Last week, special guest contributor Jordan Holmes began what he called “The Swiftening”, in which he would listen to every Taylor Swift album in chronological order despite never having, intentionally, listened to any of her songs before. It began with Swift’s 2006 self-titled debut, which you can read here.
Against all the odds, an unemployed podcast host struggling to start writing another – god knows whatever you’d call what he did last time – has managed to craft from his vast resource of quarantine time another bitter screed against someone vastly more talented and successful.
(I wrote that before I finished, so if you didn’t read it… I didn’t.)
15 was half my life ago, so I believe the traditional thing for a writer with my stated intent is to use these first couple of paragraphs to reflect on my life and how things have changed before jumping into work, a la literally any sportswriter in 2020. If I were to do that, I think I might get lost in a conversation about what “half my life ago” means towards the perception of time.
See, when it comes to time, from a perception standpoint, we’re fucked by entropy. Time moved twice as fast half my life ago. And now it moves half as slow as it will when I’m 70. But that’s only 1.5 times as fast as my early 20s. Time is such that it always depreciates in value, even as it becomes more scarce. Time defeats capitalism every time.
I think that might’ve been the answer to a riddle in The Hobbit.
Can we go back in time? Is time travel possible? Sure. You can send a thing back in time, and, if you’re the type of sci-fi person who mistakes people for things, you might think that you can send a person back through time. Einstein said maybe it’s cool, bruh.
(Real quick, you’re gonna have your ovaries impregnated by this segue here in a little bit, so get excited. It’s such a good segue, and the reason it’s so good is because right now you’re probably asking, The fahk is this jabroni ovah heah tahkin abbaaaahhhhhttt? Because I just watched The Challenge for the first time last night and found out CT exists and now all of you are CT. You are all terrifying psychos coming to disaffectedly, dispassionately get me.
Is this all supposed to be in the same parenthetical?)
The thing about sending a person back in time is that we don’t actually know what a person is, or how to get one through time. Sure, we could send every single particle in your body back in time with the Blammo 1000 (patent pending), but which particle is the one that has the person in it? Or is it all of them? Or some of them? Which ones make a person as opposed to the vast nothingness that actually makes up our physical forms?
Don’t talk to me about time travel until you can confidently say you know who you are, cause I fucking don’t.
And I sure as fuck didn’t when I was 15.
(BLAMMO! THAT’S GOOD SEGUE WAY! Bet you wish you could get into a time machine so you could experience that shit again for the first time! You can’t! ENTROPY!)
To get it out of the way, I’ll tackle the opening track from Taylor Swift’s second studio album “Fearless” very quickly, and then continue to my awesome segue (Segue Fake Out? WHAT?!). Taylor Swift on the song Fearless, from Genius:
To me, ‘fearless’ is not the absence of fear. It’s not being completely unafraid. To me, fearless is having fears. Fearless is having doubts. Lots of them. To me, fearless is living in spite of those things that scare you to death. Fearless is falling madly in love again, even though you’ve been hurt before.…
The definition of fearless, from the OED:
Either words mean things or they don’t. As a society, we need to decide now.
“Fifteen” is the second track on Taylor Swift’s second album, “Fearful, Yet Resolute” and because I’m ungenerous, I shall refer to it as “15”.
Something that became apparent on this track is that her vocals are somehow mixed worse than they were on her debut album. Her voice is what carried that album and I cannot understand how anyone would think flattening her tone and lowering her in the mix was a good idea. It must have been an accident or a mistake because I refuse to believe she pushed for her sophomore album to be “In Utero”.
To provide some nuance to the criticisms I have of 15, I’m going to compare it to Sharon Van Etten’s excellent song “Seventeen” (which I will refer to as Seventeen because I respect her as an artist). Beyond the superficial similarity in subject, there are commonalities in composition.
Obviously the two tracks are from different points of view, and though I appreciate the more cynical on a personal level, I genuinely have no problem with Taylor’s lyrics! What?!
Wait, not so fast, what did she say? Why the hell is this fucking Senior in high school, in what… ‘05 or whatever, winking at anyone?! Who winks in high school? People who wink creep me out, for real.
One time, later in life, when time was moving about 1.5 times as fast as when I was 15, my family gathered to eat in a public restaurant. We purchased food from the restaurant, we did not bring our own. As we were finishing a perfectly respectable meal, my pops sneakily picked up the check (family tradition dictates one of the men in the family must attempt to pay for the meal by accosting the server long in advance of even ordering, then badgering them repeatedly until the victor receives the check; we are exhausting people, do not engage), and winked at the server. I nearly threw up.
But, an old Midwestern white man winks; it is known. However, let us refer to the oldest book in history (not true) in regards to the young winking:
A senior in high school that winks, or is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them
- Leviticus 20:27
It’s not me, Taylor, it’s God Himself.
