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America's Postmodern Sweetheart(?)
January 6, 2013 9:38 PM   Subscribe

The Dualities of Taylor Swift: Furries, Bo Diddley, and Country Bears in “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

Part of the "Musical Talmud" series.
posted by the man of twists and turns (47 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
My proudest moment as an Internet commentator was when I inspired Overthinking It to do a blues version of K$sha's Tik Tok.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:43 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


The overthink will kill all plates of beans. I'll have the tofu, thanks.
posted by dabitch at 10:01 PM on January 6, 2013


I *love* this kind of overthinking - it's so fun and really interesting when someone turns up an angle you might never have considered. I've read the FPP link, the link about Ke$ha (and the "cognitive stunt" of making something weird and ugly that sticks out in a song so it doesn't fit aesthetically but it makes you remember the song, thereby making it "catchy" - that's fascinating and makes a lot of sense!), and now I'm reading about "Run The World (Girls)"... Thanks for posting this.
posted by flex at 10:17 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's an interesting video and I actually want MORE dissection than what overthinkingit.com is offering. The animal costumes are part of this calculated expansion of Swift's personality from country star to pop star to (attempting to) also embody something else altogether: this distinctly urban hipster/nerd persona to capture the people who are "too cool" for top 40 and "too nerdy" for pop. It's no accident that this video starts with a cityscape and honking taxis. Or that within seconds she self-consciously throws on some chunky black glasses. It's impossible to talk about the video without mentioning the hipster tropes, and the way they fit alongside the non-hipster stuff, and also childlike whimsy and the way it fits alongside more adult stuff. She wants every audience possible: tweens, teens, adults, a mainstream audience, indie kids, the savvy internet. And of course childlike whimsy also fits nicely into hipster stuff. So we have the Taylor who is knowingly winking at stuff like Flaming Lips and Where the Wild Things Are and Hipster Little Mermaid and Rockafire Explosion and whatever, and then the Taylor who still loves country and blues stuff and wears PJs and sleeps with a sock animal and rides a non-fixie bike. The Taylor who sneeringly talks about "some indie record that's WAY cooler than mine" is also the Taylor who is self-aware about her popness and uncoolness, and therefore becomes cool by not trying too hard. She's alright with hanging with some furry nerds for a night while her ex goes and drinks PBR in some dive bar in Bushwick. But she's kinda hip too though she won't cop to it. Look who she's into dating, after all. Look at how quirky her apartment is. Taylor contains all these multitudes. She's everything to everyone. Taylor is the Barack Obama of pop.
posted by naju at 10:22 PM on January 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


This is exactly what I needed to go with my recent discovery of a cable channel called "100% Taylor Swift". It's nice to see some overthinking about pop music videos that isn't focused on occult symbolism.
posted by Lorin at 10:22 PM on January 6, 2013


If Taylor Swift is postmodern, I don't think she knows it.

Does that make her more or less postmodern?
posted by squorch at 10:23 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was funny, and also touches lightly upon the weirdness that is Taylor Swift. She's not an anti-Britney Spears, as the article says; she's the anti-Lady Gaga. Gaga wants to use artificial weirdness to expose her "normal" self, who gushes over fans and is thrilled about everything (but that "normal" self is a manufactured image), whereas Swift turns her personality into a labored, over-polished performance in which every last detail is overthought and overworked (but every indication is that her personality is, in fact, her personality).

I recently had a random impulse to browse through songs from Swift's Red, after Said the Gramophone mentioned it as one of their favorite albums of the year, and I was struck by how impressively competent her songwriting is. In terms of melody, arrangement, and lyricism each, she knows what she's doing, and all evidence suggests she's writing these songs mostly herself. Ultimately I didn't purchase the album, because the level of manufacturing is so obvious in every niche detail that it's impossible for me to escape the polished construct and appreciate the warmth and personal-ness of the song beneath. But she's smart and she's ambitious and I wouldn't be surprised if she learned to tone down her music until it hit that perfect mix of pop sheen and honesty. Maybe in the end all that means is she writes a pop song worth a little bit more than your average pop song, but there's something worthwhile about that.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:24 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, if Taylor Swift is a hipster then literally everyone is a hipster, discuss
posted by naju at 10:24 PM on January 6, 2013


If Taylor Swift is postmodern, I don't think she knows it.

