Does the New Taylor Swift Album Suck a Bag of Ding Dongs?
By Jaime Lees
Fri, Nov 10, 2017
I think I’m breaking up with Taylor Swift and she hasn’t even written a song about me yet. We’ve been together for a long, long time. Everybody said it would never work between us but that’s the beginning of every great love story, right?
We were first introduced when I heard “Teardrops on My Guitar.” Dang. It was so well-executed that I felt like I’d heard it before. Everything about it was just perfect. I stalked her online for a bit before taking the next step and admitting that I wanted us to be together. The very next song of hers that I heard was “Our Song” and wow. Just wow. I hadn’t had so many feelings about a screen door slamming since “Thunder Road.”
I was way into her. I thought about her constantly. I introduced her to my friends and family right away. Most of them didn’t understand our love. They said that she was too young for me but we still made plans for the future. We moved quickly, but she always does. We spent the holidays together. We traveled together. We logged countless hours of driving and singing in unison. With her talent and my support, there was no bridge that we couldn’t cross. Each new album was a new chapter in our book.
Our entanglement wasn’t without complications, however. In many aspects it was an open relationship. I knew that she was seeing other people but I figured that it all just helped her art. It was her songwriting that most impressed me, anyway, so anything that fed that was okay with me. And as Taylor once sang, “This love is difficult, but it’s for real.”
But she started doing odd things. First, her sound got a little weird. Then she seemed to pick fights with everyone out of nowhere and she would rarely admit that she was wrong. It appeared that she wanted the spotlight at any cost and some aspects of her personality started feeling very fake. This was not the woman that I fell in love with… or was it?
Her issues had always been there, but in the beginning they came across more as charming quirks or precocious sassiness. Playing with the press is just fine — even cute sometimes — but constant manufactured drama is another thing entirely.
The thing is, I didn’t want her to be a drama-chasing celebrity. I thought she should leave that for the people with no talent. I wanted her to be the powerhouse baby-genius that she is. She was better than pointing fingers and playing gossip games. But maybe she’d always been like this and I was too blinded by my love for her. After all, wasn’t it all the way back in “Teardrops On My Guitar” that she used a specific dude’s name in the song? The drama began early.
And somewhere along the way, she just turned into the queen of petty. It was totally unnecessary. Why would she do that when she could just write songs that rule the world? I wanted her to just slay so hard that others have no choice but to kneel before her. I mean, Katy Perry vs. Taylor Swift was no contest. Katy’s voice sounds like a yawning elderly bullfrog, but Taylor’s voice is wonderfully expressive. She knows just when to pause a bit or how to let her words drop at the end of a sad line. She has a natural talent for presentation along with songwriting. She has the full package. Everybody loves a partner with a full package.
Because of all of this, I was willing to stick it out. I was willing to do my part to work on our relationship. I’d already figured out that she might be a psychopath, but I almost respected her for it. And to be honest, I didn’t really care much what she did out in the streets as long as she brought the hits back home to me. But after hearing all four of the singles on her new album, Reputation, I figured there was no hope for our future and I began untangling our lives. These songs make me feel like we’ve already grown too far apart.
First came “Look What You Made Me Do.” I was so excited about it being released but then I played it and… meh. I think parts of it are supposed to be an attempt at a sexy club song but it comes across as just a sad attempt at making a statement. Even her layered vocals make me feel nothing.
“Gorgeous” is just repetitive, and not in the good pop song way. The verses are okay but the chorus is weak as hell. It had a couple of good old-school Taylor lines (“You should take it as a compliment that I’m talking to everyone here but you”) and the elevator ding noise was a nice touch, but the weird reggae singing pattern plus some terrible lyric choices didn’t do it for me.
And “…Ready For It?” is mostly a mess. It starts off with, like, super heavy, apocalyptic weirdness and then it’s almost saved by the chorus, which is the one chorus from these four songs that is most likely to get stuck in my head. And then the last 40 seconds of the song, it all just lifts into a really beautiful, dreamy bit. Why couldn’t it be like that all the way through?
And “Call It What You Want” was such a snoozer. It seems to be all about her trying to convince us that when she completely lost control of her image and went into hiding that she was fine with it because she was loved-up with some dude. Barf. It was immature and just uninteresting. Given the choice, I’d never listen to it on purpose again.
Reputation is out today, but it’s being held from streaming services for a week. I feel like she’s just trying to delay our inevitable break-up. I’ll for sure get it next week on Apple Music but until then I’ll be damned if I put $9.99 more into this failing relationship. I’ve already given her plenty but lately she keeps letting me down. I just don’t know how to have any kind of faith in our future, so my bags are packed. Give me something grand, Taylor, and I’ll give us one more try.
But if the singles are representative of the album then, well, I don’t give a damn about your bad Reputation.
If the 2016 Presidential Candidates Were Musicians …
Posted By Jaime Lees
Mon, Mar 21, 2016 at 6:30 am
Are you as wrapped up in this presidential race as we are, or what? Have you been watching the debates? And do these candidates remind you of anybody? Because certain personality traits exhibited by our presidential candidates keep reminding us of some of the more famous acts in pop culture musical history.
