Words by Sarah Lee
Image: Country style Taylor Swift
‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
We all saw it coming, didn’t we? The signs were all there. It was only a matter of time before Taylor Swift made the leap to pop. Any Swiftie would have figured it out just by assessing the trajectory of her last few albums. Speak Now and Red were still passable. They both contained a fair amount of country tunes. ‘Shake It Off’, her latest single from her soon-to-be released album 1989, officially sealed the deal.
For some reason, country music has never been quite as popular in most parts of the world as it is in the United States. You would be hard pressed to find a radio station in Malaysia giving substantial airtime to musicians such as Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan or Brad Paisley. In fact, you rarely see artists in this genre of music touring Asia. Taylor Swift is one of the few exceptions, having recently performed in this region as part of her Speak Now and Red concert tours. So how exactly was Taylor Swift able to achieve this?
It is arguable that Taylor Swift stood out internationally as a country music artist because she made the genre accessible and relatable for the average adolescent listener. Universal themes of high school relationships and friendships encapsulated her first few albums, allowing it to transcend social and cultural barriers. Personally, I was drawn to the narrative structure and lyrical detail of her songs, qualities which are a rarity in pop music today (Oh my god, look at her butt – Seriously, Nicki Minaj?). In a world where rap, hip hop and pop dominate, it was a breath of fresh air to have an artist like Taylor Swift establish a mainstream name for herself. It helped that that the country twang present in her songs differed musically from the average pop song.
It is for this reason that although ‘Shake It Off’ may certainly be catchy, it is a far cry from Swift’s previous works – not because of its pop nature per se, but because of the lack of in-depth lyrics normally present in her songs. Make no mistake, this article does not intend to debase nor devalue the worth of pop songs. It merely highlights the fact that Taylor Swift may be making a mistake in tossing her cowboy boots aside. What made her as an artist stood out were the elements mentioned earlier. By succumbing to the pop musical factory, she risks diluting her unique qualities as an artist. It also begs the question of whether or not country music will ever gain momentum in this part of the world again, especially with her making the transition to pop.
That being said, it would be irrational to place a restriction on the creativity of musicians. Albums, after all, are meant to demonstrate the development and growth of an artist over time. Artists grow and shape and change. Yes, I will always miss the blonde country princess with the long curls and sundresses. But I guess for now, ‘Shake It Off’ will just have to do.
Image: Taylor Swift – 1989
Author’s Note: 1989 is scheduled for release on October 27, 2014. The writer of this article hopes that it will include at the very least a few decent country songs. Either that or pop songs with more lyrical finesse than ‘Shake It Off’.
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