It has recently come to my attention that people don’t like Taylor Swift.
Actually, that’s not true. It first came to my attention two years ago, after I wrote an article in defense of Swift and was called “a biased son of a bitch” and accused of propping up “a feminist’s nightmare” as a result.
All of that seemed a bit, uh, harsh, though I suppose I understood where all the acrimony was coming from: After all, this was during Taylor’s “win everything while continually doing the ’surprised face’ ” phase (you know, the one where she put her hands to her mouth), and people were probably sick of her. Though, as I wondered back then, what, exactly was her biggest sin? Faux earnestness? Bum notes on national TV? Single-handedly keeping a flailing industry afloat? None of those things really seemed to warrant the level of hatred Swift was receiving. Then it dawned on me that people’s biggest problem with her was the one thing she had no control over: Her youth.
See, at the time, Swift had just won Album of the Year at the Grammys — she was, and still is, the youngest artist to ever do so — and was riding a string of singles (“Love Story,” “You Belong To Me”) that could charitably be described as, well, naïve, in that they were essentially fairy tales set in high school. And that sort of made sense, after all, what else was she supposed to write about? But she didn’t do much to silence her naysayers with the songs off her next album, 2010’s Speak Now, either … particularly “Mean,” which was about those cruel critics (why they gotta be so mean?) or “Dear John,” a kiss-off to former flame John Mayer in which she went to great lengths to not only play the victim, but trumpet that naivety (“Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with? The girl in the dress cried the whole way home/I should have known.”) She was eternally the ingénue, and it seemed, in a lot of ways, like she was playing directly into her detractors’ hands.
I only mention that now because it no longer applies. On Monday, Swift premiered her brand-new single, the title of which says all you need to know about her ingénue status. It’s called “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” and not only is it fantastic, but it may also represent a turning point in her career (or, at the very least, quiet her critics). Because it’s obvious that, at 22 and with a mansion in Nantucket , Swift no longer has any interest in being the victim.
Sure, it starts like a lot of her previous songs, and it’s filled with lyrical “cuz, like’s” and “like, ever’s,” but there’s a marked maturity to “Back Together,” one that starts with its sentiment — you know, screw you dude, we are never ever getting back together — and carries right on through its sonics, all shiny, silvery guitars and walloping, whomping choruses (courtesy of Max Martin and Shellback). Make no mistake, this song was custom-crafted to dominate radio — and it certainly will — recalling, in that regard, Kelly Clarkson’s 2009 comeback disc All I Ever Wanted . Swift is fully embracing pop music this time out, and what’s more, she’s doing it confidently.
And like Clarkson’s hits off that album (“My Life Would Suck Without You,” “I Do Not Hook Up”), “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” also displays a defiant, liberated streak, one that’s evident in the way Swift dismisses her on-again/off-again lover, and the lesson she learns at song’s end: namely, that she’s not only better off alone, she’s fine with that. That’s the kind of thing you don’t realize in high school, the important undercurrent on the flipside of starry-eyed songs like “Love Story.” Co-dependence is nice for prom night, but the real world demands independence above all else.
And finally, truly, Swift has embraced this. She may never fully silence those critics, and she may still be young, but one thing’s for sure, with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” she’s proven that she’ll never again be the girl in the dress who cried her way home.