Politics and music have long been entwined, but it’s still kind of a curse to see everything in the world through a musical filter. Sometimes you just want to watch a candidate give a speech but you can’t help but imagine them standing behind the podium with stage blood pouring from their mouths, scolding brutes in a mosh pit or asking Pat Smear to bring them a bottle of water.
Check out our thoughts below on this phenomenon below. We think we’re onto something here.
If our presidential candidates were musicians …. Donald Trump would be Gene Simmons of Kiss.
Both Trump and Simmons are misogynistic megalomaniacs who are extremely obsessed with wealth. And though they might be certifiable narcissists, they both have a knack for capturing attention in a way that feeds their ultimate goals. They’re both natural entertainers who back their boastfulness with their exemplary branding techniques and willingness to stamp their (Americanized) names onto anything and sell it. They also say vaguely racist things without fully committing to open hatred. And though the public thought Simmons took it all to the farthest possible limit when started selling KISS Kaskets, Trump has outdone him by moving from real estate to a Presidential campaign. They’re both reality television stars, they’re both married to foreign-born models, they both have ridiculous hair, they both never shut the hell up, they both have tiny “hands” and they’re both The Demon.
If our presidential candidates were musicians … Hillary Clinton would be Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters.
Clinton and Grohl are very good at their jobs and they both have found great success in their respective fields through decades of hard work. They’re also such professionals that most doubts about them and their intentions are easily brushed aside — both Clinton and Grohl are just so damn smooth that we can’t help but respect their hustle. And though neither of them might be your first choice as our official ultimate representative (of the U.S.A. or rock and roll), they surely don’t bungle their jobs as badly as many of their peers. Their careers have even followed similar trajectories, from undeniable street cred (Clinton’s activism during her college years / Grohl’s days in Scream) to the times in the ’90s when they both literally stood behind handsome blue-eyed men who ultimately let them down (Bill Clinton / Kurt Cobain). Now they’ve moved to the foreground and are striking out on their own. In their own ways, both Clinton and Grohl have clearly been aiming to take over the world for years — Clinton is just a little more transparent about her goals.
If our presidential candidates were musicians … Bernie Sanders would be Ian MacKaye of Fugazi.
Both are respected long-standing figures in the underground D.C. scene. Both have been in the public eye since the early 1980s, MacKaye with Minor Threat and Sanders as a mayor in Vermont. Both have built careers on being politically active and both choose caffeine as their main drug. Both use their microphones to demand change, promote women’s rights and speak up on behalf of the poor. Both are seen as unwavering and adorably idealistic. Neither are interested in corporate sponsorship and neither would never make you pay more than a nominal cover charge for their events. Both MacKaye and Sanders have clashed with cops over righteous causes, and they both also jam econo— Sanders takes the train and MacKaye has been rocking that hat for ages. And just like MacKaye, Sanders has been saying the exact same things over and over for the last 35 years.
If our presidential candidates were musicians … Ted Cruz would be Alanis Morissette.
Aside from having very punchable faces, at first glance it would seem that Ted Cruz and Alanis Morissette don’t have much in common. But: They do! First of all, both were born in Canada. And though we have no confirmation that he also goes down on people in theaters, there is a disturbing amount of fan-penned Ted Cruz erotica out there. (Yes, just one instance is enough to be considered disturbing. O’Canada!) They were both minor stars before their current careers: Morissette was a regular on the teeny-bopper singing circuit, and before he got into politics Cruz played the grandpa on The Munsters. (Kidding, kidding.) But seriously, we’d bet that like Morissette, Cruz might have one hand in his pocket and that he also doesn’t understand the definition of the word “ironic.”
What do you think? Do you think our comparisons are appropriate? Some of these were hard to pin down. For example, Trump could’ve just as easily been Kanye West because of his epic tantrums and Twitter freak-outs. (Which would make Megyn Kelly into Taylor Swift.) John Kasich is a bit of a Kelly Rowland. And the Clintons could totally be the political version of Beyoncé and Jay Z. And his new role as the voice of the people might make Bernie Sanders the presidential version of Kendrick Lamar.
But what about other famous politicians? Is President Obama a Paul McCartney? And Sarah Palin is totally as incoherent as Axl Rose, right? So many difficult trivial decisions to make and unimportant details to obsess about over here. Send us your feedback and help us out in the comments section.
Evidence Suggests Taylor Swift Is a Psychopath
By Jaime Lees
Fri, Sep 25, 2015
The newest statistics out of psychology studies report that one percent of the general population are psychopaths. With numbers that high, you probably know a psychopath, have dated a psychopath or are actually a psychopath yourself.
Psychopathy is “traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and disinhibited and bold behavior.”
Psychopaths (and sociopaths) fall under the diagnostic umbrella of “antisocial personality disorder.” Traits of those with antisocial personality disorders vary: They are not all serial killers and criminals. A psychopath is just as likely to be an accountant as he/she is to be a Ted Bundy-type.
