Ms. Taylor Swift
Nashville, TN XXXXXX (address lines obscured for security reasons)
August 14, 2012
It's with a heavy heart that I sit down to write this letter, for despite the fact that we've never met, I feel like we've been through a lot together--which I realize sounds creepy, so let me explain. There are times--fleeting but inspired moments of brazen, devil-may-care critical hyperbole--when I genuinely feel like you're this generation's Lennon/McCartney. Not the Lennon/McCartney of "A Day in the Life" or "Helter Skelter" or "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," perhaps, but as far as I'm concerned, what songs like "You Belong With Me" and "Mean" mean to this generation is probably not at all dissimilar to what songs like "From Me To You" and "Can't Buy Me Love" meant to my parents and probably your grandparents--relatively comparable in scope of audience, contemporaneously, if not as comparable in how kind time is going to be to them. True, the way we as a society consume music has changed dramatically since 1964, and the notion of the life-size pop star is more commonplace now, but as audio evidence will attest, the porcelain-shattering larynx of a thirteen year-old girl is timeless. To wit, a wide-eyed youth squinting to see John Lennon through cheap binoculars at Shea Stadium in 1965 is really no different than a (by causes of simple pragmatism, somewhat more) wide-eyed youth watching your sparkling pearly whites light up a Jumb-O-Tron at the Staples Center, but for the fact that John wasn't playing through a sound system powered by somewhere in the neighborhood of six zillion gigawatts of super mega ultra electro-hydro-solar-nuclear power. For straight-up simple pop pleasure, T, there's no one out there right now bar perhaps Rihanna that I'd take over you. The notion that any music is "something everyone can enjoy" is usually worthy of a little suspicion, but I will say without hesitation that I completely understand why your albums go 400 million times Platinum where other high profile pop stars only go 50: A song like "Mean," for example, though not the sort of thing that is going to win over hardhearted aesthetes, is about as close to universal as any piece of art--commercial or underground--is going to get to simple comprehension and expression of the human condition; this is a song that could be an anthem for a nine year-old recess outcast, a high school senior whose boyfriend has just dumped her for not being hot enough, a working class grunt whose boss won't get off his back, or a 95 year-old man being refused a senior citizen's discount at IHOP. It's smart and honest without ever taking itself too seriously, you never have to think too hard about what it means despite the fact that deep down you know what it means, and it's right catchy. And I know I can spout off drivel with the best of them, but really, that's all I want: Something well-crafted, honest, and hopefully with a decent sense of humor.
You provided that, Taylor. You provided that and I proclaimed it to the world at my own expense. See, T, a guy like me who runs with the kinds of people I run with is, whether I bring it on myself or not, expected to live up to a certain kind of reputation, which I suppose I respect you enough to avoid dancing around and sum right up as follows: Music dorks who write snooty, long-winded blogs that no one reads aren't supposed to like shallow pop music created to appeal to the masses. Mind you, I have always maintained that the knee-jerk branding of your music as such was undue, but I'm sure it won't come as any surprise to you the way that certain cliques of high-minded "thinking people" process these things. Hey, I understand and agree--that's their problem, not yours, and there's no reason someone who has about 11 million more "likes" on your Facebook page than there are people who live on the entire continent of Australia should concern herself with such pretentious hooey. I'm worse about it than anyone most of the time, but between you and me, T, music elitism is stupid, and I know it. However, regardless of how I feel about it deep down, these are the rules of my world, and I need you to know that time and again I violated them because--even though they told me I was wrong, even though they told me you were no different than all the other shimmery Nashville/Disney product I dismissed as vapid, even though they waved copies of Neon Bible in my face and told me of the horrible fate that awaited me in musical hell for my transgressions--I thought your music was smarter, funnier, better than they ever gave it credit for being.
But now. Now. Last night you offered for free a download of your latest single--"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"--via Facebook (most kind of you, by the way!), and with one fell swoop it seems as though my illusions have been shattered. I was a little wary of even the title, as it had that sort of non-ambiguous coyness to it that sounded like it was copped from a text message between two seventh graders, kind of like Kelly Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck Without You," but upon listening properly I was prepared for my somewhat tepid expectations to be defied. But I gotta confess, T--I'm not sure that I've ever heard a song that sounded so deliberately geared toward eleven year-old girls, not even songs that explicitly claim to be geared toward eleven year-old girls. Don't get me wrong, I'm picking up what you're putting down here--there are indeed millions of actual eleven year-old girls who buy and/or steal your music, and why would anyone expect an artist to give those fans any less consideration than a bunch of stupid grown-ups who can't even salvage enough of their inner children to make one lousy homemade "I Heart Taylor" glitter marker t-shirt? In fact, one of the best things about your music is how it's made me break down so many of my own preconceived notions about what constitutes "proper music": Any time I'd think, "Well, fine, but this just doesn't sound like the kind of thing someone my age should be listening to," I'd counter myself by thinking, "Wait a minute, what exactly is the kind of thing someone my age 'should' be listening to?" Too often complexity is equated with sophistication, as if something simple and digestible can't also be incredibly smart and clever--hell, why do you even need the smart or the clever? Isn't it enough to be catchy and fun? Sometimes, perhaps; other times, definitely; here, I'm not so sure, though maybe that's because catchy and fun seem to assume relative qualities in this case. No doubt about it, melodically, this some serious brain adhesive; however, so is "Na na na na boo boo/Stick your head in doo doo." I guess it's fun, too--middle school's answer to "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)." That's fine--middle schoolers need catharsis for romantic woes as well. And I get that, when you really break it down, this is no different than "Mean"--fundamentally, anyone from the ages of 10 to 100 could tell this same story with varying degrees of baggage, probably no one any more or less sincere than the next. But it's the language that you use, T. When you say, "We are never ever getting back together," it doesn't feel like a romance withered and died so much as it feels like a week-long note-passing fling that is just so over you don't even know. Maybe that's part of the "fun"--less Lennon/McCartney and more Selena Gomez, though it does distress me to report that our generation already has one of those.