Taylor Swift never disappoints. This does not necessarily mean she does not make mistakes; nor does it mean she meets all of our expectations. In the eyes of billions of fans like myself, Taylor Swift does not disappoint, whether it comes to her music or career choices or personal behavior, because her fans have fallen in love with her. From the start, for those who bothered to listen or rather seek out on YouTube every recorded interview she had ever done, she would tell them exactly who she was and what she wanted and gave all the little details to the inner workings of her mind. Through it all, her fans saw her strengths, her vulnerabilities, and her adamant refusal of diminishing or suppressing that innate, child-like hope we all have deep inside of ourselves for the good things in life and people. She always tells it like it is, while somehow reflecting a light of that hope in a very real way. Through her vulnerable honesty and self-awareness, she allows people to understand rather than judge her, but she also inspires them with her strong and hopeful perspective.
So, when Taylor Swift’s career or musical direction takes twists and turns, it really is not all that surprising for anyone who’s been listening to her or following her projects rather than bits and pieces of media news or third party sources. She is just like any one of us, a real person with tens of trillions of interests and facets of her personality. Unfortunately for the purposes of marketing, today’s music still must box musicians into easily understandable musical categories and genres. Ironically, while naming music as a specific genre or two is supposed to make it easy to understand or expect what that music will be like, it is appropriately becoming more and more difficult to find a traditional genre to imprison musicians as independent and experimental artists bravely (or smartly) embrace their individual creativity rather than mere marketability. Genres do help people organize and categorize music. However, either our definitions of traditional genres must continually shape-shift or new genre labels must be created as more artists cross genres and create new ones themselves.
I am glad that Taylor Swift is labeled a country artist because I love good pop music. How does that even make sense? Somehow that is how my mind grapples with her music in today’s musical climate. Simply, she makes the kind of music I would want to make and would want to listen to. A lot of today’s mainstream pop leans toward club-playability or simple, thoughtless lyrics and construction. It is obvious when music is created to sell to the masses rather than for pure joy of making music. Unfortunately, most mainstream pop music today is produced in an overtly lifeless, formulaic way. A lot of that probably is due to fear of risk and lure of big gains in the financial crisis of the music industry. So, I am very thankful that Taylor Swift decided at the very important first steps of her career to not sign with a major record label and not be defined as pop. Classifying herself as a country artist, she has been largely able to create the music she wants, whether it be seen as country or pop, and thank goodness because I love her music–whatever it is.
That brings us to “I Knew You Were Trouble,” Taylor’s currently promoted single off recently debuted album Red. For the first time, Taylor collaborated with Max Martin on this song, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” and one other on Red. Max Martin is the genius pop hit-maker behind the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” “Oops!… I Did It Again,” and more recently, most of the hit singles off Katy Perry’s most recent album Teenage Dream. “I Knew You Were Trouble” does have a Katy-Perry-esque pop sound to it. However, both Katy Perry and Taylor Swift love writing their own music, and so their music still very much screams themselves even when they collaborate with such a power force as Max Martin, which is why Katy Perry’s music still is distinct from Taylor Swift’s which is distinct from other mainstream pop music. During the time of “Oops!… I Did It Again,” Max Martin would simply create everything himself or with another writer or producer and merely have the singer come in for the vocals. The singer was just an instrument for his music rather than the singer as the leading musician and artist of the song.
Taylor Swift is adamant about writing her own music so much so that when she was starting her career, she declined a record deal with major record label RCA because they would not let her sing her own music. She has previously stated that she considers herself a songwriter first before anything else. In fact her professional musical career began when she was 15-years-old when she signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV Tree Music Publishing, which signed her on as the youngest Staff Songwriter they had ever hired. Her previous album Speak Now was completely written by herself. As she must evolve with her music, Taylor collaborated with a few well-respected and admired writers, including Max Martin, on a little less than half the songs on Red. Needless to say, I do not believe we have to worry about Taylor Swift’s musical direction changing so much that we will not be able to understand or recognize her because knowing her, she will not remove herself from the process or her music because she actually does love songwriting and music.
I keep getting myself into rant territory, and I have to stop or else I will never finish this article. So, “I Knew You Were Trouble” is an exciting look into just another part of Taylor Swift. It is exciting to see her develop her interests and new ways of expressing herself through music. I love music that uses tools and instruments of music for intelligent and purposeful reasons, whether to express an idea or create a mood or story, rather than to reach a certain audience or to profit for marketability even when that production of the music contributes in no way to the heart of the lyrics or song. For these reasons, I was excited to hear dubstep in “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Dubstep is a very enticing and attention-snapping genre to explore that has become more recognizable by mainstream today in songs such as “Too Close” by Alex Clare. The dubstep sounds awesome in “I Knew You Were Trouble” and adds a cool ominous layer to the song’s tone.
The pictures of Taylor Swift on-set of the music video for “I Knew You Were Trouble” look amazing, and it is always fun to see the different characters Taylor likes to dress up as. She always has so much fun exaggerating and embracing whatever character she dons on herself, which does make her quite the entertainer. She also is very much involved in the creation of the idea for her music videos and the characters in them, which also makes them that much more enjoyable to watch. The premiere date is still unknown, but I definitely can’t wait to see it!