Using a combination of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), Robert D. Hare’s famous Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) and various psychology articles, we’ve made a list of the traits of a psychopath. We posit that they might apply to international pop star Taylor Swift.
Why? Well, Taylor Swift exhibits a multitude of behaviors that are in line with a diagnosis of psychopathy. She’s the most ambitious blonde since our lady Madonna, and like Madonna she’s turned herself into a holier-than-thou media monster hell-bent on presenting perfection. This rubs many observers the wrong way. Basically, tons of people think that she’s become the music industry version of Anne Hathaway: attractive, talented, hard-working and helplessly annoying.
We have a special interest in Swift and psychology, so here we examine the traits of the psychopath and explore how they might relate to Taylor Swift.
Psychopaths exhibit glib or superficial charm and often have disarming personalities.
Taylor Swift wants everyone to feel like they are her best friend. Just try to be in a room with her without Swift offering to pose for a selfie with you. She seems perpetually “on” in a way that is unnatural and Robin Williams-like. With a constant media spotlight on her life, even her bad days seem Truman Show manufactured. She charms everyone from babies to the elderly with ease and looks like a Barbie while she does it. Creepy.
Psychopaths learn to mimic and display false emotion to hide their lack of empathy and genuine human connections.
She does this so much. Just click this link.
Psychopaths are often wildly successful.
Even Swift’s seemingly altruistic moves are self-profit motivated. Last year she published an essay in the Wall Street Journal about the value of artists and their work. Just a few months later she pulled her entire catalog from Spotify. The executives at Spotify publicly begged for her to come back, but T-Swizz wasn’t having it. So what happened after that? Her latest album, 1989, hit record sales numbers. She sold 1.28 million copies during the first week alone. Why? Because kids actually paid for it instead of just streaming it. The psycho is a genius.
Psychopaths are highly adaptable and often extremely intelligent.
Just this week Ryan Adams released an album that exclusively features track-by-track cover versions of Swift’s latest album, but done in the style of the Smiths. Taylor Smiths? Bet she had to look up the Manchester mopes. Seriously, do you think that Taylor Swift has ever spent even one night sitting all dour in her bedroom and listening to the Smiths or the maudlin music of the university station? No way. But guess whose music is available on Spotify? Ryan “MySpace Hair” Adams. That means that Swift is still getting a check from Spotify and other streaming services. Clever girl.
Psychopaths can easily influence or manipulate others.
A few months ago Ms. Swift wrote yet another note and convinced one of the most powerful corporations in the world to change its streaming policy in favor of “young songwriters” and cash-poor indie artists. Apple knows better than to question Queen T and they acquiesced immediately.
Psychopaths appear to be much more humble than the average person.
Despite being one of the most successful pop stars ever, Taylor Swift constantly portrays herself as a victim, a nerd or as the underdog. (See “You Belong With Me” video and lyrics.) This is a move that makes psychopaths seem less threatening so that they can actually become more powerful. Swift has been pushing this platform since the very beginning of her career, expressing in interviews that her classmates hated her, boys hate her, other performers hate her. All of that might be true (and maybe many are just a bit jealous) but if they view her poorly it’s not because she’s a nerdy victim. She’s been a powerhouse for almost a decade and she is absolutely, in no possible way an underdog. Don’t let her trick you into thinking otherwise.
Psychopaths disregard laws, believing that rules don’t apply to them.
If you or I tried to perform at Rockefeller Plaza, we’d promptly be arrested. Taylor Swift doesn’t care. She just brings in her whole stage and causes a serious disturbance. She probably didn’t even get a ticket.
Psychopaths have many short-term relationships.
Slut-shaming young women is bogus, so let’s just skip this one. You’ve probably already drawn your own conclusions on this topic, anyway.
Psychopaths have behavioral problems during childhood.
Swift’s family relocated to Nashville when she was fourteen so that she could pursue her dream of becoming a country star. But what if her family hadn’t gone for this plan? Can you imagine the intensity of a teenage Tay-Tay tantrum? Yikes.
Psychopaths have a tendency to display violent behavior.
Watch the “Blank Space” video.
Psychopaths are pathological liars and enjoy the thrill that comes from fooling people. That video for “Blank Space” is actually Taylor Swift coming out as a psychopath. Are we so blind as to miss that? She must feel pretty smug for having waved it in our faces and we just obliviously sang along. Take note of these lyrics:
– “Love’s a game / Want to play?”
– “Got a long list of ex-lovers / They’ll tell you I’m insane”
– “Find out what you want / Be that girl for a month”
– “I can make all the tables turn”
– “Boys only want love if it’s torture / Don’t say I didn’t… warn you”
– “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”
Psychopaths have a need for constant stimulation, exhibit high levels of attention-seeking behavior and are prone to boredom.
How do you soothe all of these urges at once? World tour! Psychopaths also seem to have a “stress immunity” because they don’t have normal fear or anxiety responses. That’s probably helpful in this situation, no?
