Wednesday, March 27, 2024

figuring out Taylor Swift

It's been nearly 40 years since I paid close attention to current popular music. The ratio of songs that really attract me is too low. Every once in a while I hear something, and it's often nice enough, but not something that I'd feel the urge to listen to again. When I hear a pop song new to me that does attract me, it turns out to date from 1982. (That is not hyperbole.) I don't despise current pop, I just don't find it interesting.

Nevertheless, the current fame and ubiquity of Taylor Swift - up till quite recently, I would have recognized the name but wouldn't have been able to say who she was - prompted me to check out her work. Figuring I should start with the most popular songs but having no idea which they were, I looked up her list of singles and their chart rankings on Wikipedia and then sought out on YouTube some of the biggest hits. Then the concert film of her Eras Tour came to Disney+ and I started to watch that.

None of these were songs I had ever heard before. In both cases I found the songs in themselves to be pleasant enough, though I was a bit surprised by the extremely downbeat lyrics of some. Two I remember as being particularly good were "Cruel Summer" and "The Man," but nothing of their melodies stuck in my head. But in both cases, the singles and the concert video, I found that two or three songs was about all that I could take of the heavy arrangements. Unobjectionable but not for me was my conclusion.

Consequently I was taken totally by surprise by her NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Entirely acoustic, just her: two songs with piano, two with acoustic guitar. And, despite her between-songs patter needing considerable tightening up, it worked for me. If she were to play a concert in this manner in a folk-music coffeehouse like the Freight and Salvage, I could be there and enjoy every minute of it.

For that's what she's writing. Her songs are in the mode of acoustic folk singer-songwriters, not those of the catchy tunes and hypnotic rhythms that make for the pop songs I remember. Here, though, her wandering melodies and introspective lyrics virtually define the genre. If she had chosen that route of music-making, she could have fit right in as a distinguished colleague of a couple dozen such women I've heard concerts by.

Of course, coffeehouse audiences of a few hundred, a tiny level of fame, and barely making a living touring around this way - that would have been an entirely different fate than the one she's got now. And I do have the highest respect for the way she seems to have grounded herself as a level-headed person in the face of extreme celebrity. That's rather rare.

Taylor Swift actually showing up to do a coffeehouse concert would be impractical, but she could make more solo acoustic recordings. And if she does that, then and only then will I be likely to listen to some more.

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