The Swiftening, part 4: Rednarok [Red (2012)]

Until very recently, Jordan Holmes had never, intentionally, listened to a Taylor Swift song in his life. Then he began The Swiftening, in which he promised to listen to every Taylor Swift album in its entirety. Parts 1-3 of The Swiftening gave us Jordan’s thoughts on her 2006 self-titled album, 2008’s Fearless, and 2010’s Speak Now.

Red is Taylor Swift’s 4th studio album and I knew from the beginning this is where things would get tricky. 

Red was the album most referenced to me as music to look forward to. The album means a lot, or some at least, to a lot of, or some at least, people. “Tread lightly – at your peril” was the tone. 

Abandon hope all ‘Ye who enter here. 

(You understand I intended the fuck out of the pun, right? I brook none of this “pun not intended” shit in the written word. IF YOU DIDN’T INTEND THE PUN, YOU COULD’VE ERASED IT AT ANY TIME! YOU FUCKING LIARS!)

And so I realize that, should I be very mean to an album that you like very much – that you think is good – you may think that I am criticizing you in some way. I am not. At all.

Remember, I’m going to be a picky shit for no reason. I am not going to say Red is good nor bad (I will, but not sincerely), because my opinion is strictly unfair. I believe all of you, honestly, I will probably like this album… but you will never know! Because I am being an asshole. For Fun!

So please do not be offended, if you think a song is good, it is. Full stop.

Just don’t make me listen to that garbage.

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Before I could finish the 4th installment of this raison d’etre-less example of rant anti-comedy, DOOM died. 

This is technically true; what is also true is that he died on Halloween and we only found out about it on New Year’s Eve. That’s commitment to the bit. DOOM was one of my heroes and one way to make yourself a superhero is a post-mortal bit. 

On purpose or not, post-mortal bits are heroic. 

In honor of him, I will be pairing each track with the DOOM song you should listen to instead of Taylor Swift’s garbage. Whatever you think of Taylor, everything DOOM has ever done is better than anything she’ll ever be capable of.

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I applaud Swift for opening Red with “State of Grace.” She makes clear from the jump that this is not like her previous albums. Teen country singers tend towards a comfortable, but largely forgotten adulthood; it is very difficult to make a successful transition from Country to Pop – mostly because modern Country is slightly shittier Pop and most Country musicians don’t actually have “talent” or can “play music”.

I am also so proud of her. It feels like she read my criticisms of her intros and learned from her mistake (when did Red come out?) because the industrious drum intro is fantastic. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the courage to let drums be… drums, so they abandon shining even the tiniest spotlight on musicianship after about 9 seconds. The bass comes in with, generously, a bass line.

The guitar…uhh… I was reminded of the scene in every jazz movie where the extremely talented jazz _____ is suddenly tossed into a performance of some kind that they are unprepared for. The first few notes are tentative and wary. Panic beams through their eyes. Sweat beads on their foreheads.

Then their skills and training kick in. Their confidence explodes. They prove to everyone – but more importantly, to themselves – that they belong with the best.

The guitar track on “State of Grace” is like that minus the parts where the musician plays well.

“State of Grace” is one good song and two terrible songs. The first couple of minutes sound like a Mormon version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which sounds good. Good song! Then it continues. Bad song, Bad!

For some reason they switch this competent yacht rock song into a weird-ass, bubblegum Spice Girls choir slow jam. Yeesh. For future reference, don’t do that!

Then, she and Nathan Chapman (who should both be fired for their work on this album), have the gall, the gall(!), to stiffen the bass line and act tough with it. Nah. You don’t get to play the bass for real, Chapman, you ain’t Melt Banana.

Try J Dilla and DOOM – Fire Wood Drumstykz (If you don’t know Dilla, get the fuck out of here).

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From Genius about “Red” (bold is mine): 

“This song is presumably about Taylor’s ex John Mayer. Mayer has sound-color synesthesia, which is a neurological condition in which one sees colors based off of the intensity of various sounds. However, it is generally believed that the song is about actor Jake Gyllenhaal, since the hidden message of the song, “SAG,” could be interpreted as Swift and Gyllenhaal or Sagittarius, the zodiac sign of the two. It’s also possible that the song drew inspiration from both relationships.”

(I love Genius. Is it possible she could draw inspiration from more than one place? Is it really? No. THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!)

I have already had my freak out over John Mayer and his interminable time in my ears. 

Welp. Never mind. I just looked it up and it turns out John Mayer was 32 and Taylor was 19 when they dated. You’re all monsters. Everyone’s an enabler. John Mayer is a creep. This song is about a 19-year-old missing the time she dated a 32-year-old opulent-pussy snorting abuser. Do I have that right?