Psychopaths fail to feel remorse or guilt and will only accept blame if it somehow benefits them.
Swift has had more than a few famous fights. First there was Kanye West (where she insisted that we watch her repeatedly take the high road), then came Katy Perry (who she apparently stole tour dancers from and then got mad when Perry stole them back) and most recently it was Nicki Minaj. This fight played out on Twitter. Minaj had a valid complaint about MTV’s Video Music Awards and Swift took it personally. Swift then realized her error and issued a classy apology that effectively squashed all of the bad press that she was getting related to the argument. That’s the closest that Swift has ever come to a serious media blunder. Psychopaths use others to their advantage and engage in superficial friendships.
Swift’s hyper-stylized video for “Bad Blood” contained a selection of her famous friends— including quite a few supermodels. She received much attention for assembling a modern girl-gang and inspired many uses of “#squad.” Swift also used this video to really push the idea that she’s a sexy girl leading a sexy life with her sexy girlfriends. One problem: Taylor Swift is not sexy. She’s supremely pretty. She’s sometimes even gorgeous, but she is never sexy. She uses these women and all of the people that she drags up on stage every night to try to display that she is well-liked and interesting and talented. She might be all of those things, but not because of her superficial BS bragging-rights friendships.
Psychopaths will appear normal to unsuspecting people.
Taylor Swift just likes to hang out at home, you guys. Sometimes she goes shopping. She’s just a regular girl.
Psychopaths are supremely narcissistic.
Swift recently became the most followed person on Instagram. That won’t help control her narcissistic tendencies at all. Psychopaths cannot attach emotionally.
Swift has cats for pets. What better pet for a person who can’t attach emotionally? Most cats DGAF about their owners, so it totally makes sense for their owners to not GAF right back. Cats will manipulate you into getting whatever they want, they will blatantly disobey you and have no compunction about going all Fancy Feast on your face pretty much immediately after you take your last breath. Cats are psychopaths.
Thus, by our estimation Taylor Swift is probably a psychopath. But how do we help Sister Swift? Well, we can’t. Psychopaths can’t be cured.
But check out these quotes from this informative article:
“Psychopathy is probably the most pleasant-feeling of all the mental disorders. All of the things that keep you good, morally good, are painful things: guilt, remorse, empathy.” – Jon Ronson, author
“Psychopaths can work very quickly, and can have an apparent IQ higher than it really is, because they’re not inhibited by moral concerns.” – James Fallon, neuroscientist
Sounds pretty nice, actually. So don’t even (pretend to) worry about our hypothetical diagnosis, Ms. Swift. Just… uh… shake it off.
Taylor Swift will perform at Scottrade Center on both Monday and Tuesday, September 28 and 29. Feel free to go — just maybe watch your back?
“Pazz & Jop is an annual poll of musical releases compiled by American newspaper The Village Voice. The poll is tabulated from the submitted year-end top ten lists of hundreds of music critics. Pazz & Jop was introduced by The Village Voice in 1974 as an album-only poll, but was expanded to include votes for singles in 1979.”
I Love Taylor Swift, But Her New Album Sounds Terrible and I Might Hate It
By Jaime Lees
Thu., Nov. 6 2014
Taylor Swift and I go way back. She doesn’t know this, but we’ve had a relationship since the beginning of 2007 when I caught the second half of “Teardrops on My Guitar” while flipping through radio stations one day in my car. The song sounded so good so immediately that I stopped the scan button to listen to the whole thing. I hummed the chorus for the next few hours, and when it wouldn’t get out of my head, I gave in and looked up the artist. Taylor Swift, said the Internet. Never heard of her.
Because I’m a curious type, I called up my friend Kelly who is into country music and was like, “Who is this singer, Taylor Swift?” and she told me that Swift was some new teenage singer/songwriter who had been blowing up the country charts. I had no idea. Modern country isn’t usually my thing, but the song kind of floated around in my head for the next few weeks. Then I poked around online and found some streams of other songs on that album including “Our Song” and “Should’ve Said No.” Holy crap, they were good. Then I bought the album and was like, “Jesus Christ, all of these songs are so damn perfect. How is this person only sixteen years old? It must be some kind of trick.”
Some time later I was home sick on a weekday and I happened to catch a Taylor Swift appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. It was our first proper (stalker/stalkee) introduction. Before I saw this appearance, I assumed that she was just a generic blond country singer; I had no idea that she was so adorable and funny. She played a killer version of “Our Song” on a sparkly acoustic guitar, and in the interview portion she dissed her famous ex-boyfriend. On international TV! I was all, “Oh, burn! You go, girl!” And I think that’s when I officially fell in love.
And suddenly, to my great surprise, I became a loud, obnoxious champion for this little country star. I’d tell anybody who would listen about how great her songs were and how much I was shocked by it myself. (This phenomenon later became so commonplace that it was referenced just a few days ago in a Saturday Night Live skit.) Most of my friends who liked modern country thought that she was a flash-in-the-pan obnoxious Nashville consumer product, but I had arguments against all that too.
