Taylor Swift is my age. In fact, she saw six fewer days of the glorious 80s than I did. But you wouldn’t know it to listen to her newest album, ‘Red’ – her fourth since she arrived on the scene with her eponymous, country-inspired debut in 2006. I haven’t been following Taylor’s career trajectory with any sort of precision but from the tracks that flit in and out of my consciousness in department stores and groceries, it would appear that with each album, she’s been dating more people, having messy bust-ups with said suitors and writing ever angrier, more personal tracks about them. While such material might well be fodder for the gossip mags, you wouldn’t think a teenager/twentysomething’s reflections on love and loss and all that would be something people really wanted to listen to. And yet, even as Taylor has been identified as the writing force behind much of her own material (a rarity in the industry – likely a function of her country roots), the music-buying populace have lapped up her romance, heartache and revenge in that order. It’s taken on inversely proportional status. The more sordid and public the details (poor Donnie Darko copped the brunt of this ditty), the higher Swift’s star rises.
In December, 2006 Swift told a country music website that although “it sounds like I’ve had 500 boyfriends”, a lot of the songs on her debut were observational. That was then, this is now. Now we know about John Mayer and Jake Gyllenhaal and all the other exciting celeb hook-ups that have paved Taylor’s way, cutting across the field from cutesy Southern-style belle to all out popstar – that transformation now completed with ‘Red’. Again, I can’t profess to have heard of all of the album, released a month ago now, but on the singles that so inescapably punctuate daily life, the message is loud and clear: Taylor Swift is nobody’s goldilocked Nashville princess anymore. The romantic side of the Shakespearean love story is over and operation Machiavelli is in full effect. While lyrical subject matter has almost always been consistently autobiographical (or ‘observational’), there has been a pronounced shift from the home on the range guitars of ‘Taylor Swift’ to the dubstep-borrowing ‘Trouble’. That’s not to say that most pop starlets don’t start out somewhere (‘Pon de Replay’) and end up somewhere completely different (‘S&M’). Just to say that I, for one, didn’t see it coming with ol’ Taylor.
‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ is not Taylor Swift. As much as the liner notes might give her a writing credit, it’s the other two names on the bill that are really telling: Max Martin, Johan Schuster. If Martin is the Swedish superfreak producer behind almost every attractive pop song ever (seriously, read his bio if you don’t believe me), Schuster is the mini-Martin, working with Britney, Pink, Usher and ‘Jagger‘ to create generation-defining tunes at a rate of knots. You get the sense that with these two maestros sitting around a table with Swift, the Swedes might have had the upper hand as far as production negotiations go. If it says a lot about where Taylor Swift has gone as an artist, ‘Trouble’ might say even more about the state of pop music today. Increasingly challenged for airtime by the nascent EDM movement, pop is doing what it does best, eating its competitor. The melody and guitars are all pop. That drop is all not. And still, it’s hard to argue with the track, carnivorous beast and all. It might be my favourite of the Taylor discography to date simply because it pushes her, it’s not comfortable, breezy, familiar. Yo, Taylor 2006. Imma let you finish. But Feisty Taylor 2012 has one of the best Swedish-inspired pop tracks of all time.
Taylor Swift – I Knew You Were Trouble