For the past ten years, Taylor Swift has released an album like clockwork, every two years. So, we were sure October 2016 we would see her sixth studio album.
And then we didn’t.
Then she performed on some Super Bowl pre-show thing (I don’t really follow such events), where she performed “Better Man,” a song she wrote for Little Big Town, for the first time. When I heard Little Big Town’s performance, while Swift wasn’t singing in the recording, I could hear her because of her strong songwriting style. So, needless to say, I was super excited to see that performance.
It was also at this show where she apparently stated that this show was probably her only one for 2017, and that the people in the audience was at 100% of her tour.
Before we get sad, I have a theory.
Whenever Swift releases an album, it’s usually towards the end of the year and she doesn’t tour or perform in the year the album was released – the tour tends to be the year after. So, for instance, 1989 was released October 2014, and her associated performances all occurred in 2015. So, if she releases an album October 2017 – which I sincerely hope she does, and it sounds like she’s making one – then her tour wouldn’t occur until 2018.
An absence of a tour does not mean an absence of an album.
Recently, Taylor Swift released “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” with Zayn (originally from One Direction) for the new Fifty Shades movie, and while I’m excited for the prospect of new T. Swift music, I find Zayn’s feature…intriguing (to put it nicely). This is because I dislike when male singers go into their falsetto voice. It’s not necessary and it’s rather irritating. Right from the beginning, Zayn sings in a high register – if it was going to be that high, why wouldn’t Swift just sing it. To me, singing in a lower register and hitting lower notes can be more authentic and natural – using falsetto sounds almost fake (which, depending on who you talk to, is).
Now, I’m not suggesting Zayn’s performance is bad or anything – he does have a nice voice, singing that high for a guy is a gift – I would have just arranged the song different if I were the producer. I would have probably had Zayn sing in a lower register and have Swift sing the major part of the chorus.
If you don’t listen too closely to the song, it’s not bad, but I think overall it could’ve been a bit better.
I was in line at the grocery store when I got the news. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed (it was a long line at the register) when I saw a post by Taylor Swift saying she wrote the song “Better Man” for Little Big Town. My heart started pounding. New Taylor Swift music. Finally.
I rushed to my car and downloaded the song from iTunes without previewing it. If Taylor Swift had a hand in writing the song, you know it has to be good. You don’t need to preview that.
And it’s beautiful. The song is honest and fragile, and reminiscent of Swift’s country roots.
The mark of a truly gifted songwriter is when the song will sound like the person who wrote it even if they aren’t performing it. This is totally the case here. While it’s Little Big Town performing, you feel as though Taylor Swift is singing it to you – you can almost hear her sing it.
Last month, there was a bit of a hysteria where we thought Swift would secretly release her sixth album (sadly, that did not happen). The below video leaked online and people thought it was a clip of a new Taylor Swift song because it sounds just like her.
Apparently, it’s not Taylor Swift, but Kelsea Ballerini. That’s what they (reps for both Swift and Ballerini) said.
However, I have a very well trained musical ear, and that is not Kelsea Ballerini. Ballerini has more of a southern twang than Swift and a slightly higher pitch voice. Plus, the way this singer pronounced “didn’t know, thought we could grow it” is more in line with Swift’s pronunciations. But this video is not the greatest quality. Indeed, Ballerini released the studio snippet of the song on her Instagram account (see below) and it made me do a double take…maybe it is Ballerini singing but the distorted quality makes it seem like Swift…
But since Swift wrote “Better Man” for Little Big Town, I’m now wondering if the clip above actually is Taylor Swift singing a demo for Kelsea Ballerini. Like, in a few months we’ll see Kelsea Ballerini has a new single “Roses” written by T. Swift.
Regardless, let us revel in the fact we sort of have a new Taylor Swift song, and hope she hurries up with #TS6!
If you were lucky enough to attend Taylor Swift’s 1989 World Tour last year, you undoubtedly witnessed the rock-inspired remix of her hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” The second I heard it, I was hoping she’d release either a studio version or live version of it..theoretically she did because she released video footage of it on Apple Music.
Anyway, I was searching around for a studio version of it, and I found this remix a fan made, and it’s pretty close to what she actually did live (although I’m pretty sure the grunts we hear throughout the remix are actually Cher Lloyd from her song “Want U Back.”)
This DJ/remixer/fan has several other Taylor Swift remixes, which are pretty stunning, but I have to say his acoustic remixes of “Clean” and “Wildest Dreams” are pretty spectacular (see below).
To give you an idea of what Swift did during her 1989 World Tour, here’s a clip:
At this year’s Grammy Awards, Taylor Swift took home the award for Album of the Year, making her the first female artist to win the award as the lead artist of an album more than once. She has also joined the ranks of Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, and U2 for winning Album of the Year as the lead artist more than once (Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder are the only two artists to win this award three times).
What's curiously interesting about Swift's wins is that both her winning albums - Fearless and 1989 - have a total of thirteen tracks, the only two of her albums to have that amount of tracks. Swift has said for years that the number thirteen is her lucky charm...it's kind of intriguing that the two albums to have thirteen tracks went on to win the top prize of the music industry.