I’d dug into her history and found out many impressive facts about her life, like how she was hired by Sony/ATV at age fourteen as a staff songwriter. And then she took her teenage self and managed to market the shit out of her product until she became one of the most successful, top-selling Grammy-winning performers in recent memory. (And so far, she’s done it all without taking off her clothes.) So I decided that Taylor Swift was punk-fucking-rock and a badass feminist, actually, and I felt bad for any of my too-cool-for-school fellow music journalists who wouldn’t give her a chance.
Soon after, she released her sophomore album, Fearless. I loved it. It showcased her amazing songwriting ability and stealthy lyrical trickery. It still sounded kind of country, but it embraced her exceptional ability to write a flat-out anthem. The best single off of that album, “You Belong With Me” zoomed up every music chart, and rightfully so. It was a modern day hat tip to characters like Duckie Dale from Pretty In Pink — Swift cast herself as the geeky (yet secretly cool) outcast who had a crush on an unattainable. She embraced other styles and attitudes, too. For example, “White Horse” was a “More Than Words“-esque sing-along ballad, and while she still dabbled in dependable fairy-tale set-ups for her lyrical romances, none of it was too over the top or annoying. “You’re Not Sorry” and “Forever and Always” showcased her often-criticized forever-jilted side, but the growth exposed in those songs was necessary to those following along with her story. Almost everything about the songs on that album was endearing, and none if it required any specialized musical tastes. It was pop. It was for everybody.
By the time Speak Now was released in 2010, I was a bona fide Swifty. I believed in this woman and was eager to hear whatever came next. At this point, any disparaging reviews that I read about her no longer focused on her being a former “country” act; they were all about her being young and female and how she wrote about her failed relationships. Even major outlets focused on these points more than necessary, and I read some of the most sexist mainstream coverage that I’d seen in a long while. (Which is saying something, really, since this type of thing is so common that it’s considered the norm.)
Again, the songs contained enough skills to hush any naysayers. Yes, she was still dressed like a pretty, pretty princess on the album cover, but the tunes inside were phenomenal. Some of tracks took a few listens to grow on me, but I’d learned to expect that from Swift’s ace-up-her-sleeve songwriting style. Songs like “Back to December” and “Dear John” struck me as overly sappy, and at first I thought “Mean” was juvenile, but now I love them all. On this album, Swift took the personal and made it universal. Yeah, she continued to slam her ex-boyfriends, but it was in a more broad, relatable way. The lyrics were storytelling, very visual. The title track begged for a cutesy slow-motion-hopping-into-a-convertible-and-speeding-away accompanying video. That never materialized, but the songs stood strong on their own. “The Story of Us” was fast and powerful, and I thought that “Better Than Revenge” was the best “fuck you” pop song I’d heard since Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around.” (And that sly little “You deserve it” at 2:47 still gets me every time — it adds so much extra dimension to that story with just those three words.)
And then came Red in 2012. It was her first truly grownup album, and for the most part it just slayed. It contained just a hint of country and instead embraced a very modern pop sound. It was fresh as hell, really, and prompted critics (including me) to declare Taylor Swift Just Took Her Pop Queen Throne. All Hail!Red felt like she’d finally narrowed everything down and found her own signature thing. It displayed her songwriting in the perfect way while still experimenting with different musical styles. Swift famously flirted with her dark side in the delicious “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and she elegantly exploited the plight of privileged twentysomethings with “22.” But it was “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and its “piston-powered cheerleader chant” chorus that took it to the next level. On the whole, these songs painted Swift as fully evolved, even if slightly personally confused. She had finally found her own, strong adult voice. (And she gave us pizza.)
In anticipation of the release, I cleared away part of my schedule so that I’d have more time to dig into the new album. For real. I was ready for this album to be so amazingly great that I could give a copy to a non-fan and win them over. I was ready to tell the whole of the Swift-hating world to S my D all day.
So imagine my surprise when I first listened to Swift’s 1989 and I freakin’ hated it.
Here’s the deal: I can hardly even get to the songwriting or the lyrics because my ears are rejecting the actual sound of the album. If I try to play it at normal volume, my ears — I swear — literally hurt and feel like they are physically clamping shut. It just sounds way too…high? Shrill? Screechy? I tried it on my home stereo. I tried it in my car. I tried it on my phone. I tried it with earbuds. I tried it with my amazing-sounding fancy vintage headphones. Nope. Every single time I tried to play it, I caught myself wincing and reaching for the volume button to make it go away.
How in the heck is this possible? At first, I reasoned that this album was mixed for ears quite a few years younger (and less rock & roll-damaged) than mine, but upon deeper reflection that didn’t make any sense. Aren’t kids supposed to hear higher sounds better than adults? That’s how they use those secret ringtones and whatnot, right? So by that logic, this album should hurt their ears even more than mine. And I’m not cruel enough to play 1989 around a dog or other animal with exceptional hearing, but I’d be interested in knowing their reaction.
