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.


  1. I concur with you, Sam.

    I thought Kanye West and Taylor Swift singing songs (supposedly) about the 2009 VMAs controversy on the 2010 VMAs was very crass. I thought both parties had moved on, and if they did, they would've done different songs.

    Though, I can never stand to watch the VMAs anyways. (I am never a fan of fan-voted awards, particularly in music (AND country music), they always tend to shaft the better works).

  2. I have to admit, I didn't actually see the VMAs themselves, I just watched the Taylor Swift clip on YouTube!