AND THE BANJO SUCKS! There was a reason Dire Straits never recorded a guitar solo OVER the banjo track. Because it would suck. And Taylor proved it.

Ya’ll need to wash your complicity off, try Mr Clean.

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I have decided that “Treacherous” is not a song about any of the possible people it could be about, but is instead a song in perfect conversation with TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me”. 

Let us enjoy:

Taylor:

“And I’ll do anything you say

If you say it with your hands

And I’d be smart to walk away

But you’re quicksand”

Yea, Taylor, you would be smart to run away. Cause Tunde isn’t quicksand… he’s a motherfucking werewolf.

Tunde:

“We could jet in a stolen car

But I bet we wouldn’t get too far

Before the transformation takes

And blood lust tanks and crave gets slaked”

See Taylor? You won’t get that far if you do anything he says! He’s a motherfucking werewolf!

Taylor:

This slope is treacherous

This path is reckless

This slope is treacherous

And I-I-I like it

Tunde:

My mind has changed my body’s frame, but, God, I like it

My heart’s aflame, my body’s strained, but, God, I like it

My mind has changed my body’s frame, but, God, I like it

My heart’s aflame, my body’s strained, but, God, I like it

Taylor:

And all we are is skin and bone

Trained to get along

Forever going with the flow

But you’re friction

Tunde:

Got a curse we cannot lift

Shines when the sunset shifts

(We’re howling forever, oh oh)

There’s a curse comes with a kiss

The bite that binds the gift that gives

Taylor:

And I just think you should, think you should know

That nothing safe is worth the drive

And I will follow you, follow you home

Follow you, follow you home

Tunde:

Now that we got gone for good

Writhing under your riding hood

(We’re howling forever, oh oh)

Tell your grandma and your mama too

It’s true, true, true, true

See Taylor? Told you so. Now you’re a motherfucking werewolf!

Although, as a werewolf, you’ll have Perfect Hair from now on.

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I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to do with “I Knew You Were Trouble”. I mean, it’s a fine example of post-Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” pop. 

The thing about “I Knew You Were Trouble” is that, up until this point, we can be fairly certain that Taylor Swift has a controlling interest in the ultimate sound and composition. This, however, is not a Taylor Swift song. This is a song featuring Taylor Swift (Ha! Even if it’s good I find a way out of it!).

This is a Max Martin and Shellback song. To give you an idea of how confident I am in saying that Taylor has little input – which, to be clear, does not make it a bad song, nor is it unusual most, if not all professional musicians are constantly purchasing beats and lyrics from little-known, yet omnipresent songwriters – take a listen to this supercut of Max Martin and Shellback’s previous work. 

Notice anything similar about the programming, instrumentation, tempo, beat, structure… uhhh… did I miss anything?

Here’s a great interview with Shellback that explains it all.

I suggest the three of them are engaging in poppycock, and we are not irie. Frankie and I, on the other hand, super irie.

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Ugh, “All Too Well”, Jesus Christ, Taylor, we get it, you fall in love and shit. Quit whining. Misery is the river of the world. Life is a Meat Grinder.

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Hi Max and Shelly-B! This song is vapid and stupid. It is over-produced, too long, her guitar is treated like the two producers were throwing her a bone, like, “Hey Taylor, sure sure sure, you GOTTA have that guitar in there. Suuuuuure!” It’s absolute garbage.

Of course I love it. 

God this song is awful. It’s brutally bad. It’s a song you sing if you are co-starring in the Britney Spears vehicle “Crossroads”. 

Come on, dare not to be charmed by it. You and I both like to party. Everyone loves to party from time to time and 22 is a great year for partying. Not even I am crank enough to begrudge anyone music that makes them do whatever it is you would do if this song is playing. 

Look, no one is going to argue when you say Swedes make good dance music you can almost dance to, and neither will I. 

One warning, I listened to this song 5 times. That is too many times. The synths are so sugary, I have diabetes.

Have some Guinessess (feat. Angelika & 4ize).

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One note on constructing an album/the death of albums: Do not alternate between M&M and Shelly-B and your Pop Country bullshit. Pop Country is just Irish people shitting on the Blues. Swedish Dance Pop is just the remnants of the Swedish Government’s top secret LazABBArus project. And everyone knows the Irish and the Swedish have been at war since Scandinavian vikings began raiding the Irish coasts in the 9th century AD, the onslaught only ending when Brian Boru defeated them at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, 200 years later! EVERYONE KNOWS THIS!

Creating a cohesive album is difficult, damn near impossible, and no one is expecting Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots style concept albums (except me of course), but you have to listen to your album and say, “hmm, should we put Johnny Cash’s cover of ‘Hurt’ and BTS’ ‘One of their popular songs that I don’t know’ back-to-back? No. We shouldn’t.”

