’s a great song writer who can rock out on the guitar whenever she wants. And since I’m feeling especially dangerous, I’m going to drop this smoking-hot take–she’s just as good of a song writer, if not better, than John Lennon. When it comes to the gloss of contemporary pop music, people with real artistic talent are lumped in side-by-side with acts who can neither write nor play their own songs. When you check out the Tiny Desk Concert, the last song she plays (solo, on piano) is “All Too Well,” which is a great story that reads like an American poem, all built around the single image of a red scarf. The added bonus of the Tiny Desk video: Swift talks about her writing process–she writes some songs on guitar, some on piano, and she seems genuinely surprised by which songs her fans choose to adore.
On Lover there are a lot of jams. “The Man” is a playful and smart read on gender-based hypocrisy, and the lyric “if I was a man then I’d be the man” is pop-ready philosophy that I can hear Paul McCartney singing–a man who has countless classics that could easily be seen as empty, and given “The Man,” maybe they would be if written by Swift.
What else is the jam? “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” The album version is great, but like “The Man” and “Lover,” hearing the acoustic version on Tiny Desk show Swift’s versatility. There’s not a synthesized song on Lover that Swift wouldn’t easily turn out on the acoustic guitar or piano, and that’s why she’s such a great song writer. She owns the songs and knows the emotional range of each.
Even though Taylor Swift is a global superstar, I imagine there are many who don’t give any of the songs a listen because she’s “popular” or “for girls.” Nope. Here’s a taste of some lyrics from “The Man”:
[If I were a man]They’d say I hustled
Put in the work
They wouldn’t shake their heads
And question how much of this I deserve
What I was wearing, if I was rude
Could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves
As the kids these days say, those are straight facts.
Taylor gets 5 out of 5 chicken wings.
By Dr. Chuck Rybak
Chuck Rybak is the Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he teaches literature and creative writing. He is the cohost of the Canonball podcast.