As one does, I took my whining to Facebook, hoping that someone could explain to me what my problem was with this damn album. My many musician friends had their theories, and a friend linked me a to an article where another writer had the same problem. Other Googling led to many blog posts and complaints that were similar to mine. And still others were unsure about her new pop sound. Thank you! You’re never alone when you have the Internet, friends.
My searching led me to something called the “acoustic reflex.” I think that’s my problem. It’s “an involuntary muscle contraction that occurs in the middle ear of mammals in response to high-intensity sound stimuli.” Yep. Exactly.
As it turns out, there are a bunch of possible scientific explanations for what feels like my ears screaming, clamping down and then going dull. Further research brought me to topics like listener fatigue (“thought to be an extension of the quantifiable psychological perception of sound”) and I even have some high-tech theories related to something called “Fletcher-Munson curves.”
I decided to bring in an audio expert. (And obvious full disclosure here: a friend.) I’d been engaged in a years-long conversation with Mario Viele (of St. Louis band Sex Robots) about Taylor Swift. He’s a highly skilled engineer, mix engineer and producer currently based in New York, but he’s also a Swift fan, too, and therefore uniquely qualified to speak on the subject. We’d been texting each other for days about the new album and I asked him to go on the record to explain the problem with my ears.
For the most part, these songs sound weirdly like ’90s club hits to me. Reminiscent of, like, Danity Kane or those boys bands or something. It’s an unexpected observation that was backed up by Viele’s musical knowledge. His smart (and fun) answers to my confused questions are below.
Jaime Lees: Why does the new Taylor Swift album hurt my ears? And what does “Mastered for iTunes” mean, exactly? Explain it to me like I don’t know anything about audio production– because I don’t.
Mario Viele: You don’t need to know anything about production to get the vibe here; the neon all over the artwork says it all. It’s mixed bright and hyped like a Hollywood nightclub, with full intent to pop and buzz and shine.
Mastered for iTunes — which is a process — is different than mixing and mastering for the iTunes age, which is more of a concept. Now, a separate master is often made from the source mixes direct to iTunes quality, skipping the CD master stage and resulting in a “better” inferior format. It’s not exactly ideal, nor is it a terrible thing. It’s kinda like sonic sex ed — don’t tell the kids not to when they’re just gonna anyway.
The “Mastered for iTunes” that you will see tagged on this album in the iTunes store means that instead of having a middle man in the mastering stage — the CD master — a master was encoded direct to the iTunes AAC format from the source mixes, retaining higher bit rates and sampling rates than CDs contain, yet AAC is a less desirable and more compressed format than CD audio. It’s controversial for these basic reasons.
What is bugging you is probably more the production technique — what I’d call mixing and mastering for the iTunes age — which is an aesthetic choice by the team that you as a listener are being objective about. There are moments on the record (notably: the hooks) where compression is used as a tool to excite the track.
Think of a pipe: There is only so much water pressure that can go through it. Imagine that pipe pushed to it’s fullest limit, shaking and spurting water from its valves. That’s kind of the sentiment, but done in a deliberate way with a high grade pipe that can handle the pressure. So it’s more implied than it is literally ready to explode. It’s a lot coming at you, which may be why your ears are going, “AHH!!” a little bit.
Is there any way to fix this problem on my own when listening to the album? Like, what if I crank the bass or wear my headphones over decibel-canceling ear plugs?
The record isn’t just named 1989 for Taylor’s year of birth; it’s also filled with ’80s style production… drum machine samples, keyboards, etc. Sure, you can crank the bass, but you might be better off busting out your Pizza Hut Back To The Future II sunglasses and strapping on some Air Mags for the dance floor.
As an engineer, your ears are already stressed all day, but how did the album sound to you? What would you have done differently?
I think she achieved what she set out to. It’s full of synth and vocal-heavy tracks influenced by both ’80s/’90s arena-pop and current mainstream pop alike. There is a big difference between error and intent, if I could change anything I’d invent a time machine and try and get “This Love” on the Heathers soundtrack.
Who do I blame for this? One of the dozen producers on 1989? All of the producers on 1989? The engineer? The mixer-person? “The current state of pop music”? John Mayer?
The “executive producer,” Max Martin, is responsible for big ’90s hits by the likes of Britney, N*SYNC, and the Backstreet Boys. if you’re gonna blame anyone, BLAME THAT GUY. Seriously though, he was around for Red and is no doubt a big part of the path to 1989, right behind Debbie Gibson, Paula Abdul and that cartoon rap cat, Mc Skat Kat. If there’s truly anything to blame here it’s most definitely the lack of cat raps!
As far as I can gather from attempting to listen to the songs, they sound like the future, but it might not be a future that I am ready for just yet. As with some of her other tunes, maybe repeated listenings will somehow force it all into order in my brain, and also make my ears calm down. Generally, the more you listen the better she gets. This has always been true of all of her other albums. It’s been a week since 1989 dropped and I already like the album (what I’ve heard of it) way more than I did last week.
