This week I’m closing tabs. Those needling articles I’ve clipped or stuck a pin into and left open on my desktop hoping to get to later. One had to do with Taylor Swift. I know only what the Internet tells me about Taylor Swift as I have not followed her career or spent time listening to her music. Except to say some of the earlier Youtubes of her music seem really simple.
She’s a sensation. According to the radio her latest album, Reputation, has blown up the universe. On track to have the biggest sales ever. “Swift on track to sell more than 1 million records in the record’s first week.”
If only this kind of success could transfer to books. Not since Harry Potter has a new release made such a splash.
From the beginning she has been writing autobiographical songs, inserting herself as a character into the ballad/narrative/soundscape. From the BBC article:
Take, for example, her first US number one, Our Song.
Written for a high school talent show, it's a fairly typical tale of teenage romance until the final lines: "I grabbed a pen / And an old napkin / And I wrote down our song."
That's smart, self-assured songwriting for someone who wasn't old enough to vote. Notably, the lyrics insert the musician directly into the narrative - something she developed into a tried and tested trope.
Well, she must be doing something right. The reviewer went on to say that she’d also mastered the one-note melody—a bit of fast-talking rap/gush of words she piles up on notes. What could on paper be awkward, confusing, clumsy turn into (hits, yes and) conversational songs that are accessible to most listeners.
I’ve written here at this blog in the past about conversational poetry. Poetry that rejects form, that feels more like prayer, intimate revelations straight from the heart to the ear of the reader. The reviewer observed that by mimicking the cadence of speech, her lyrics are effortlessly conversational and vernacular. This must be a recipe worth repeating.
Also as someone who writes flash—it cannot be denied that Taylor Swift can work a whole story into a one-line lyric.
"She wears short skirts / I wear t-shirts / She's cheer captain / And I'm on the bleachers" (You Belong With 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 daydream" (Blank Space)
"Remember when you hit the brakes too soon? / Twenty stitches in a hospital room" (Out Of The Woods)
So no matter if you’re a fan, there’s a lot that can be gleaned from studying pop hits. And, perhaps, we might hit just the right note.