Anyways, “I Almost Do” doesn’t. Come Get Me.

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“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was Taylor Swift’s first #1 on the Billboard 100 and it absolutely deserves to be. 

M&M and Shelly-B stepped the fuck back on their production for one god damn second and allowed Taylor Swift to play a song, which was nice of them. The music itself is nothing, but fuck if that chorus doesn’t destroy me. Anthemic. It’s the right length, the chorus repeats just enough to be satisfying, but not too much, like an aging one-hit wonder that plays their one-hit to open and as an encore but avoids playing it in the middle because that would be tacky.

It’s even structured like We Are The Champions, goddammit!

Great song.

Alllllthooooooough.

One thing I could bitch about… Am I the only person who finds these songs unbearably bright? They’re so tinny. I used to test people’s hearing for chrissakes, I know young people still hear frequencies above 16khz, doesn’t that shit hurt your ears? Don’t these Alley Assholes and ‘D Synchronizes and 18 degrees Celsius (I have exhausted all of my boy band references) fans hear all the overtones ?

Why do I feel I’m going to wind up alone in a post-apocalyptic music library where I’ll trip and accidentally stab thin volumes of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner into each ear canal rendering me ironically deaf (or deaf, ironically)?

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As I said, WANEGBT is a truly great song, so I can’t flippantly follow it with just another good DOOM track. I have to go ALL IN and put “ALL CAPS” here. I referenced it in a previous Swiftening, but only in passing; I don’t mind repeating myself if I can take the opportunity to describe music in ecstatic terms. 

“ALL CAPS” is track 20 off of Madvillainy, a collaboration between DOOM and Madlib and perhaps one of the top 10 albums of any and all times. I would invite you to close your eyes while listening to the song, but then you wouldn’t be able to read, so it doesn’t really make sense. Don’t close your eyes. Play the song and read along.

An attribute distinctive to Madvillainy, one achieved only raaarely, is that the collaborators are performing an epic, primal, aural dance. First, Madlib’s beat is transcendent. An insight that can really only be felt by drummers, never quite explained, is when the beat itself is dancing. 

An exercise that may not make sense to anyone: while you listen to the intro of “ALL CAPS” tap the ball of your right foot in time with the kick drum – “Da-dum dum” – then, in time with the dusty snare, tap the ball of your left foot – “CH” – then, in time with the hi-hat, tap the toes of your left foot – “Ts”. When you put it all together – “Da-dum dum Ch Ts” –  your upper body doesn’t sway back and forth, it starts to almost twirl. This beat to a drummer – to me – is dancing in jerking motion – on time, on the beat, but dirty. Almost wrong. But you join the dance. 

Beneath the drums, a subbass walking with a little swerve, wearing a zoot suit. 

It’s not just that Madlib transformed music from 70’s TV Shows you’ve never heard of into looped beats, pitch correcting and upping tempo and stretching the loops to create a lo-fi fuzz cyclone, it’s that the beats dance

As you’re mystified by the dancing of The First Folk, DOOM begins his own ballet, entering in and exiting out of the circle at random, yet you can sense the pattern perfectly. His lyrics hit the beats hard now soft, he dances circles, then jumps over the bonfire, spreading embers, casting deadly shadows. His vowels and consonants call and response with the bass and the snare (Da-dum dum Ch TS see? Vowels and consonants). He doesn’t rhyme words, he rhymes something deeper than language. 

Then the dance leaves the ground behind. We cross into something ethereal. The participants in the dance form into a helix around DOOM as his will carries them into space. 

This song fucking RULES!

RIP DOOM. 

P.S. 

To every outlet that ran an obit to “MF Doom” – Jesus Christ, ALL CAPS when you spell the man’s name. He wrote an entire god damn song about it!

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Whoops! I accidentally listened to more than 4 seconds of “Stay Stay Stay”. Don’t make my mistakes. Run! Save yourselves! 

Instead, listen to “Let Me Watch” (feat. Apani B) by DOOM

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“The Last Time” is, musically, tremendous in its mediocrity. It’s a duet that belongs on the album of duets an increasingly irrelevant legend releases every couple of years. It is inoffensive, pretty, has nice simple harmonies, quality dynamic range, and it has pleasant little garnishes from the string section. 

Bitching about any of these elements is a little redundant to me. I am attracted to extremes (no fucking shit, Jordan), and anyone can write “Song: OK. Maybe a little good”. It takes a poet, though, to properly compliment or denigrate great or terrible music, respectively (sometimes either or both, too!). 

Only the princesses of music appreciation can get really pissed off by that fucking pea underneath their mountain of comfortable musictresses (What!? Sorry, that got away from me). 

And the pea or whatever in this terrible, terrible metaphor is the length of “The Last Time”. 

