First Published December 2012 (Column #1)
WHO IS….TAYLOR SWIFT?
WHO IS…..Taylor Swift? Well, chances are that even if you’re not quite sure what direction to turn in first while attempting to answer that question, the name itself is one which is instantly recognizable to you. As indeed, it is to millions more around the world. Not only is this young American the face of Covergirl cosmetics, but her love-life lends ink to God knows how many column inches in newspapers and magazines all the way from Nashville to Navan, and every city, town and red-dirt road gas station in between!
Both of these facts, however, are merely by the by when compared to the real reason why Swift exists in the same exalted stratosphere as other household names of the present zeitgeist: such as Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Katy Perry. And that reason? Her music. As wonderfully simple as that! The difference between Taylor and those other idols of American pop culture just mentioned, and for that matter, between Taylor and most of her contemporaries, is that a Taylor Swift song truly is just that: a Taylor Swift song.
The 22 year-old daughter of Pennsylvania who, believe it or not, was raised on a Christmas tree farm there before her family uprooted (sorry, couldn’t resist that!) to Nashville when Taylor was 14, is, above all else, a songwriter. And, like all true songwriters, you can pretty much guarantee that when she’s no longer the ‘pretty-face-of-the-day’, or the latest ‘bright-young-thing’, or princess of the pop-country crossover genre, Swift will still be sitting on the edge of her bed, guitar on her lap, letting her heart bleed ink across the pages of her notebooks. You see, a Taylor Swift song is not manufactured by a team of six or seven or more people.
It is her ability to write her own songs (usually with just one or two trusted collaborators) and pour her own essence and spirit into every line that sets Swift apart, and has helped create such a close connection with her millions of fans. In this regard she is fearless (the title of her excellent and all-conquering second album, by the way), and a devoted follower of the songwriting principle that more often than not what is most personal in terms of emotions – the bliss or the pain – will also be universal. In other words, if it happened to her and it makes her feel a particular way, then that may be someone else’s truth also. Details may vary, names, places and such, but the heartbeat of those moments enshrined forever by words and music; the sadness, anger, regret, happiness, the wild and crazy love, are true for all. A common bond between writer and listener. A bridge between hearts.
Most songwriters, to at least some extent, mine their own lives and harvest their own experiences for material at some stage. It comes with the territory, it’s almost part of the job description. And in many ways the art and craft of writing is also a form of cheap therapy at times! It helps to purge the nights and silent moments of ghosts and demons, clearing the highway ahead of any residual wreckage from the highway left behind. Which often makes it a great place to exact a very subtle, but nonetheless public, form of revenge. And Taylor Swift is fast proving that her pen is more than a match for any sword!
Following a string of high profile romances with famous men like musician John Mayer, actor Jake Gyllenhaal, and most recently, Conor Kennedy of the ‘Camelot’ dynasty, her love-life has been the subject of forms of dissection and discussion that few her age, or beyond, could cope so well with. A self-confessed lover of falling in love, she said in a recent interview, “The way I look at love is you have to follow it, and fall hard, if you fall hard.” But anyone who thinks there’s only a soft side to Taylor would prove sorely mistaken. Just ask John Mayer! The song ‘Dear John‘ from her 2010 album ‘SPEAK NOW’ is widely believed to be about him and he’s even spoken of how he was, “really humiliated”, by it!
Swift’s response to such claims is hard to argue with, to be much respected, and surely serves as a warning shot (chord, perhaps?) to all future suitors. “In every one of my relationships I’ve been good and fair. What happens after they take that for granted is not my problem. Chances are if they’re being written about in a way they don’t like, it’s because they hurt me really badly.”
‘RED’, Taylor’s fourth album, has just been released on both sides of the Atlantic and already she claims three places on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart. Lead-off single, the irresistibly hummable ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ holds the top spot, new single ‘Red’ the album’s title track, is sitting pretty at number two, while second single ‘Begin Again’ secures the number-ten position, transforming the Top Ten into Taylorland!
Some critics will tell you that Taylor Swift doesn’t have the best voice in the world, but that’s missing the point. Massively. She’s yet to face 23 candles on a birthday cake, so there’s no doubt that as she grows, so too will her vocal ability and range. And that’s not to say that she isn’t a good singer already, because she is. But you know what critics are like.
The key to ‘getting’ Taylor Swift is simple. As they say around Nashville: it all goes back to the song. And already in her young life she is a songwriter of proven talent, and with a potential that stretches way beyond the horizions of today, tomorrow and even the next few decades. Why so sure, you ask? Simple. Good songs last. And Taylor Swift writes damn good songs.