As a good student of history, I’m already interested in what I’ll think of it six weeks or six months from now. I suspect that I will have adjusted and that it will somehow become my new favorite thing ever. She has some kind of creepy and creeping magic, I think, and I’m still a believer. Bring it on, Swift.
“Pazz & Jop is an annual poll of musical releases compiled by American newspaper The Village Voice. The poll is tabulated from the submitted year-end top ten lists of hundreds of music critics. Pazz & Jop was introduced by The Village Voice in 1974 as an album-only poll, but was expanded to include votes for singles in 1979.”
Full Circle with The Flaming Lips: 2012 In Review
By Jaime Lees
Thu., Dec. 20 2012 at 11:54 AM
Editor’s Note: The end of 2012 is upon us (also the end of the world, if you believe in that sort of thing), so we thought we’d put a cap on things by sharing some of our personal favorite shows, albums, events and general shenanigans. Join us as we indulge in some navel-gazing!
When I write articles for RFT Music, I’m not just reporting on music happenings — I’m writing about my life. One day my priorities might change, but for now what matters the most to me is music. Maybe that’s wrong or unhealthy or something, but it’s true, and luckily most of my favorite music moments of 2012 have been documented in some way on these pages.
I’m lucky in that I have a lot of freedom in this space. It’s curated not only by people who give a crap, but by people who value what I have to offer. After seven years of writing for this publication, I’m still grateful and excited for the opportunity. I absolutely adore my job here at RFT Music. My life is my work and my work is my life, and I’m honored to share it with you.
That said, here was my life in 2012:
I rang in the New Year in Oklahoma City. My sweet old dog, Ruby, had just passed and I was in the middle of some serious grief. I ran away for the weekend to hang out with old friends and see two shows with the Flaming Lips and my spirit animal, Yoko Ono. At the stroke of midnight, I was tipsy on pink lemonade moonshine, bathed in kisses and standing inside a massive sonic blast fortified by a fog of rainbow confetti, flashing lights, jumping lasers, hundreds of bright balloons and the twinkling reflections off of a giant disco ball. The Lips played Beatles covers with Yoko and Sean Lennon and Nels Cline; it was absolute bliss and served as a strong reminder of the healing power of live music.
I’ve been saved again and again by amazing music — most of it local. I’m a huge fan of so many of our local bands. Many people wait years for their favorite bands to tour, but for me, my favorite bands play all the time. As an extra treat, I get the opportunity to write about these St. Louis music makers: Lion’s Daughter, Prince Ea, Jimmy Griffin, Jans Project, Demonlover, Roland Johnson, Fred Friction, Nelly and the list goes on and on. I know that a lot of what I write reads as love letters to St. Louis, but I just can’t help myself — St. Louis just makes it too easy. Stop being so awesome and I’ll stop writing about you. Until then, the locals have my heart. (Extra double shout-out to people that I’m proud to call my friends, the hard-working folks at Big Muddy Records, Tower Groove Records and the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra.)
I’m not sure why, but this year I felt particularly productive. I was given space to write about music-minded locals who inspire me creatively (Dana Smith), about St. Louis music history (STL 2000) and I got to hype the touring bands that I was the most excited about (Future of the Left, R. Ring). I’m still not quite over the fact that I actually get paid to get drunk and watch Guided by Voices, to eat pizza and listen to Taylor Swift, to try to convince readers that Heart is badass, to watch classic bands like Kiss and Mötley Crüe, to review Madonna from the second row, to jump into the world of Juggalos, to get Sinead O’Connor‘s take on St. Louis (and Chuck Berry) and to praise my personal heroes like Bonnie Raitt and Henry Rollins. If you can find a girl that is luckier than me, I’d sure like to meet her.
Under the advice of my very favorite punk rock couple, I attended a show with a band I’d never heard before: I saw Useless Eaters at CBGB and it was the best damn show I saw all year. These kinds of happy accidents only occur when you actually listen to the suggestions of others, so try keep some cooler-than-you friends around.
And though I was stoked on the lineup this year at our big summer festival, LouFest, I had originally declined to do any LouFest coverage. I wanted a weekend of fun, without having to spend all night writing reviews. But there was a last-minute rescheduling and Kiernan came and found me right before Dinosaur Jr played. He needed someone to write about Dino’s set. I said sure, knowing that it would actually be easy– on some level I’d been prepared to review a Dino show for at least half of my life. Kiernan hunted down an empty beer box for me to write on and then he went back out into the crowd, off on his next mission. I found a pen, ducked under a friend’s umbrella and wrote my notes out on the cardboard. Improvising ain’t just for musicians, you know, and the Dino review turned out to be one of my favorite things that I wrote all year.
The second night of LouFest, I again found myself at the emotional mercy of the Flaming Lips live show, but this time as a participant. I danced onstage with some of my favorite people, and I absolutely rocked that slutty Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz costume, if I do say so myself. It was one of the best days of my life and it’s far too personal to write about here, but trust me, it was a good time and I felt absolutely smothered in love.