Matthew Matthias Matthew, Again Drufke, the original inspiration for these insult-laden hallucinations, has criticized The Eagles for their war crime of song lengths, yet he can say to me with a straight face that this song has an endpoint? The song is about a relationship that starts and stops cause the dude is an asshole (whether or not she takes responsibility for her part in this song will not surprise you). 

I assume Gary Lightbody started singing it, not knowing what it was. He’ll continue singing it forever. Just because. 

Poor bastard.

Also, in case you were wondering, Snow Patrol sucks.

If you are into songs that are exactly 4:58 seconds or 4:59 seconds, you should try listening to another of the greatest songs of all time, Doomsday. See? Songs can be long… if they are good.

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I would like to criticize “Holy Ground”. There are some… uh, interesting things. It’s… grrrhhh,  different from her other work.

However, not even the Kurgan will fight on Holy Ground.

Listen to this instead, The Quickening approaches.

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“Sad Beautiful Tragic” I shall compare negatively to “Ironic” by Alanis Morisette: Alanis was only completely wrong about one word, whereas Swift has managed to use three words incorrectly. “Sad Beautiful Tragic” is, in fact, none of those. 

To needlessly prove my point at annoying length:

A short, long-distance relationship is not Sad. The death of Mufasa is Sad.

A short, long-distance relationship is not Beautiful. Belle greeting the day is Beautiful.

A short, long-distance relationship is not Tragic. Alarbus being ritually sacrificed, Mutius and Bassianus being stabbed, Martius and Quintus executed, Nurse and Clown being killed and hung but also not given names, Chrion and Demetrius being baked into pies and then fed to Tamora, Lavinia being… I mean, just… Jesus Christ what happens to her, Tamora killed by Titus, Titus killed by Saturninus, Saturninus killed by Lucius, and Aaron buried and left for dead – THAT is Tragic.

Ask not for whom the DOOM the tolls, the DOOM tolls for thee.

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Track 13, “The Lucky One” (how many tracks does an album need? Fewer!) is as poorly mixed as a cake made of bricks. I come from a school of music that says if you are going to play an instrument, it should be audible. Especially if it is playing the countermelody! 

I feel insane listening to her albums, swear to God. 

Like… pianos sound nice! Right? So I want to… hear it? Why are they trying to hide it from me? Are they hiding something… subliminal? After hearing this song, will I be activated when Swift finally decides to overthrow the world’s governments? 

Is she saying that I’M “The Lucky One”? I am. I am The Lucky One. I will do anything you say, Taylor. Let none stand in your way.

Nah, I’m a motherfucking liar

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What the fuck is an Ed Sheeran? Gross

Track 14 or whatever.

Ugh. 

Gross.

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I read that “Starlight” is about Robert Kennedy (she refers to him as Bobby, which, like, disrespectful), so I was very excited to listen to the song. I enjoy learning about history, and even though I may know the outline of a story, I like to hear it again from different perspectives to see if there’s a new piece of information, or a detail I missed. 

I thought maybe the song would be about Robert Kennedy’s almost criminal appointment to the Attorney General position by his brother President John F. Kennedy (See? I didn’t call him Jack. I don’t know the guy), talk about nepotism! And in the context of the Trump administration, it’s obvious nepotism has no political party. 

Or it could be about his tenure as AG, where he ruthlessly attacked political enemies and pet causes, acting with the FBI and definitely not on the right side of history.

Or perhaps it’s the more uplifting story of his face turn to modern day Paul. The way he opened his heart to a different world than the corrupt aristocracy of his upbringing. How he was a light for a lot of people, and represented a political hope that most on the left weren’t used to seeing. Imagine, an actual progressive candidate on the way to winning a major party nomination, and then almost a lock for the Presidency.

Or it could be the tragic story of his senseless assassination.

Instead of those things it was about a picture of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, at the age of 17, dancing. 

*sigh* I’m not mad at her. I’m mad at me. I don’t know why I expected… it’s on me. It is.

This is Tasteless.

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“Begin Again”, the final track on Red, is indeed a collection of notes, words, instruments, pauses, and dynamics, so it could be called “music”. 

But that would be a stretch.

Don’t “Begin Again”, go with the flow.

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If you have never heard of MF DOOM, then after reading this, your life has changed for the better. MF DOOM is not just an incredible MC, he is an inspiration to Rap. Not rappers. Rap itself. He influenced his direct descendants like Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, and Open Mike Eagle, sure, but MF DOOM also expanded the imagination of everyone. 

DOOM treated words different, stories different, sounds different. He was DOOM.

Using my patented scale, out of two possible answers, Taylor Swift’s Red is… unlistenable. In other circumstances, I would declare Red listenable. However, in light of DOOM’s passing, I have provided you with the complete list of listenable albums.


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.

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