It is easy to become distracted by their celebrity, but Taylor Swift is a once in a generation songwriter.
From the beginning, she displayed a talent for melody and storytelling that most artists never master.
Take, for example, your first number one of US, Our Song.
Written for a high school talent show, it is quite typical story of a teenage romance until the last lines: “I grabbed a pen / And an old napkin / And I wrote our song”.
That is smart, self-assured songwriting to someone who wasn’t old enough to vote. In particular, the lyrics of the song to insert the musician directly in the narrative, something that is developed in a tried and tested trope.
But Our Song also provides another one of Taylor’s trademarks: a note from the melody.
These static vocal lines, which she sings in one of the areas of the game for a sustained period, arise in all their albums and increase in frequency when it switches lanes from country to pop.
You can listen to all four songs that she comes out ahead of his new album, Reputation, which comes out this Friday. It is most evident in the first single, Look What you made Me Do, ” where the whole chorus is delivered in a sinister monotone.
But it is less of a cop-out than you might think, and here’s why.
Taylor Swift’s career is built on being accessible. She could have 10 Grammy awards, but recently it invited the faithful fans with an album of reproduction in his mansion on the oceanfront in Rhode Island. In 2008, when she was 18 years of age, accompanied by another fan, With Wright, to his prom in Alabama. She regularly delivers hand-written notes and gift packages to your Instagram followers.
Repetitive melodies that focus on a single note, are part of the appeal. It emphasizes the need for its relatability, imitating the cadence of the voice.
It helps that her lyrics are effortlessly conversational and vernacular. “We are never ever getting back together” is an awkward song title, but it makes perfect sense in Taylor’s brand of teen-speak. The impression is that you’re going out with a friend, talking about boys (and it is almost always children).
Taylor uses the device most often with the verses, by changing the chords underneath her voice to give the melody a sense of movement, the same way that the motion of a light around the room and casts different shadows.
When the choir rises to the musical scale, is like a rush of energy. The emotional highs to be even greater. And, as I am not the first to point out, she has a flair for the melodrama.
Taylor did not invent these one-note melodies, of course. The gregorian chant, one of the first recorded forms of Western music, was predominantly monotonous.
“A lot of that had to do with the understanding of the text, because this is a religious text and that I want people to understand the words they are singing,” said the musicologist Scott Interrante in a podcast on the phenomenon of one note melodies.
“It is important to think in our modern pop songs,” he added. “You can have a lot to do with the words.”
We will scrub the word “could”. Taylor really, really wants us to pay attention to their lyrics.
“I wouldn’t be a singer if I wasn’t a songwriter,” she told Billboard in the year 2014. “I don’t have any interest in singing the words of another person.”
Instagram / @taylorswift
If you believe the tabloids, who spends most of his time singing on the famous ex-boyfriends and fights with fellow pop stars – but if you pay attention, Swift’s catalog is full of deft lyrical minutiae.
In fact, she has the rare ability to tell a complete story in the space of a sentence:
“She wears short skirts / I wear t-shirts / She’s cheer captain / And I’m on the bleachers” (Belong to Me)
“We’re dancing round the kitchen in the refrigerator light” (all Too Well)
“I never saw you coming/ And I’ll never be the same” (State of Grace)
“Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a dream” (Blank Space)
“Remember, when you hit the brakes too soon? / Twenty stitches in a hospital room” (Of The Woods)
This last is particularly interesting. The car accident was real, and Taylor sings the (a note) melody with a rare urgency through a turbulent accompaniment track.
“I put it in the song knowing that it was a reminiscent of the lyrical,” he told NPR in 2014. “It was almost like a very strange, subtle clue to the media that they don’t know everything that happened in that relationship, and they don’t know everything that happens in my life, and I have something really important and traumatic happen to me, and they don’t know.”
In this year, Look What you made Me Do, she used the note of the melody of another way – to convey the anger, and rebellion.
The goal here is to Kanye West, the stage crashed her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards and has dogged his career since then.
“I don’t like your wicked games”, he spits, “The role that I did play / the fool / No, I don’t like you.”
His delivery was clipped and defensive. The conversational tone is replaced by a threat. (By the way, that is probably the reason why the song took a battering in the media: the Bitter Taylor is not as attractive as the unlucky-in-love-but-shaking-it-off Taylor.)
Another of Taylor’s traits key is to shout out key lines of emphasis: “We never go out OF fashion”; “we’re in the clear, however, IN THE CLEAR STILL? GOOD!”; “All you had to do was STAY (STAY) STAY (STAY)”.
Again, she is using rhetorical tricks to drive home their point of view – and in doing so, she is taking her place in the pop pantheon.
Composers such as John Lennon and Morrissey, who put emphasis on equality of their letters, they also tend to use one note melodies. And then there’s rap, whose rhythmic ebb and flow exerts an increasingly strong gravitational pull of pop writers.
In fact, the static melodies that are popping up all over the place, in the Dua Lipa the New Rules, Post Malone Rockstar, and Khalid Young, Dumb And Broke.
Instagram / @taylorswift
None of this is to suggest that Taylor is incapable of writing a melody. Of their new songs, the song Lovely love is at once the most sincere and the most traditionally “songy”.
But his masterpiece is a song called Ronan – a little-known charity single, released in 2012. It was written about Ronan Thompson, a four-year-old boy who died of a rare form of cancer.
After reading a blog post written by the child’s mother, Maya Thompson, Taylor returned his words in a song: “I remember your bare feet down the hallway / I remember your little laugh / race cars on the kitchen floor, plastic dinosaurs / I love you to the moon and back.”
In other hands, could have been saccharine and exploitative. No, No. Taylor’s delicate delivery, and of the sad contours of his melody are simply devastating.
If you’ve ever had doubts, Ronan resolves: Taylor Swift is nothing, but a note of the pop star.
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