But, let’s look at her fourth album Red which was also nominated for the coveted Album of the Year Grammy, but lost to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. It deserved the nomination because Red challenged what we think of contemporary country music, almost to the breaking point. She added synths and dubstep beats onto the album that are unknown to the genre and still dared to call it country. And it still fit in the spirit of country music – she was speaking her truths in the storybook tradition of country music, but did it in a rather unusual sonic way. She took risks and it deserved the recognition it got.
The album, however great it is, still held a major flaw: it was too long. The standard version holds a whopping sixteen tracks (which any self proclaimed Swiftie was/is overjoyed by this treat), something Swift did to give her fans everything that fit in the Red-era without having them to purchase a reissue a year after the release to gain three extra songs (remember: there was no Red: Platinum Edition like Fearless or tour CD/DVD like Speak Now).
However, if I was the executive producer on Red, I would’ve cut the album down to thirteen tracks. This is not to fit in with Swift’s lucky charm, but because the extra tracks did in fact bloat and dilute the core theme of the album. When she first announced Red, Swift described the album: “All the different emotions that are written about on this album are…about the kind of tumultuous, crazy, insane, intense, semi-toxic relationships that I’ve experienced… All those emotions…are red…. There’s nothing beige about any of those feelings.” This intense passion is felt in the majority of the album, but as you continue on to the album towards its end, it starts to lose that intensity (and, by the way, it’s not only Taylor Swift that this happens/ed to. I find most albums that exceed fourteen tracks tend to drag on…it’s to a point where you start to feel lost and lose track of where the album is going).
Here was the tracklisting Swift presented on Red in 2012 (*tracks that were presented as bonus tracks on the Target Edition):
State of Grace
I Knew You Were Trouble.
All Too Well
I Almost Do
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Stay Stay Stay
The Last Time (featuring Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol)
Sad Beautiful Tragic
The Lucky One
Everything Has Changed (featuring Ed Sheeran)
The Moment I Knew*
Come Back…Be Here*
Girl At Home*
The first thing as executive producer I did was airlift “Treacherous” out and replaced it with “Come Back…Be Here.” I felt the transition from “Red” to “Come Back…Be Here” hit a stronger and sweeter note. It also made me, as an objective listener, keep me listening on to “I Knew Were Trouble.” I personally felt that “Treacherous” made it easy for the listener to get distract and stop listening or to simply skip to the next track.
When listening to Red, I think the point where Swift starts to drift away from the Red theme is somewhere after “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” So, I laid out those ten songs (counting the bonus tracks minus “Come Back Be Here” since I moved that to the beginning of the album), and ranked them based on which ones fit the albums best and which ones were catchy/couldn’t be left off.
This resulted with me cutting “Stay Stay Stay” and replacing it with “Girl At Home.” While I like “Stay Stay Stay” very much – it’s fun and upbeat – it’s almost too cheerful. I also think that “Girl At Home” is more whimsical and a better fit. I then cut “Holy Ground,” “The Lucky One,” “Starlight,” and “The Moment I Knew.” Some of these songs got cut because they just didn’t fit (e.g. “Starlight” represents the passionate spark of love, but I didn’t have enough space and I felt others were a bit stronger). Others I felt didn’t really fit the theme of the album. For example, I really like “The Lucky One” (if you remember, it was a #PhillipsSongOfTheDay), but I just can’t see it fitting into the Red theme. It doesn’t spark passion, but describes a situation where Swift regrets her fame. It’s kind of a downer.
My final act as executive producer was arranging the tracks to be sonically cohesive. This I struggled with because I don’t think they overall tell a linear story, but I do think they fit well together sonically.
My edit of Red:
State of Grace
Come Back Be Here
I Knew You Were Trouble
All Too Well
I Almost Do
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Girl At Home
The Last Time
Sad Beautiful Tragic
Everything Has Changed
I need to end this post by saying that I admire every song Taylor Swift writes. I think she is a very gifted songwriter and musician – she has a way of connecting words and beats that most can’t do. This wasn’t in anyway to criticize or judge her, but a fun exercise of my love of crafting playlists and playing pretend-producer. Again, I think Red is a phenomenal album and just wanted to see if it was possible to make it a thirteen track album…
A week or so ago (or, perhaps, a month? Time flies…), Taylor Swift posted videos of her performing acoustic versions of “Wildest Dreams” and “Blank Space” at the Grammy Museum. And, they are stunning. The “Wildest Dreams” version is particularly fantastic, the solo guitar with the reverb transforms the song and makes it even more beautiful. The acoustic “Blank Space” reminds us of her country background and reminds us that she hasn’t completely shed her roots.
Check them out below, I seriously recommend the “Wildest Dreams” one.
This is not my inner Swiftie shining through, I truly think Swift had the strongest albums of the 2015 season after listing to all nominees. In fact, Billboard reported it as being a “cultural juggernaut,” a term they did not use for any of the other nominees. The fact that it had such a powerful impact in pop culture and is such a sonically strong and cohesive album, it deserves the Grammy. The other nominees are certainly strong contenders, but none of them are “juggernauts” like 1989.
