Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Why Taylor Swift’s ‘Innocent’ is not about Kanye West

At this year’s MTV Video Music Awards back in September, Taylor Swift premiered the song ‘Innocent’ from her new album ‘Speak Now’.

The song was claimed to be a letter of forgiveness to Kanye West, who stole her Best Video moment in 2009. But in all the talk about the performance and motivation behind the song (as well as the terrible live performance Swift gave, which funnily enough cannot be found anywhere on YouTube), it seems not to have been considered who the song is really about.

The lyrics do vaguely refer to someone who has wronged her, whom she pities and is offering forgiveness to. But I see very little evidence that this person is Kanye West, however much it is claimed by Swift’s people and the blogosphere as a whole.

Consider the following lines:

Lost your balance on a tightrope
Lost your mind tryin' to get it back

Have we really seen any evidence that West has been wallowing in regret and self-questioning since the episode? There’s nothing to suggest that this was a tipping point in West’s life, which he has desperately been trying to restore.

Next let’s take the second verse:

Wasn't it easier in your firefly-catchin' days?
And everything out of reach, someone bigger brought down to you
Wasn't it beautiful runnin' wild 'til you fell asleep?
Before the monsters caught up to you?

This sounds distinctly (as does much of the song) like it is sung to a young adult struggling with grown-up life, wishing to return to the innocent days of their childhood – a topic incidentally covered much better on the album on the song ‘Never Grow Up’. For Swift to be writing this about West seems a bit of a leap into his psyche; again, it’s not something an impression that’s ever really been given.

Furthermore, the song strongly implies it is sung about someone whom Swift looked up to and respected, perhaps even idolised – “Your string of lights is still bright to me”. Kanye West doesn’t really seem to me like a convincing idol for a girl like Swift.

Overall, what I’m saying is that there are several logical fallacies in this song that don’t make it sound like it was genuinely written about Kanye West. But what about the points that bloggers have raised, that do seem to be about him? His age is cited, and reference is made to September, when the incident happened. But personally I feel that either of these points could just as easily refer to someone else, or have been changed or added to fit.

So, if this is true, why let it be believed that a song is about a topic it is not? The answer to that is very simple: publicity. With Swift given a performing slot on this year’s VMAs, finding a way to reference last year’s incident was an effective way of providing a hook and getting people to tune in and listen to the song. And of course, it’s also then promotion for the album. One of Swift’s trademarks is that her songs are always ostensibly about the boys she’s dated, but that she never tells who (and incidentally, I’m pretty sure the Kanye West line was never stated by Swift or her people directly). It’s an effective promotional hook and it works for her – it’s natural that people would expect a song about West, as an important influence in her life, which fans feel they are entitled to be involved in. 

And that's what they've been given, on the surface - a tactic Swift and her producers have become very good at. And based on the fact that I've just written a 600 word blog article on the subject, it seems to work.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Song Review: Sunny Sweeney - From A Table Away

I don't intend to make this blog a music reviews blog, but from time to time I intend to write about songs I absolutely love, or ones I despise. The latter's a lot more fun to do, but I'm actually going to start off on a positive note. Shocking, I know.

'From A Table Away' is Sunny Sweeney's first single in several years, and marks a change in direction from the traditional honky-tonk sound of her first album, Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame. The production here is more modern country, and Sweeney's voice has echoes of Natalie Maines', which is certainly no bad thing indeed!

The song tells the story, in the first person, of the 'other woman', who finds herself at the next table in a restaurant to her lover and his wife, and listens in on their conversation, in which she realises they're still very much in love, and confronts her man afterwards. There's several ways this song could have been taken by a lesser vocalist, and that's where my admiration for both the song and singer comes in. The song doesn't tell us how to feel, it doesn't tell us all the background, and lets us fill in the gaps for ourselves. Did this man lie to her? Did he ever intend to leave? Or have his feelings changed? And then there's the fact that we are hearing the song from the perspective of the other woman, the potential homewrecker. Is that where our sympathies lie?

There's slight echoes of anger and resentment in the song, but they don't take over at any point. I'd say the main emotion here is sadness, and of a realisation. In overhearing and watching their conversation, the narrator realises that her lover is still in love with his wife, or is at least prepared to make another go of it with her ("I heard you tell her you still love her"), and that this spells the end for her relationship with him. Then there's the line "I guess that means that things are better", could be interpreted in several ways. It could be sarcastic, bitter or desperate, and there's possibly even a little bit of pleasure, that the man she loves, even though she cannot have him, is happy.

I guess that's my overall feeling with this song, and the reason I like it so much. There's so many lines that can be read in many ways, and Sweeney interprets them beautifully, managing to bring across all of these emotions without letting one dominate, giving the song an ambiguity that demands the listener think, consider, and listen again.

The multiple layers of the lyrics can be summed up in the final line: "You're gonna stay a table away". This could be anger, pushing the man who has hurt her away. Or it could be sad resignation, developing the metaphor of a crowded restaurant to where she realises she will never share a table with the man she loves.

Listen on MySpace

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

"80,000 people stole my song!"

A few weeks ago, I read a quote from country singer James Otto over on The Boot. He says:
This week I sold 7,500 singles (which is pretty good), but 80,000 people stole it. No wonder so many of my friends in the business are losing their jobs. Kinda scary. Half the [song]writers in Nashville can't get a job anymore because of this. People pay five bucks for a cup of coffee, but not 99 cents for a song?
I commented on that blog at the time that, while I don’t disagree with the spirit of his comments, I do wonder where this figure of 80,000 copies comes from. A lot of the problem with illegal downloading is that it's not trackable and not public. It's not like you go somewhere official and allow the illegal downloading to be counted when you do it. So, where has Otto got this figure from? 299 subscribers have listened to it, so it’s not that. Has he uploaded it to Rapidshare himself and pushed it around the net in order to see the result? Or is he simply making up a figure to boost his argument?

My other problem with Otto’s statement is that the song he’s referring to, his single Groovy Little Summer Song, is only the second single from an album that is not yet released. Personally, I wouldn’t pay a dollar for a song if I were then planning to shell out for the whole album, essentially paying for the same song twice, and, in that scenario, I might well download it illegally to listen to until I obtained my legal copy on the album.

In this case, I haven’t, since I’m not a big fan of Otto’s. However, one album that came out earlier this year was Whitney Duncan’s nearly two years since the first single, and since several of the songs were released as a ‘selections sampler’ on mp3 download. I refused to pay for these songs at the time, and knowing I was always planning to purchase them as part of the album, I enjoyed them illegally. So, now the album’s finally been released, I’ve bought my copy, right?

Actually, no. Because it’s not available on mp3 download in the UK, or on a physical CD that isn’t an overpriced import. In these days of digital sales, there’s no excuse for an artist’s material not to be available everywhere, and, when it’s not, it simply encourages piracy. This is an issue that the music industry desperately needs to sort out, as, when given the choice between paying £21 for a CD they can see their US peers paying $5 for or simply hopping on to a file-sharing site, it’s often not a hard choice. And in this way, record companies, artists and songwriters are losing sales and losing money that should and could have been theirs.

There are far more detailed issues to be looked at regarding piracy and the music industry’s antiquated and ill-advised methods, but I’ll save that for another post.