In Defense of a Songwriter

I read all about Taylor Swift in New York Magazine yesterday, and couldn’t put it down. I guess I’ve always been mystified by the amount of hostility she absorbs among, well…my friends, so I wanted to see what a critic partially under the sway of her celebrity had to say in her defense. Jody Rosen’s piece  makes her sound like the Michael Jordan of the Nashville-based music industry: the star who makes its appeal go international. Hence her perhaps undeserved ubiquity. But any straight-up review of her work as an artist, and especially as a songwriter, has to pay her some respect.

If Taylor Swift were on trial in the Court of Taste, I would file an amicus brief in her defense too, and I’d say:

She’s avoiding the party scene that the other young pop stars gravitate to like moths to the Bic lighter radiating by LiLo’s bong. Okay, so?

And her dad’s a successful business guy, so she had the best professional management from the get-go. This is something she shares with Lana del Ray, and Taylor Swift is the superior musician among the two.

She writes her own songs.

She’s no blander than the Eagles.

She’s a better songwriter than the guy from Beach House, and at least as good as Alanis Morissette.

Her lyrics are no dumber than the Ramones’.

She was named after James Taylor, and if you hate James Taylor, you hate ranch dressing. You’re the kind of person who loses his or her mind at a potluck because someone put ranch dressing on the arugula you got from your CSA.

To indict her is to indict soft rock itself. Are you really still fighting that fight?

She is the feminist answer to America – the band, not the hemisphere.  (“Who are you to define me as ‘Sister Golden Hair'”?)

About three years ago I found myself snapping my fingers to one of her songs at the grocery store, and picked up the words to the chorus in just the second listen. So I text my teenage niece: “She wears short shorts, I wear teeshirts…” She gets me right back, “She’s cheer captain and I’m in the bleachers.”

She is a Red State Liz Phair.

She’s the Carly Simon of her day, but in the right time and place for the record business to blow her up to international superstar size.

I put on her Pandora station to write this post, and she’s better than her peers by far. (In full disclosure, it took my wife ten minutes to say, “How long is THIS going to go on?”)

Get over whatever aesthetic principle you feel you’re upholding by saying she’s uncool.