But beyond the lyrics, let’s compare the songs in their entirety. 15 opens with a meaningless intro that recalls the banjo intro for “Should’ve Said No”. You can hear the acoustic guitar stretching the limits of “rhythm guitarist” and what it connotes. You can hear the little alarm clock electric guitar alternating notes like the screech of sunrise. You can hear the bass guitar play more notes than could be found in her entire first album.
Also, this is a pretty savage review of her composition:
But worst of all is that God damn ukulele. I hate her ukulele. Take it from her. I want it smashed. I googled “Old Man With Ukulele” and found everyone who should be allowed to play the ukulele. These four men:
The intro to “Seventeen” is unlike “15” in that it is good. 15’s intro lasts 10 seconds and I assume it was a placeholder for the real intro and they forgot to switch them. Seventeen, however, lasts 23 seconds and was crafted to introduce the listener to the main themes of the song. Though the lyrics to both 15 and Seventeen are similarly heartfelt, Van Etten uses her music to enhance the impact, cause she’s good.
Seventeen fades in with a simple, industrious drum track. As it crescendos, suddenly, a muted tom-tom comes in on only your left side, whereas the rest of the track is dead center. By fucking with the stereo, Van Etten creates movement. The song is traveling and you are following. Then a forte piano sting crashes in. Then a wavy synth in the background. Each of these elements is central to the theme of the song. The drums move you along. The piano sting wakes you up. The wavy synth disorients you, it’s dissonant, then harmonic, soft, loud, always around you like buzzing bees. Before Van Etten croons a word, you feel 17.
That’s not to say Swift doesn’t also make you feel like you’re a 33-year old man staring down the barrel of climate change wondering if you peaked when you hit the winning home run at Regionals your senior year of high school, cause she does. But her songwriting boils down to putting some pleasant enough sounds around her vocals, seemingly without interest in creating a whole.
This reality is made apparent when we get to the meat of our songs. As we walk in Van Etten’s footsteps, behind us a creeping piano chord getting ever closer, as if it was hunting us, creating a sense of urgency. We’re no longer walking behind her, we’re running to catch up. To compliment the impending doom, she drones with her voice, purposefully flat, to break your heart. Then the dirty, distorted St. Vincent-esque guitar solo, like a bizarro reflection of the more aesthetically “pleasing” guitar solos we’re used to hearing, leads us into the final scream. The elements combine into a flourishing harmony, but another edge is added in the final minute to make sure you know there’s no escape from the dissonance; the electronic, unnatural, high-pitched scratching that prevents you from believing in a happy ending.
Instead of doing that, Taylor Swift, upon revealing she and Abigail have become best friends, revels in it by letting her ukulele go “deedle dee / deedle, dee / deedle, dee / deedle, dee / deedle dee”. Great stuff.
That was track 2. Hope I didn’t peak too soon! Like I did in high school!
Holy shit, folks, I’m gonna be honest with you, “Love Story” nearly got me. It really did. Listening to the song (produced by Nathan Chapman and Taylor Swift who should both be fired for their work on this album) there is a distinct feeling that the music is happening around Taylor Swift, as if she was in the middle of a poorly made opera house and the orchestra was superfluous.
I swear to you, I liked this song. It’s simple, catchy, it has a lovely driving tempo, and I’m just romantic enough to buy into the schmalz of it.
THEN THE KEY CHANGE! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING TO ME?!
When I told people about this project, most of the responses I have received are along the lines of “I didn’t like her early stuff, but I think you’re going to find that she gets better as time goes on”. And through 3 minutes and 16 seconds I was actually starting to believe that.
This is a good song, I thought, nothing awful to say about this. Might even have to stop writing these things because I’ve been beaten. And, much like Romeo, the key change killed me (I didn’t read the play, was that actually Macbeth?).
So what do we say to the Swiftheads? Not today. Not today. And much like Game of Thrones, the ending ruined everything so I’ll never revisit it.
The track info for “Hey Stephen” tells you all you need to know. This is the first finger snap supergroup and yes, they are exactly as good as Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.
At finger snaps.
“White Horse” is track 5. It makes me think of these poems by the great haiku master Matsuo Basho
The Morning Glory
Even when it’s painted beastly
the morning glory also
not to be my friend
Track 6 is titled “You Belong With Me” and right now I am desperate for sanity. I need your help. I may have completely lost my mind. I am teetering on the edge between solipsism and simulation. What I’m about to say may drive you mad. What I’m about to say is driving me mad and I cannot reasonably be expected to finish this project if no one understands this; what I am about to say…
Pray for me.
“You Belong With Me” is somehow also the song “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters. I smell toast. Do you smell toast? I’m typing with one hand now. Shooting paaaiins… aarrrgggghhhhasdfbluuegggh
(End sketch : hold for applause)
Wow. “Breathe” – Wow.
