by Matt Williams
For years now, the relationship between Taylor Swift and country music fans has been strained at best. Swift has been on an unstoppable rocket to peak fame and stardom, traveling at light-speed, since the beginning of her career, and until recently, she had at least managed to satiate her country fans, albeit less and less with each album. Red, arguably her best record to date, was almost devoid of anything resembling country, instead trading in the twang for new tricks like dubstep-lite (“I Knew You Were Trouble”) or straight-up bubblegum pop (“22”). But still, until Monday’s release of “Shake It Off,” the kickoff single from Swift’s upcoming “very first documented, official pop album” 1989, many still believed there was a chance for their saviour to come back home, or at least keep things country enough that she could pass for a slot at the CMAs.
But that’s not happening. And it absolutely shouldn’t. The whole thing has had the stench of a relationship dragged on too long. She’d strum an acoustic guitar now and then so it would look like she really still wanted to make country music, and country music would believe her, doe-eyed and pathetically dragging along behind her, because it wasn’t sure what else to do. Because Swift got pegged as a country artist so young, there was a general consensus among her fans that things would simply always be that way, the attitude that because “we gave all this to her, she owes us some loyalty.” Fans both hardcore and casual have a tendency to believe these sorts of things. Bob Dylan’s diehard folkie fans wanted to kill him when he went electric. Why wasn’t he doing protest songs anymore? Why was it so loud? Why was he playing this disgusting rock music and diluting his purity?
Not only do none of those questions matter – it’s just fucking music, after all – but those who ask them reveal a serious inability to adapt or embrace change, or even trust in an artist they’ve always loved. Saying you’ll only love Taylor Swift as long as she plays country music is like saying you’ll only love your daughter until she gets three tattoos or drops out of school to become a professional graffiti artist. She’s still the same person, but she’s been making country music since before she hit puberty. How could anyone expect a musician to remain so pigeon-holed for so long? If anything, Nashville should feel lucky for the country music they got out of her, because she might’ve made the switch much earlier. The fact that Swift is breaking up with country is actually proof that she’s becoming what most people knew all along but were afraid to admit: she’s an artist. Not in the fufu, “everyone who makes some art is an artist” sense, but an actual, serious artist. Someone even those who turn their nose up at Top 40 will soon have to admit is worthy of some appreciation. Just so you know I’m not delusional, I agree: the pseudo-rap break on “Shake It Off” is bad and maybe the only black mark on an otherwise perfect pop tune. But even if 1989 is the worst thing she’s ever done (and I’m willing to bet it won’t be, not by a longshot), Taylor Swift will, from Oct. 27, 2014 on, be not only a sales juggernaut, but also an artistic heavyweight in the realm of pop music.
They might boo and hiss, they might call her a sell-out, but to quote Jay Z, “if you grew up with holes in your Zapatos, you’d celebrate the minute you was havin’ dough.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I know Swift came from major money. She’s never wanted for cash. It’s the attitude, though. Jay Z didn’t stop once he made his first million and say, “cool, that’s enough.” He built a gigantic fucking empire and crowned himself the king of it. He couldn’t even stay retired. Taylor Swift has been on the fast-track to a level of stardom and universal adoration that the world has maybe never seen. To expect her to sit back and pass on it, when she has the chance to have her cake and eat it too, to do whatever she wants artistically and still rule the world, is the thought of an insane person.
So, country music, put on your boots and get over it. To name your Hall of Fame’s education wing after Taylor was a really sweet gesture. There are still a lot of great things about you, and you’ll find someone new, but you’re going to have to figure out how to deal without Taylor Swift. She doesn’t owe you anything, and you owe her the freedom to grow and change and be all that she can be. Just be happy you helped her out along the way.
@MattGeeWilliams has listened to “Shake It Off” over 50 times today.