Who Will Win: 1989 – Taylor Swift
There is a chance 1989 will not win simply because Taylor Swift has already won Album of the Year. Only a handful of artists have won this top prize more than once. This seriously isn’t a reason not to vote for her, but politics do come in to play with Grammys…unfortunately. But, I can’t see the Grammys giving this to anyone else as 1989 had such a huge impact on music. Although, we were all surprised last year when Beck won for Morning Phase against Beyoncé’s self-titled album, which many considered the shoo-in.
Who Should Win: “Bad Blood” – Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar
While Florence Welch’s voice in “Ship to Wreck,” like anything she sings, is pure gold, and while “Uptown Funk” and “See You Again” were perhaps the anthems of 2015, “Bad Blood” has the most cohesive collaborative nature to it. The song emits the anger and frustration through Swift’s parts but it is even more enforced by Lamar’s sharp raps and attitude. Swift and Lamar come from two different worlds (the former from the country-pop, the latter from rap/hip hop), and yet they can cohesively make a song together. If you read the collaboration on paper before listening to it, it would look like a joke and like it shouldn’t work. But it fits like a glove.
Who Will Win: “See You Again” – Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth or “Uptown Funk” – Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
If we vote based on which song is the biggest, it would be a tie between “See You Again” and “Uptown Funk” (although, I was reading in Billboard that “Uptown Funk” was the number one song of 2015 by a significant margin), so it’s close which one will win. I, again, think “See You Again” will win simply for the fact it’s an ode to the late Paul Walker…I also think it’s this reason why it will win the Golden Globe and get nominated and win the Academy Award. I’m not suggesting it’s not a good song or isn’t deserving of any recognition, it just has that aspect of it to make it shine a little brighter in a group of close nominees.
Last night released her new music video for “Out of the Woods” and it is awesome!
I think it’s the most visually stunning out of all the music videos from 1989, which says a lot because they were all pretty spectacular. I especially like how it visually tells the story of the struggle of the relationship: after the relationship ended (“she lost him”), she had to go through many struggles, as people do, to move on (“she found herself and that…was everything”). She represents the struggles through the many different wilderness/weather problems. Which I total relate to living in through the hell of New England winter.
Also, it was filmed in New Zealand, a place I’ve always sort of wanted to go to. I had a teacher in middle school who once told me the toilets in New Zealand flush in the opposite direction as they do in the U.S. I’m not sure if she was just pulling my leg or being honest, but that was the start of wanting to visit. Since then, I’ve seen pictures and books where you can bike through canyons and valleys and it looks gorgeous. This video just emphasizes the beauty of New Zealand…well…someday I’ll go…hopefully…maybe.
Anyway, do yourself a favor and start of 2016 on the right foot and watch “Out of the Woods” video!
As I’m listening to and studying the nominees for the 2016 Grammys, I’ve started looking at past recipients and how the awards have changed over the years. For instance, the biggest award of the show, Album of the Year, was originally just given to the main artist, but they expanded it to include the main artist, the featured artist(s), the producer(s), the engineer(s) and/or mixer(s) and the mastering engineer(s). Basically it’s given to everyone who contributes to the album making process, which I think is great because it recognizes everyone’s work and how it contributed to make the album the best of the year. I actually think they should do this for the genre categories for best album (e.g. Best Country Album is just given to the main artist and not the whole team). That being said, Album of the Year recognizes everyone except songwriters.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and the Grammys should include the songwriters in this group. For instance, Taylor Swift won Album of the Year in 2010 for her second album Fearless . Liz Rose, Swift’s long time cowriter and collaborator, was not part of this Grammy-winning team despite the fact she cowrite four of the songs on the album with Swift (Rose did win Best Country Song with Swift that year for “White Horse,” a songwriter’s award). Three of those songs Rose cowrote were three of the five hit singles from the album (“White Horse,” “You Belong with Me,” and “Fearless”), one of which won two Grammys (“White Horse”) and one nominated for three (“You Belong with Me”). It could be argued that without Liz Rose, Fearless would not have been the album that it was because Swift might not have finished the four songs Rose cowrote, or if she did it would not have been at the level they were at that won her Album of the Year.
Swift and Rose winning Best Country Song for “White Horse”
Colbie Caillat, on the other hand, cowrote one song (“Breathe”) with Swift and provided background vocals, earning her the role of featured artist. This therefore entitled her to the Album of the Year Grammy despite the fact that she worked on only one song on the album whereas Rose worked on four.
Without the songwriters, the album literally could not be made. How can you produce, record, sing, or make an album if there is nothing written? You would have nothing to perform. And is it really fair to give someone who is only featured in only seconds of one song on the album the biggest award of the music industry just because they’re “featured” and not someone who literally is the root creator of the album?
I realize the Grammys have to draw a line of recipients because obviously it take a lot more people to create and promote an album than who would get the award, but I think songwriters are too important to overlook. Granted, nowadays a lot of the songwriters are the performer and/or producer, but like Rose, some are solely writers. You can’t have a great album without great songs, and you can’t have great songs without great songwriters.
"Anything's possible if you've got enough nerve." – JK Rowling