There is a difference between enjoying art and enjoying consumption. One is a desire to better oneself through exposure to new, different, and possibly challenging things to see how you turn out on the other side. The other is a desire to satisfy cravings. Put more correctly, it is an inability to resist giving into compulsions. When the compulsion is food, it can lead to obesity. When the compulsion is shopping, it can lead to credit card debt and poverty. And when it is media, it leads to a form of mental impoverishment; a lack of personal growth.
Having cravings and urges is natural, and there is certainly nothing wrong with satisfying them from time to time, but the pattern of giving in can become pathological, and it starts to impact all facets of one’s life, rather than merely the trivialities of what TV shows you like to watch or what books you like to read. Presumably this is the underpinnings of terms like “basic bitch” or “hipster”: that wanton consumption of products or even ideas has a negative impact on the mind and the personality. Immediately resorting to one’s comfort zone when presented with options is the easy path that many people choose, but it is not the path to being better, stronger, and smarter.
Of course, perfection is unattainable. However, the desire to seek perfection is available to anyone who wants more out of life. There is nothing wrong with saying “I’m enthusiastic about poetry and photography, but I don’t go out of my way for music.” However, if you are such a person, I suggest that you recognize it in yourself, and avoid writing articles titled “The Adult Man’s Guide To Defending Liking Taylor Swift“.
The author of this article is a “music aficionado” who explains in six parts why we should like Taylor Swift’s music. I am not going to make personal attacks against this man, because he is probably a cool guy. However, I am going to attack his arguments, because I believe he has made several of the classic missteps that get made when someone is making a claim that they know is not true. Let us begin:
Step 1: Point out she’s smoking hot.
It is not often that I get the opportunity to tell someone to check their privilege in this exciting new era of white male bashing, but allow me to be the first to say that this argument is sexist. No matter what you think about Taylor Swift, it is wrong to judge the quality of her music by her physical appearance, as it would be wrong to judge anyone’s actions by their appearance. Interestingly, this argument is at the forefront of those used by fans of j-pop and k-pop, and despite the author saying that being attracted to the artist gets you “halfway there,” I somehow doubt he’d take to the wacky world of Asian pop that easily.
Step 2: Explain how she is an exceptionally smart business woman.
This is a true statement. If we wanted to be pessimistic, her agents and her financial advisers are very smart businessmen and women. However, this has absolutely nothing to do with her music, but probably a lot to do with how overindulgent consumers have come to enjoy it.
Step 3: Hum or sing a line from her songs and watch the magic happen.
A song being infectious does not make it good. Any song can get stuck in someone’s head, from Takyon to Mary Had a Little Lamb, and that contrast alone should indicate that a song’s merits are independent from the neural idiosyncrasies behind whether or not the song gets stuck in your head. The author takes offense to people who classify Taylor’s music as “disgusting,” and these people certainly exist (you’ll notice he does the same thing to other artists in Step 4). However, I think a more accurate description of her music would be that it is uninspired and predictable — appealing more to those who enjoy consumption than those who enjoy art.
Step 4: Explain being a singer/songwriter doesn’t exist anymore in music (barely).
There is absolutely no excuse in the age of ubiquitous, free internet streaming of every type of music on earth to not be aware of the fact that genres of music exist outside the realm of “ratchet, gutterbutt pop”. It’s nice that Taylor plays an active role throughout the production process of her tracks, but at the end of the day, she’s not doing anything in that arena that thousands of other artists aren’t doing (often to greater effect), and the only real difference here is that she is a pop icon and they are not. I was just listening to once such singer/songwriter who allegedly “doesn’t exist anymore” named Ed Tullett moments before starting this article, and I highly recommend listening to his music. If the idea of honest-to-goodness singer/songwriters is this foreign to you, you might be pleasantly surprised at what they’ve been doing these days.
Also, I noticed he described some pop music today as “sound waves of unintelligible fecal matter”. I’d be interested to know what artists he is talking about, because it seems rather like he is posturing to make listening to Taylor Swift seem like an intellectually superior activity. At the end of the day, they’re all mass market pop artists, and if they constitute a large portion of one’s music listening habits, convincing anyone of one’s intellectual superiority is going to be a tough sell.
Step 5: Blast her latest song in a social setting.
I like how he describes a receptive audience to Taylor Swift’s music as ditzy girls, and guys feeling peer pressure to pursue them. Obviously he’s not suggesting this is Taylor Swift’s entire fanbase, but it does demonstrate how Taylor’s music (or any pop artist’s music) often has more value as a social signal than a work of art.
Step 6: Complete and total disregard for their thoughts.
