Monday, October 12, 2009

#82. Taylor Swift - Fearless (Big Machine, 2008)

I used to think that the pinnacle of musical maturity was restricting my listening to 'serious music' whatever that means. I dismissed popular music out of hand, at least popular music that was geared specifically towards the younger set of listeners. I ignored country music until it was rammed down my throat. I justified it as holding genuine musical expression over a commercial product and rolled my eyes whenever someone would counter that with 'but they write their own songs!' In short, I was an elitist asshole for a spell there. I was a music snob of the worst kind, and I'm seeing the idiocy of my stance more and more as I begin to actually pay attention to the mainstream's evolution. I still may have a slight bias against a lot of its elements - reliance on cliche and melodrama mostly - but looking more critically at the state of radio as opposed to disdainfully has revealed that in certain instances I can identify myself as a fan of pop music. It felt weird at first, I was becoming everything I hated not too long ago after all, but it's feeling better and better, especially when something like Fearless comes along.

In an idealized world, Taylor Swift is the future of pop music. Here's a ridiculously talented girl who - retroactive hypocrisy noted here - writes her own songs, managed to take over both country radio and pop stations, become half of an unfortunate meme, collaborated with T-Pain and made on the single most satisfying albums of the decade, in any genre, all before she turned 20. It's almost unfathomable that all these things have happened, let alone that I'm actually on board with them, but for the first time in a long time, the biggest phenomenon in pop culture is someone who actually deserves it. You may argue that she didn't earn her fame or something along those lines, but when in the last decade could you say that a driving force in pop music was more talent than marketing? When was the last time someone so young managed to get this big by acting her age? Without gratuitous sex appeal? It's like we've been transported to Patton Oswalt's theoretical 'good earth' for a little bit, and if there's any justice in this world this is the direction that pop music embraces.

Really, whatever it represents in the grand scheme of pop music present and future, it wouldn't be here if it weren't loaded with absolutely fantastic songs. Even if you ignore the singles - and one in particular I'm gonna have to for obvious reasons - and just examine the deep cuts it's obvious that Swift's an exceptional songwriting talent. Sure the subject matter isn't too broad, mostly centered around relationships of a distinctly teenage variety, but I can't exactly fault her for sticking to what she's familiar with, and while it's a narrow focus generally the songs rarely tread the same ground. It may be 12 songs about relationships filtered through a haze of hormones and one about her parents ("The Best Day," which turns out to be the highlight incidentally) but of the twelve only one is mediocre ("Tell Me Why") and very few cover the same aspect of high school love. The easy example would be the immediate refutation of "Love Story" and its fairytale and literary reference colored view of the ideal love with "White Horse"'s quietly devastating chorus of 'I'm not a princess/this ain't a fairy tale', but outside of that you've got "Fearless" (love makes you confident!) cast against "The Way I Loved You" (love makes you crazy!), "You're Not Sorry" and "Breathe"'s differing looks at the end of a relationship, "Hey Stephen"'s adorable's not groundbreaking material but it's all handled with deftness and maturity betraying her youth while at the same time revelling in it.

Honestly, I was surprised at how much ass this album kicked. Sure, the singles were all great but the fact that only "Tell Me Why" would break that streak when so many pop albums reek of filler between obvious single choices totally caught me off guard. It may represent the pinnacle of modern pop music in album form, and I can't ignore that even if it flies in the face of my mindset about this sort of stuff from only a few years ago. I've officially become a pop-tard, nowlet's move along...

Coming up tomorrow: Another reunion that produced better results than you'd expect.

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