Taylor Swift is the sort of person who'd make an eyerolling remark about how her music video is "sooo postmodern" but clearly hasn't put any thought into what exactly defines postmodernity as a cultural signified. Which is to say she's probably thought about it the right amount, since ugh.

I think that is actually more "postmodern" than intentionally trying to be postmodern, for what that's worth.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:26 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Swift made $57 million dollars last year and didn't have to fake a pole dance or writhe around on stage in a sheer body stocking.

Nice job, girl.
posted by discopolo at 10:27 PM on January 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


I can't hear that particular Taylor Swift song anymore without thinking of the "Overly Attached Girlfriend" version, btw. I have it stuck in my head now.
posted by flex at 10:36 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Robert Christgau, in his review of Red, compared Swift to Stephin Merritt and argued that if a pop savant can be allowed to write insincere songs so long as they're good, so should a Top 40s pop ingenue. Though he correctly pointed out that Swift's record is not quite as good as Merritt's, which is as it should be.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:37 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember when Taylor Swift was positioned as 'country'. I like her pop stuff, but I'd love real old fashioned country to get popular. I've found that when I'm forced to choose music stations the country channel is often the least grating.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:37 PM on January 6, 2013


I have a 13 year old daughter, so all I know about Taylor Swift is OMG SHE STOLE HARRY HOW COULD SHE OMG NO JUST NO TAYLOR STAHP I WILL NEVER ACCEPT HAYLOR. (Seriously, there is nothing more terrifying than a teen 1D fan's twitter timeline.)
posted by mothershock at 10:47 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Also, this same teen cohort seems to find Swift's foray into dubstep, briefly, in "I Knew You Were Trouble," more concerning/impressive/alarming than the furry vid.)
posted by mothershock at 11:12 PM on January 6, 2013


So, apparently, Justin Bieber is now channeling James Howard Kunstler.

Weird.
posted by alexei at 11:27 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have gotten into some embrassingky long conversations about Taylor Swift's place in the pop culture firmament and the most interesting thing, as others have said, is how this latest song exists entirely within the media narrative of The Ongoing Drama Of Taylor Swift, it's like her singles are primed to narrate the latest story about her in the tabloids, like nothing in this song makes sense divorced from the pop culture story about Swift ( oh she's so nice and sweet and young oh no someone was mean to her oh she's so unlucky in love poor button oh wait now shes dumping people and she's got a freaking dance pop single that is like, 99% pure teenager and not rainbows and unicorns what the hell).

It's like a pop career with a soap opera attached which is like, pre teen fandom crack cocaine.
posted by The Whelk at 12:42 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


and all evidence suggests she's writing these songs mostly herself.

It's also worth pointing out that she rarely has " characters" in her sings, even the country ones which rely heavily on storytelling for genre convention, it's always " her", directly and specifically.
posted by The Whelk at 12:49 AM on January 7, 2013


TODD IN THE SHADOWS ON WANGBT
posted by The Whelk at 1:04 AM on January 7, 2013


It looks like this never made it to this site: approximately 8000 words on the links between Ke$ha's "TiK ToK", pro wrestling, and the doctrine of transubstantiation.

With a side analysis of Beyonce's "Single Ladies".

It is the best.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:26 AM on January 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm all for overthinking popular culture, but:

Not everyone in a bear costume is getting off on it.
posted by LMGM at 1:30 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was sort of hoping for more about the Showbiz robot animal band, rather than just "it's a copy of a Disney thing".
posted by dubold at 2:06 AM on January 7, 2013


Not everyone in a bear costume is getting off on it.

Yes. Like it says in TFA.
posted by howfar at 3:51 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is built on a false premise. The bear suit has nothing to do with Disney, nothing to do with Showtime Pizza. It's a Kubrick reference.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:37 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Not everyone in a bear costume is getting off on it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:18 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


To overthink it a little less, I always just kind of figured the animal-people represented stuffed animals that she was turning to for distraction and comfort. She just broke up with a boyfriend so she spends all day in her pajamas surrounded by old stuffies.

I'm a little put off that the Washington Post went right to fetishists...
posted by one of these days at 5:26 AM on January 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


this distinctly urban hipster/nerd persona to capture the people who are "too cool" for top 40 and "too nerdy" for pop. It's no accident that this video starts with a cityscape and honking taxis.

