Those who consider pop music to be merely for the lowest common denominator are missing out. I planned to say a lot more than that, but the simple truth is that pop music can be just as affecting and transcendent as any other, ostensibly more “credible” genre. If you think about it, it’s hard not to wonder why this point even needs to be argued. Why is it that one person can take a guitar, a bass, and a set of drums, complete a song that sounds, yep, like music, and be called a fake piece of shi
t, yet someone else can do the same thing and be hailed as a genius? I’m not saying that all music is inherently good just because it’s music and doesn’t hurt the ears of the listener. But what I am saying – and you’ll have to forgive me if you, probably rightly, consider this comparison poor and/or kind of offensive – is that people who expound for hours on why pop music is trash and how its propagators are fake and – why not? – probably sluts are basically the same as people on the Internet who endlessly critique porn stars on their performances, how fake or real their moans are, how, in videos made specifically for lonely people to masturbate to, they are not catering
to the whims of hyper-critical, faceless online denizens who need
to be able to emotionally connect to their porn so that they can reasonably place themselves in the position of the muscled, well-endowed man in the video, when, let’s be honest, the supposedly fake moans and detachment are much closer to how sex with these people would actually be.
Yes, okay, maybe what I’m saying is that all this pop-hate is based less on actual musical taste and more on sexism.
We are headed into reckless and potentially controversial waters here, as one cannot bring up sexism without stirring up a beehive of arguments. Just know that my point is not that if you hate pop music (and female pop artists in particular), you are a sexist. As everyone knows, musical taste is subjective, which I’ve been avoiding saying because of how obvious it is. But it is particularly telling when a lot of the online discussion about Taylor Swift’s Red
focuses on the number of boyfriends and breakups she’s had instead of the music, except for cursory “well, obviously, it sucks,” comments that are not backed up with anything substantial. Also telling is that most of the discussion is seemingly conducted by young males. Making a bunch of assumptions about these people would be hypocritical at this point, but the blackened hatred directed at Taylor Swift because of her personal choices indicates a saddening bitterness that seems manifested much too early in life. In fact, most times it seems as if pop artists simply cannot do anything right in the eyes of these people. Or maybe the one thing they could have done right was to be born twenty years earlier with the name Michael Jackson. Consider some of the more ridiculous accusations lobbed in the direction of popular female artists, such as Ke$ha being a bad role model (this one in particular is high-roading in the worst way), or Madonna being popular only because she was controversially slutty, or – holy shi
t it almost hurts to even give this one credence by typing it – Lady Gaga having a penis.
And in Taylor Swift’s case, she is apparently a slut who only dates men because she knows she can make a bunch of money by writing songs about the inevitable breakup. When it’s all written out like that, my hand-wringing seems more sensible. The things that are said about Swift and her peers don’t personally offend me, but it does make me just a little bit sad that the people who say such things are, once again, missing out. Because good pop music – pop music that can transcend
and become more than treacle – is better than any other genre at having a “moment,” the part of a song that elevates it to something more, something with emotional weight. More often than not, it’s a lyric. “Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad,” from Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” comes to mind immediately. Or, more relevantly, from Taylor Swift’s “Last Kiss”: “All that I know is I don’t know how to be something you miss.” Jesus Christ! That line right there is
pop music. Fifty years of albums are contained within that line.
Even better: Taylor Swift has written more lines like that than any other pop artist out there, and more than a lot of non-pop artists too. Red
is full of them. But more importantly, and this is probably why there seemed to be an even more derisive attitude toward this release than her other albums, the music of Red
is now a complement to all of those conflicting emotions that have been present in her lyrics for some time now. Swift is a full-fledged pop artist now and can no longer be claimed by the dark world of country music, no matter what CMT would have you believe. Listen to “State of Grace” and hear dynamic drumming instead of those generic, time-keeping beats that were present on her other albums. Hear layers added with each successive section, until you reach the end, when the song sounds completely different than how it started. And more than anything else, hear the lyrics and be reminded of how love and grace walk hand-in-hand, changing all they touch if only for one moment. Hearing Taylor Swift sing makes you remember these things, how you can wax poetic one day about the efficacy of love to change lives permanently for the better, and the next rail about how love leads only to pain and heartache. And if you’ve never experienced any of that, it’s no wonder you hate Taylor Swift.
This all happens before you reach “22” and remember that, holy shi
t, this girl is 23
. The public persona of Taylor Swift is not actually Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift is a young girl who is constantly turning into the person she’ll eventually be, just like every other young person out there, and the fact that she is able to create music and lyrics that are this accomplished is something to behold. When she chooses to indulge in purely pop sensibilities with songs like “22” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” that’s the kid in her that believes in the power of a huge chorus to purify, to relegate pain to the background when it cannot stand up to sheer musical volume and triumphant singing. Love, as portrayed by Swift, is sad, messy, beautiful, sensual, tragic, fleeting, but most importantly, it is self-resurrecting. Love as many people as you can as hard as you can and love will, perhaps, someday return to you. That may not be true in the real world, but things that are true in music aren’t always necessarily true in the real world anyway. Because truth, like love, is what we perceive it to be, and I want to believe that Taylor Swift is telling the truth when she says that love comes when you least expect it, when you most need it, and that it blooms within us a change so deep that it will be felt forever.