TAYLOR SWIFT NEEDS YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION
Country and Pop have become so blended together that one can almost forget the novelty of the Byrds fusing the genres together in the 1960s. While we’re a few decades away from “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, one has to wonder about its legacy. In the mid 1960s, producers such as Phil Spector pioneered the Girl Power angle and began to aggressively market the sound.
Skeeter Davis and “The End of the World” would later go on to become an influence on Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton. While only having one other major hit, Davis would later partner with Carole King and keep appearing on television via The Midnight Special. Her legacy would cause the country pop bandwagon to grow far beyond her reach and morph into something weird. Nashville, Bakersfield, Memphis and the other country music hot spots would spend a great amount of time and money trying to replicate that Skeeter Davis breakthrough while creating a new sound. Parton carried the banner very well, as she turned her music success into similar profitable turns on television and film. But, it all felt like one lady borrowing from another until they could create the almost perfect hick superbeast to destroy the airwaves.
Big Machine was an indie label in Nashville that never counted on landing a major talent. When the young Pennsylvania resident Taylor Swift first landed a contract with them in the mid 2000s, nobody expected much out of a pretty blonde girl who created her own material. It wasn’t until 2008’s “Fearless” that Swift broke out into the mainstream. Taking similar cues from Debbie Gibson’s “Out of the Blue”, Swift ushered in a rich album full of teenage girl sentimentality. A world where the letter is dotted with a heart and lip gloss stains abandoned pieces of Kleenex. Big dreams, big hope and big words for a young girl that wants the world to understand her concept of love.
Taylor Swift would go on to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, while “Fearless” would become the most awarded album in Country Music history. But, one has to take a step back from the prestige. One has to take a step back from her recently released “Speak Now” and how it continues in the same voice as “Fearless”. Big Machine is still a rather small record label that is surviving on the strenght of its one shining jewel. Swift recently turned 21, but no one bothers to try and mature her image. Whether dating Taylor Lautner or the Prince of Persia, she continues to remain this warm hearted country girl who keeps crooning love songs about just wanting to marry the right boy.
Going back to the initial theme of Interpolation, we have to wonder if this image and personality is not yet but another aspect of Interpolation. One could say that the Jungian archetype of the good ol’ country girl is bound to appear within each generation, but you have to wonder why Swift seems to have no personality outside of her carefully monitored market image. But, there’s something about Swift that makes her different from the last couple of country teen queens that paved the way from her. Tanya Tucker was never so fierce, as Swift with her teen diary acrimony. Using Heartaches by the Number as a reference point, I dug through the last five decades of country music to chart a pattern that was anywhere near similar to the rise of Swift.
In 2009, Swift spoke with the New York Times’ Lynn Hirschberg about her writing style and that is where a lot of fans began to notice Swift’s style. She was not above mining her personal life for any detail that would crank out the next hit. A few laughs were had at Joe Jonas’s expense and how he dumped her by proxy. She even talks about how much she hated popular people in High School and how they should be kissing her ass now. That’s all revenge fantasy fun, but there’s still a side that we’re skipping over. Listen to her song “Mine”, “Love Story” or even “White Horse”…this little lady has a purpose.
Taylor Swift is looking to settle down and she knows what’s going to happen down to the most minute detail. She’s going to find the right guy, get married and have kids. Not just any guy, as she directly controls each of her videos to pick out who she wants and how everything should be visualized. In production material for the single “Mine”, some producers joked about how tenacious Miss Swift was to obtain this image of her perfect future. Now, I ask you to hold onto that image. This young lady who could get easily be written off as another teen queen is controlling her own image as a country pop superstar and is taking the stage to broadcast a certain image. The image doesn’t speak to the fans, but more about herself. Are we not seeing the first nerd girl revenge scenario in country music?
There’s something delightfully screwed up about that, especially when you take this rise of power in proper context. Right around the same time that Swift was talking to the Times, she was also preparing for the VMAs and what would be her Kanye West moment. While some state that Swift humiliated her, the casual viewer has to wonder why it mattered. Well, you have a sharply dressed man with an established track record appearing out of nowhere to shit on Swift’s seemingly endless streak of success. Take away the golden child image of Swift and go back to what we previously discussed. Swift is the idealized country nerd girl and the popular kid just stole her moment. But, that’s not where this ends.
Big Machine and Swift had developed her image so well, that she didn’t have to lift a finger to make America hate Kanye West. I know old people who don’t know shit about either party, but they can’t stand Kanye West because of this. How does this work other than unspoken racism against a successful black man? Did you see NBC on Thanksgiving? Taylor Swift had her face plastered all over the channel, as she gave back to fans in a concert that served as a commercial for the release of “Speak Now”. Did you see her on “Ellen” or “Saturday Night Live”? She’s so demure and quiet. That terrible Kanye West picking on a girl that just wants to sing and hang out with cute boys. Who could hate her?
Speaking from a film scholarly background, I find my thoughts turning to images of young Damien Thorn penned underneath Gregory Peck in a church. Somebody must take a silver dagger and destroy this image of the perfect Country Queen. What happened to country being a dirty secret hidden from the Top 40 and left to the bar crowd. What happened to strong women talking about life spent under a true male hierarchy that constantly threatened to step on their freedoms? I’m reminded of the great Loretta Lynn and her personal struggles. Hell, she was a child bride that left the closest thing to the Third World in America. She rose up and lived a traditional life until she took to country music on a lark. Maybe, that’s what we’re missing. The idea of the self-created star that has his/her own thoughts. Would Big Machine let Taylor Swift ever sing a song like “Fist City”? I think not.
The Interpolation Series was meant to be ongoing, it didn’t work out.