Addicted to novelty since 2001

An Encomium of Taylor Swift

NOTE: Anticipating a busy week, I wrote this on the weekend, before a certain hip hop artist boggarted Ms. Swift’s mic time at the Video Music Awards.

Music writer Jody Rosen recently wrote in praise of the pop-country superstar whirlwind that is Taylor Swift. He sounds seriously impressed:

She writes (or co-writes) all her songs, plays guitar, answers to no Svengali, and doesn’t rely on a high-priced corps of studio musicians and producers. She records for an independent label and speaks to a devoted audience in an eccentric, sui generis voice that mixes high-Nashville earnestness with the Esperanto of the foodcourt and the chatroom.

It was that voice that resonated at Madison Square Garden. The concert was a high-tech extravaganza, with video montages and backup dancers, costume changes and an onstage rainstorm. But the music cut through the spectacle. Swift’s vocals have occasionally been wobbly, but at the Garden she sang with punch and confidence. What really shone, though, were the songs themselves—the rigorous architecture of hits like “You Belong with Me,” “Should Have Said No,” and “Love Story,” whose melodies arc inexorably towards the payoff of huge sing-along choruses.

I enjoy reading these unabashed declarations of love for mainstream pop. They stand in such refreshing contrast to the inside baseball world of snobbier music criticism. Rosen’s article reminded me of Nick Hornby’s essays on popular music (I wrote about the book–it had a different title in the British Isles).

I admit to owning a few of her tunes, and they’re good pop ditties. “Our Song”, in particular, is very catchy. The critics quite liked her most recent album, Fearless.

Thanks to iLike, I occasionally encounter Swift’s very video-bloggy clips in my news reader. They may be carefully crafted marketing pieces, but they come off as ad hoc and quite genuine. The latest one, for example, shows the singer’s flopping-on-the-bed, girlish excitement about her Country Music Award nominations.