Since then my life and routines have gotten back on schedule, and this fall has been one great event after the last, and with the upcoming holiday season is bringing tons of shows that I’m excited about– I predict that I won’t get much sleep through the end of the year.
As for the future, who knows? I’m excited about the new crop of weirdness on the South Side. Magic City, Black James, Syna So Pro, Demonlover, Bug Chaser and Horsey Drawers have my interest right now, but nobody can predict what insanity will come in 2013. I, for one, can’t wait. Bring on the New Year. I’ll be lurking in the many venues, festivals, dark basements, loud practice spaces and fancy recording studios around town. See you at the barricades.
Modern record labels are working hard to find new ways to get the product to a paying audience. From free promotional downloads to bonus gifts to direct crowd-sourcing, there are many inventive ways to advertise and distribute new albums.
Nobody wants CDs anymore, they want exclusives and some kind of novelty factor. Swift’s freaky-smart management recognizes this and promoted accordingly. In addition to the Pizza Party plan, this album is offered up in multiple formats by many different vendors. Four singles were digitally released in advance of the album, with some setting download records. The version of Red sold at Target includes six bonus tracks and a different cover photo. (This model also served well for Swift’s last album, Speak Now.) And even Walgreens is in on the action, selling everything from Taylor Swift notebooks to branded guitar picks, and all of this is available 24 hours a day.
And while I celebrate every hustler, this pizza thing has gone beyond slick and into just… weird. Still, I decided to play along. I called up my local Papa John’s to get the details and place my order. My Papa John’s worker, Melanie, seemed more than a little confused by the whole thing. She said that I was only the second person to order the Swift pizza/CD combo from her location.
When my driver arrived, I tipped him well and asked him a few questions about delivering the CD. In broken English he said, “Oh, yes, I deliver all the time! Everybody love it!” I’m not sure who to believe, but I think that he thought that I was flirting with him.
I brought the pizza inside to my waiting friends, and we got right to it. They gave me two pizzas even though I only ordered one, so we thought our party was on. As it turns out, Papa John’s pizza is kind of disgusting. Still, we chewed and we listened, making quick judgements on each song as my underused CD player kept stalling and threatening to skip.
Overall, the album is a lot like the pizza: cheesy, a little too sweet, and then unexpectedly saucy. I’d heard all of the pre-released singles, but the album as a whole was still a surprise. We were one-third of the way through the sixteen-song album before we heard anything that sounded even remotely country. Swift does seem to be expanding her sound, but not her topics. It’s all love, love, love, but I’m not sure why I expect something else from her, even at this point. What do I want her to do now? Write a political song? No. Hell, no. I don’t know. I just want her to be more subtle, I think, but it’s all right there.
The song styles and artwork are both varied to the point of schizophrenic, so the long album stays interesting. The pictures inside the booklet all look straight out of an Anthropologie catalog, and each song has a different photo of Swift to accompany the mood. The lyrics are all there, too, but with (annoying) seemingly-random letters capitalized. I’m sure the Letters contAin some kind of secret Message, but I can’t be arsEd to decode it. In addition to the light twang she’s known for, one song sounds like U2 (“State of Grace”), one song sounds like Jason Mraz (“Stay Stay Stay”) and yet another sounds just like a dreamy Mazzy Star tune (“Sad Beautiful Tragic”).
Like all Swift albums, I have my both my instant favorites (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”) and songs that I immediately dislike (“The Last Time”). Still, the magic of Taylor Swift usually prevails, and even the songs that I’m not into always seem to grow on me after repeated listens. But do you know what I won’t be repeating? Eating a freakin’ Papa John’s pizza. Gross. Papa John’s, we are never ever getting back together. Like, ever.
I’m a long-time believer in the the many talents of T-Swizzle. And while her gaggingly adorable IWearMyCoffeeShopOutfitWhenIGoToTheCoffeeShop-ness sometimes still makes me want to punch her, when it comes to the tunes my homegirl can do no wrong.
Her new single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is a pop monster. It’s slick and big and catchy as a mofo– it’s everything a pop single should be. With a chorus that is best described as a piston-powered cheerleader chant, repetitive lyrics about a relatable subject and a play time of just over three minutes, this lil’ guy was clearly engineered for the radio. Its sing-along qualities mean that you can hear it once and then have it stuck in your head for hours, even if you hate it. To me, that is the mark of a great pop song. If this song is any indication of the sound on her forthcoming album, Red, her days as a “country” star are fading.
Many of you will listen and think What fresh hell is this? And I thought that, too, for about twenty seconds. At first I was annoyed by the over-simplified lyrics and the flow-ruining talking bits. I was like Aww, man. What is this mess? Girl, you are a grown-ass businesswoman– knock if off with the adolescent shit.
And then I realized something important: Taylor Swift is making fun of herself! She’s acknowledging what we all think of her and she’s also making fun of her dating history and her dumb girl emotions. T-Swizzle is totally in on the joke. What a relief.
Now be a good student of pop culture and listen to this song. Or give it a play just to get used to it because it’s never going to leave your head. A new contender for Best Summer Jam of 2012 has just arrived.