Taylor's urbanness is fascinating. For someone positioned, at least initially, as country, she talks a lot about cities. The couple in "Mine" fell in love while watching the "city lights on the water"; in "Mean," she dreams of the day when she's going to be "living in a big old city." Her characters frequently have "big dreams" or destined to do "big things", which, if you live in a rural area means things that happen in cities. It's also a shift from her earlier songs. It's hard to imagine the the couple in "Love Story" moving to a big city; that's a small town fantasy.

The thing is girls in rural areas love this stuff. My parents just retired from teaching in a small town, and all the girls they taught loved Taylor Swift. They loved singing about the day they would be living in a big old city. I'm too old to have grown up with Taylor Swift (I had moved to the big city by the time she was a thing), but I'm sure the girls in my class would have loved her. Most of them had those identical dreams. I think Taylor's urbanness is a huge part of her appeal to that audience.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:29 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well given that Swift's media persona up til this point was locked in a werid Lisa Frank adolescent THING ( rainbows, unicorns, fairy tales, angst) and this song is downright AGGRESIVE compared to the previous stuff, then maybe it's the easy symbol of my backup band aka my support stuffes are now rocking out and quasi human and one foot out of the teenage bedroom and one foot still in it, perfect for the young aspirational Swift fan who wants a model of how to feel out later adolescence.

Like I'm 90% sure that was carefully planned out.
posted by The Whelk at 5:30 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


can someone get me a job consulting pop stars on how to manage thier aging fanbases? Thx.
posted by The Whelk at 5:31 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not really certain how Swift will transition out of her adolescent tween pop sensation persona. Her fanbase has traditionally been girls of 13-21 but her initial cohort of fans is probably moving past her even though she's aiming a a slightly older demographic with her music.

But will she adopt a more mature sound as she gets older or will she continue to seek the tween consumer with their high brand loyalty and tendency to actually buy full albums instead of just singles.

She's not the first teen sensation that has gotten to this point in time but plenty of artists before her have failed to create a lasting artistic career even if they've managed to retain some degree of pop culture status.

Of course the ultimate chameleon has been Madonna but nobody seems to be able to ride the changing pop cultural tides like her. Christina and Britney managed to morph out of their Disney personas into a more mature sound but seem to be struggling to keep up.

I suspect that eventually Taylor Swift will make a more or less permanent transition to acting simply because she has a sort of beauty that should carry her well into her 40s at a minimum and movie actors simply have more longevity than female pop singers (who generally begin to lose studio marketing support once they hit 30 or so). Her acting hasn't been particularly convincing up to date but the kind of cash that she brings in currently can definitely hire a ton of acting coaches and media consultants.
posted by vuron at 6:36 AM on January 7, 2013


The big question with Taylor Swift: "How many breakup songs does it take before she realizes, it must be me?" Because after about the 15th or 16th one, it can't be all about the guys.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:46 AM on January 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


[Comment removed; you know where Metatalk is if you need to talk about moderation.]
posted by cortex at 7:11 AM on January 7, 2013


I can't hear that particular Taylor Swift song anymore without thinking of the "Overly Attached Girlfriend" version, btw. I have it stuck in my head now.

JESUS FUCK. I'm so glad she was kind enough to blink, saving me from certain nightmares.
posted by psoas at 7:19 AM on January 7, 2013


@T.D. Strange,

I suspect we should ask Stabbing Westward, as they had 4 albums on the matter. Then on to the Dreaming (Chris' new band).... that's about 30 songs about breakups. Who knows what the limit is?
posted by NiteMayr at 7:21 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who saw a Bloodhound Gang reference rather than Country Bears?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:07 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The big question with Taylor Swift: "How many breakup songs does it take before she realizes, it must be me?" Because after about the 15th or 16th one, it can't be all about the guys.

Jeez I mean she's 22 years old. Trying to date a bunch of people and failing to make any of them last super long is perfectly ordinary. I imagine it's even more ordinary when you're a celebrity and people have even more of a reason to attract themselves to you.

While her habit of turning every one of her celebrity flames into a song is manipulative enough to bother the heck out of me, the actual break-uppage is perfectly normal for people that age. I am quite prudish and spent 3 years not seeing anybody after a bad break-up, yet I have 6 or 7 break-ups under my belt (I'm approximately Swift's age FWIW). Add all the other boy-and-girl situations that weren't dating but still ended poorly enough to write songs about, and 15-16 sounds utterly reasonable.

