On December 13, 1989, a true songbird in every sense of the word was born…her name is Taylor Swift. Flash forward twelve years to the day a computer repairman named Ronnie came to her house, and showed her how to play three chords on the guitar. That simple lesson ignited a flame in her to learn the instrument, which subsequently led to her writing her first song, “Lucky You.” It would be a few more years before her name became well known in the pop culture lexicon; but she was destined for super-stardom. Let me state from the outset that I am the antithesis of, what I will assume is, one of her average fans. I’ve never been particularly into, or interested in listening to, country music. It’s not because I think its bad music, or anything along those lines, but I grew up during the 1980s, in East Norwich, New York, which is in Nassau County on Long Island, and that’s simply not the kind of music that I was exposed to. Heavy Metal’s heyday was in full swing at the time. Groups like Def Leppard, Guns N’Roses, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, and Ratt, to name a few, were the bands I listened to. In addition to metal, I was also into more traditional rock n’ roll groups such as AC/DC, Aerosmith and Bon Jovi; and rap and hip-hop was starting to work its way into the mainstream with acts like The Beastie Boys, Run- D.M.C., and The Fat Boys. I don’t remember hearing a lick of country music, no pun intended, until I first heard a song by Garth Brooks in the early 1990s.
Taylor Swift was born and raised in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, to Andrea and Scott Swift, a homemaker and stockbroker respectively. And even before her interest in music was sparked, she was already showcasing her talents. When she was in the fourth grade, she wrote a three page poem titled, “Monster In My Closet,” which won a national poetry contest. Although her first attempted forays into the music world were rejected, she traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, before she hit her teens to try and make it as a singer; not that many years would pass before she broke down doors that were previously closed to her.
The song “Tim McGraw,” was the first single that received air play off her debut album which was released in 2006 and titled simply, Taylor Swift. It would go on to be certified multi-platinum, and the album peaked at number one on Billboards top country albums, as well as number five on Billboards top 200 list. That same year, at the 50th annual Grammy Awards, Taylor was nominated for the Best New Artist award, losing out to Amy Winehouse. Even though Taylor came up short at that awards ceremony, it wouldn’t be long before she would take the stage numerous times in 2008 at the 52nd annual Grammy Awards, where she won four Grammy’s, including the coveted Album of the Year award for her work on her sophomore album, Fearless. Prior to the impressive evening she had at the 2008 Grammy Awards, in October of 2007, Swift became the youngest ever recipient of the Songwriter/Artist of the Year award given by the Nashville Songwriters Association.
I’ve been driving around for the past week listening to Swift’s third album, Speak Now, which was released on October 25th of this year. In my opinion, Taylor Swift is full of girl-next-door charm and her new emotionally charged CD is not only very well written, but filled with songs that are catchy, and once again showcase the signature sound and autobiographical lyrics that her fans have come to know and love. But, what I was most taken with was the fact that Taylor wrote the entire album by herself. In this blogger’s opinion, that is an impressive accomplishment for any twenty year old entertainer, or any musical artist for that matter, when one stops to contemplate the difficulties in creating good music.
This album is a soul- barer for Swift who does not once in any of the songs try to construct her lyrics about past love and relationships in an oblique manner. I applaud Taylor for using her songs to express the heartache she feels over her lost loves instead of Tweeting, or giving lurid magazine and television interviews where she would undoubtedly be given an open forum to trash her exes.
Perhaps one of the reasons both her new album and her previous two albums have garnered such success is that she is able to communicate with everyday people. She lends a passion-filled voice to those of us who might desire to say particular things, but either can’t for a variety of reasons, or else wouldn’t dare. She not only dares, but she does it in a way in which people who think such thoughts can relate to. Swift is smart enough to know, as evidenced by her new album, that, the fans who first fell in love with her when they were fifteen have grown up. The same people she courted with her first album have graduated from high school, and are either attending college or working their first jobs, and Swift does an excellent job on her new CD, Speak Now, of both recognizing it and adjusting her themes and vocals to a mature level that is reflective of the situation that a large number of her fans probably find themselves in.
One of the strongest songs on the album, in this blogger’s opinion, is the track “Dear John.” Allegedly, the subject of the song is about her relationship, albeit brief, with singer John Mayer; but I used the word “allegedly,” because there is absolutely no solid admission on Swift’s part in the lyrics that confirms what is probably a correct assumption on the part of many of her fans when the lyrics are deconstructed. The song is slow moving and clocks in at almost seven minutes in length. A bluesy sound emanating from an electric guitar, coupled with her voice’s timbre that is both strong and elegant, make this one of the best and most emotionally charged tracks on the CD. In essence, it is a song about being used, and who amongst us can’t look back over the landscape of our lives and relate to that to some degree.
In addition to “Dear John,” other songs on the CD that demonstrate Taylor’s maturation both lyrically and vocally are “Never Grow Up,” “Innocent,” and “Back to December,” which is perhaps Taylor’s most mature song to date. She is not afraid to admit her own short comings, and musically, the way the song is constructed with the addition of both bells and strings adds to the emotional depth of the track and make it that much more powerful. “Innocent” is slow moving and has almost a dreamlike quality to it. Some might find it boring, but I think it is an alluring piece of music that deserves to be given several listens before final judgment is passed. “Never Grow Up” is a nostalgic number which pays tribute to childhood. In my opinion, what Swift is trying to convey with this song is that children – through no fault of their own – don’t realize how special and carefree that time period is in their lives. Many people I’ve spoken to would sometimes like nothing more than to revert back to childhood either to escape a current problem or to start over in order to travel a different path in life, and I think Swift does an excellent job of capturing the wonderment that is associated with childhood.
Overall, Speak Now is a CD where every song has the potential to be a radio hit depending on the format of the station playing it. It’s one album that won’t be leaving my six disc changer anytime soon. Swift helped to launch a campaign to protect children from online predators in 2007, sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” at game three of the 2008 World Series, became a celebrity spokesperson for the National Hockey League appearing in commercials for the Nashville Predators, hosted Saturday Night Live, and has donated large sums of money to charity, for example: $500,000 to a Tennessee flood relief telethon in May 2010. Whatever she does, this class act of a young entertainer has a bright future ahead of her. If her third CD is any indication of the path that her musical career is headed down, she will continue to entertain the masses with her own original music and nothing more. She seems to know to leave well enough alone and let the music speak for itself. It is as though she knows that it would be both unwise and completely poor decision making on her part to infuse her albums with graphic lyrics or try to hype her music through her sexuality by making provocative music videos or partaking in risqué photo spreads. Speak Now by the talented Taylor Swift is available for purchase on Amazon.com, Best Buy, Target and numerous other retailers and on-line providers. Pick up a copy today; you’ll be humming the lyrics by tomorrow.