This is the inevitable conclusion to debates in which someone’s identity is being called into question. I call it the “ignorance is bliss” argument. If you peruse the writing of other apologists of overindulgent consumption, such as the fat acceptance movement, you will find evidence of the pathological behavior described at the beginning of the post. What began at a young age as a fulfillment of the craving for food has turned into a propensity for vacuous arguments, bad research, emotionally-charged discourse, and one wonders what else.
The key to recognize is that all of these behaviors are the “easy” things to do. They are the things that an already lazy person can receive instant gratification from, but have little lasting benefit. I argue that poor choices in the consumption of art (or let’s ambitiously call it “intellectual pursuits”) can have consequences that are more damaging than poor choices in the consumption of food because they directly affect the mind, and the mind is ultimately everything. Some people take care that their indulgences are rare, and harmless. Others sit back and let the seed of frivolity grow and become their entire being. Which would you rather be, and why?
With that out of the way, let’s talk about Tay Tay’s new album, shall we?
- Welcome to New York – Uninteresting. From what I understand, Taylor stated that this album is a departure from her country roots (which were already pop as far as I’m concerned), and this track is presumably her saying “hold onto your butts, this is what the album is going to be like.” It’s tolerable assuming the album trends upward from here.
- Blank Space – Reminds me strongly of Leona Lewis’s Bleeding Love. Also tempted to say I hear a bit of Lorde in the minimalist sensibility of the track. Still, a more creative effort than track 1.
- Style – Felt the song had a lot of potential as it started. Really nifty 80’s vibe. Embarrassingly generic chorus killed it.
- Out of the Woods – Definitely different than the rest of the album so far. Almost feels out of place, and in fact it feels dated already. Not necessarily bad, just strange.
- All You Had to Do Was Stay – Underwhelming. Despite the electronica elements, this feels like the most basic pop song on the album so far.
- Shake It Off – This is a terrific pop song. In a world where it seems like every big producer is doing what they need to do to make hits, this song really feels like it’s firing on all money-making cylinders. It’s upbeat, its beat is infectious, and like Mr. Adult Male said, it has a knack for getting stuck in people’s heads. I say good job to the team for this one. Interesting side note: writing an entire song about how you’re not mad about criticism doesn’t really seem like something that someone who is not mad would do.
- I Wish You Would – Other than the 80’s throwback feel, it is a completely generic pop song.
- Bad Blood – This song and its anthemic tone got old fast. Like “before the song was halfway over” fast.
- Wildest Dreams – This song has a loud-quiet dichotomy, which is one of my favorite composition techniques in music. However, I feel it was mismanaged somewhat by the overall monotony of the song, and of course the loud segments weren’t exactly explosive. Although it did become monotonous, the intro to the song reminded me of future garage, and it would have been cool if they did more with it. Despite these complaints, this is the best track on the album so far.
- How You Get The Girl – This upbeat track is not a bad transition from the previous one, which ended on a high note. This album is feeling like it slumped in the middle (other than Shake it Off), because it started decently and we’ll see if it can end decently.
- This Love – Glad to see this was not a surprise cover of Maroon 5. That said, it reminded me of a Contemporary Christian track. Felt very neutered and unnecessarily subdued. Not sure what it accomplished on the album.
- I Know Places – More could have been done with the drums. Reminds me of track 3, because it had a lot of potential at the beginning, but failed to deliver. Still not too bad.
- Clean – This was a collaboration with Imogen Heap, and I think that definitely upped the quality of the track. It immediately sounded more mature than the majority of the album. At the end of the day, it was pretty simplistic. Didn’t consider it a solid closing track, but would’ve stood on its own elsewhere in the album.
The only tracks on the album I’d willingly revisit are Wildest Dreams and Clean, which makes for an unimpressive 2/13. I have unwillingly revisited Shake It Off several times in recent months, of course. As for the rest of the album, I don’t anticipate there is anything I would gain by relistening to the tracks, and that is to be expected with what is ultimately just another pop album. Off the top of my head, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, and Lady Gaga have already experimented with this more mature electronic style of pop, and while I approve of the trend, there is nothing incredibly mind-blowing about this album.
What can be said is that Taylor Swift has got some of the best marketing people in the business on staff. Her publicity machine accomplished several surprising feats: removing her library from Spotify; actively hunting down and sending take-down notices across all major streaming and file-sharing sites to make sure her album was as hard to find as humanly possible (P.S. guys, you might want to check DailyMotion); they even managed to get me writing about her on this blog. But despite all of that, and her continued success as a pop star, there is better music to be found, and I will continue to do that.