I’m 14-years old at Michindoh the Goddiest of God camps. I was once deeply religious, specifically obsessed with the type of Christianity that consumed J.D. Salinger and I SUCKED TO BE AROUND.
My and my church’s youth group (How creepy was the youth pastor? The answer will surprise you) spent a week at a worship retreat. The week was transformational (read: brainwashing) for me. If you’ve never been to a God camp before, it’s essentially Bonnaroo but prayers.
I felt God there. OR.
I was an undiagnosed type 1 bipolar teen away from home for the first time, experiencing an overload of external stresses that pushed me into a hypomanic state.
The world may never know.
To further the plot, on the fifth night the usually shitty Christian rock band they hired to sonically thrust the Lord God’s love into your ears, began to play good music – or perhaps everything they had played to that point was so misery-inducing, the bar was lowered to an astronomical degree – and a hypomanic state manifests often as euphoria. And synesthesia.
Listening to “Breathe” was an experience. I hated that experience. Listen, I forgive her, she couldn’t possibly have known I went to the Michindoh God Camp in the year 2004 and began one of the most painful stretches of my life. On the other hand, one of the things I learned in that very God camp is that, with regards to ignorance vis a vis Jesus’ promise to save you, ignorance isn’t an excuse.
This tidbit I found upon further research, Taylor Swift and Colbie Caillat, the two singers on this particular song, received a Grammy nomination for Breathe, but lost to Jason Mraz and… Colbie Calliat!
I assume Colbie is dead now.
All right, it’s time to deal with this. “Tell Me Why” is Swift’s ten millionth song in a row where she does not take one single bit of responsibility for her own actions. As a man who could now have been her father then had I knocked someone up when I was 14 or so, I need her to know that it takes two to tango.
If you’d straighten up and fly right, things like this wouldn’t keep happening “to” you.
Also, riddle me this: this song is about an emotionally abusive boyfriend, right? So why would you make it so fucking upbeat? What is this noise? It reminds me of this.
Mostly because both songs make me crave meth.
A list of reasons not to name a song “You’re Not Sorry”
- You know what? I guess I’m not sorry. How about that? Huh!? How do you like that?
- Jesus, you know, it’s like… no one wanted to hear my side of the story.
- You know, I mean, what the fuck, right?
- Oh, you never told a fucking lie when you were 15?
- FUCK YOU!
- Shit… I’m sorry.
- OHHHH!!! I get it. You don’t believe me!
- I don’t need this. I just… I just don’t Taylor. My dad is in the hospital.
- Yes with cataracts. It’s still surgery!
- You know what… your song might have a point.
I hope “The Way I Loved You” is not your favorite song because I could not finish it. That song is a vacuum of creativity.
This was the hardest track to review. Those two sentences were the result of thousands of deleted words.
Wait. Taylor Swift dated a Jonas Brother? I genuinely did not know that.
“Forever and Always” is about two rich and famous teens who realize they are two rich and famous teens and should be just fucking absoutely everyone.
I hate this; this song is, taken to its logical conclusion, if you consider the subjects, as dirty as a Peaches song. Make me a shirt that says “I found out a Jonas brother fucked Taylor Swift and all I got was this shitty song about a pointless and stupid relationship”.
I get it, I get why you would like this romanticized version, I’m not like, the judge from Miracle on 34th Street or anything, but come on.
Tabloids are only fun when they’re scandalous; I only care if famous people are unhappy.
“The Best Day” is about the mitochondrial Swift. In some things, cynicism is unwarranted and unwelcome. The wise person knows this. So with regards to a song about a mother and daughter, I shall refer to the diary of one Seymour Glass:
The familiarity between Muriel and her mother struck me as being so beautiful when we were all sitting in the living room. They know each other’s weaknesses, especially conversational weaknesses, and pick at them with their eyes. Mrs. Fedder’s eyes watch over Muriel’s conversational taste in ‘literature,’ and Muriel’s eyes watch over her mother’s tendency to be windy, verbose. When they argue, there can be no danger of a permanent rift, because they’re Mother and Daughter. A terrible and beautiful phenomenon to watch.
Yes. That was Salinger. AVOID ME!
And we are done! I am absolutely not reviewing the Japanese Edition because there are another ten million tracks and I am exhausted.
In summation, out of two possible answers, Taylor Swift’s second album, “Fearful, Yet Resolute” is unlistenable. “Breathe” though also unlistenable due to emotional shit I may, in fact almost certainly won’t, work through, is however, a great song.
Jordan Holmes is a Chicago comedian, author, podcaster, and one of the twenty best humans of all time. We love him very much. Every Monday & Friday, you can hear him on a new episode of Knowledge Fight, a podcast devoted to exposing the lies of Alex Jones. You can read (or listen) to his debut novel, The Quiet Part Loud, by going here.