If you have the good sense to not spend your college years full of self-loathing fear, or at least not quite as full, going through an average of 3 relationships a year is ordinary. Not everybody finds "the one" right off the bat, and plenty of the ones who don't aren't super interested in long-term romance with somebody who wears off on them fast. I've noticed that nearly all my relationships ended after two months, which was about as long as it took for me to be certain that things weren't working out. The longer ones are, well, the exceptions.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:27 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The big question with Taylor Swift: "How many breakup songs does it take before she realizes, it must be me?"

I think -- based, admittedly, on a couple of interviews and origin-story fluff pieces I've seen on TV and are probably part of her carefully-crafted persona -- that Swift is a savvy enough businesswoman to know that the "breakup song" sells. People in her target demographic (tween/teen and maybe increasingly twentysomething women) have breakups, such that there is a near-continuous demand for breakup songs. Breakup songs, as a rule, do not admit the possibility (unless they're really emo) that "it must be me."

And because of the weird crossover between her songs and her personal life, which is all part of creating authenticity and making her songs more apparently-genuine than the rest of the pop world, it is therefore necessary for her to have some sort of tumultuous breakup every few months, so that she can write a song about it and that song can rocket its way to the top of the charts.

Whether the relationships and breakups that she writes songs about are authentic is impossible to ascertain, and frankly I think there's a very deep hole you can go down anytime you start getting into issues of "authenticity" anyway, to the point where the whole thing is better left alone.

But I suspect that if there were a market for "meh I don't need a boyfriend I'm just gonna stay home and eat ice cream and masturbate" songs that was as big as that for my-lousy-ex breakup songs, we'd hear her releasing one of those every six months instead. Just my suspicion. Swift is very, very good at what she does.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:10 AM on January 7, 2013


While her habit of turning every one of her celebrity flames into a song is manipulative enough to bother the heck out of me,

I think she's allowed to talk about her emotions and disappointment as much as she wants. I hate that all these people think that a young woman who gets her heart broken by being dumped should suffer in silence. A lot of young women are mocked for wanting romantic love and then left feeling worthless when the guy dumps them after they invest.

Plus, if she can help keep one girl from falling under John Mayer's narcissistic spell, it's a worthy cause. And now we all know Jake Gyllenhaal is a manchild. That is helpful to everybody.

I also think blaming her for relationship failures with young men and narcissists in their 30's isn't fair.
She's doing a really smart thing, which is getting tons of relationship experience so she knows how to identify a good partner later when it counts.

And she's finding out there are a lot of guys who just don't make good boyfriends. Young girls need to know this so they don't blame themselves when they get dumped.

Her acting hasn't been particularly convincing up to date but the kind of cash that she brings in currently can definitely hire a ton of acting coaches and media consultants.

She was very funny when she hosted SNL. This is the only link I could find to my favorite sketch.

Basically, I wouldn't mind if my daughter was like Taylor Swift.
posted by discopolo at 10:26 AM on January 7, 2013


I'm puzzled why OverthinkingIt would omit the obvious duality between virgin Taylor and holy shit-another-boyfriend-of-the-month Taylor.
posted by surplus at 11:17 AM on January 7, 2013


When I saw the video, I just figured that it was visual shorthand for the Animal Collective-wing of indie music that she was spoofing and acknowledging at the same time (in the lyrics, not the music).
posted by umbú at 1:09 PM on January 7, 2013


Yeah there's a weird trend of animal costumes in indie videos and live shows: The Flaming Lips do them, Green Day (not indie) had them, I think there's a Hot Chip video with animal costumes too. And there's also that weird 'tribal' subset of indie that's popular in Australia and was kicked off by MGMT, with lots of shots of people running through the forest. 'Indie' has become so generic and bloodless that the Taylor Swift song was a perfect parody of it.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:34 PM on January 7, 2013


Chewbacca pajamas, ears, and nose-makeup?

Never once have I seen an actual furry dress like that.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 2:45 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah that furry tangent was just, no that's not what furries look like. This is way more the oddball dress up indie rock thing, with painted noses.
posted by The Whelk at 4:20 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another boyfriend bites the dust!
posted by Arbac at 4:39 PM on January 7, 2013


Which means she's finally free to have that short lived fling with Adele.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:36 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was hoping this was going to be a Taylor Swift meets Plushie Schwartz video.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:10 PM on January 7, 2013


I was hoping the Onion would keep on doing this with more and more random celebrities, but I guess we have to appreciate what we got.
posted by psoas at 6:09 AM on January 8, 2013


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