“The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in ‘68, and he told me: ‘All romantics meet the same fate someday: cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café. You laugh,’ he said, ‘you think you’re immune — go look at your eyes. They’re full of moon.’”
For some reason, today I felt like I was bombarded with stories about Taylor Swift.
Stories like “Who Said It: Taylor Swift or a Famous Female Historical Figure,” where lyrics to Swift’s song “Change” were put against a dueling image of the singer and Benazir Bhutto. Yeah, that Benazir Bhutto. The former Prime Minister of Pakistan who was the first woman to be elected to lead any Muslim nation and was assassinated in 2007.
Stories like “Taylor Swift’s Denim Jumpsuit is Iconic — Get the Look!” Clearly, some outlets have an extremely liberal definition of iconic.
These are all things that are very easy for most people to ignore, but when you work in media like I do, especially social media, you’re surrounded by it. It’s inescapable.
I have a lot of problems with Taylor Swift. They’ve been well-documented, and I’ve been able to write about them for a major news outlet. My issues came to a head today, though, with news that she will be receiving a BMI Pop Award in her name. She’s the second artist in history to have an award solely in her honor from BMI. The first was Michael Jackson.
“This evening is a true celebration of music and a tribute to the artistry of songwriting that spans generations as defined by three of the most prolific and influential music creators in the industry: Taylor Swift, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil,” BMI President and CEO O’Neill said in the press release.
What I want to know is when this
Became on par with this
Both of these songs are from BMI songwriting winners. Think about that for a second.
The news got me so angry that my heart was racing. I got short of breath and sort of sweaty. Basically, I had every symptom for a heart attack, which isn’t cool. I know I shouldn’t be that bothered by something like this, but I am. I am, because I love music with every drop of the blood that runs through my veins. I am, because music means so much to me that I can’t even put into words. I am, because brilliant songwriters who have been honored — and ones who have gone woefully unrecognized — have helped shape the sort of writer and person I am today.
So I came home tonight with this intense urge to really, truly listen to music. Not just listening to it in headphones as background noise. I needed to have a moment to really feel it. It crept up on me on my subway ride home — the A train ran local and my typical 25 minute commute home was doubled, giving me more time to stew in my own thoughts, which is always a good time. It crept up on me the same way a panic attack does and there was nothing I could do to stop it, just an overwhelming need to make it better. I needed to remind myself what pure art sounded and felt like. The minute I got into my apartment, I changed into pajamas, lit all of my candles, put Joni Mitchell’s Blue on my turntable, and lay down on the floor.
By the end of the record, it hit me. Maybe Joni’s Richard was right. Maybe I’ve romanticized music for so long that things like Taylor Swift winning a Taylor Swift award hurt, why things like that bother me more than they bother most people. Maybe I’ve let moons cloud my eyes for too long. Maybe someday I’ll be a cynic boring someone in some dark café. Maybe I’ve become that cynic already, boring people on Twitter.
Maybe that’s why this bothers me so much. Taylor Swift’s work doesn’t differ much from Britney Spears in her prime. No doubt, she’s produced radio hits that are fun, catchy, and easy to sing along to. The verses of “Bad Blood” are no more profound or prolific than the verses of “Toxic”. Fun, but mindless. The thing is, Britney Spears never won an award like this in her name for shaping pop culture the way she did in the early aughts, nor was she heavily lauded for songwriting. Britney Spears was never treated like the next Messiah of the music industry or the golden child of songwriting. We recognize Britney for what she is: an entertainer. Why don’t we recognize Taylor Swift in the same light?
I’m starting to wonder what awards really even mean now, because it just seems to me like this is such a slap in the face to writers whose work truly is profound and prolific — writers like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Carole King and Paul McCartney and Stevie Nicks and Paul Simon — who not only wrote beautiful words that have changed so many lives, but words that helped shape society and pop culture as we know it today. To say that Taylor Swift’s work is on par with theirs just baffles me. At best, her writing is on the same level as a high school English student. If anything, her songwriting has regressed from album to album, not matured with age. The less award-worthy her work gets, the more awards it receives.
So here’s my cynicism talking: Is this how the music industry works now? Words like “iconic” and “prolific” or even “good”, when applied to songwriting, are defined by how many records someone sells? What is it about Taylor Swift that gives the music industry (and the media, too) such an intense need to be her biggest cheerleader? Really — is it a money thing? Because if that’s the way it works, then I’m just sad. Maybe my strong opinion is jeopardizing my future as a writer and journalist. Maybe my name is on some sort of blacklist. Maybe my criticism will come back to haunt me someday. I don’t know.
Right now, all I know is that I’m sad. I’m sad that Joni’s Richard was right. I’m sad that I have a reason to be cynical. I’m sad that we may never get to hear today’s equivalent of “The Last Time I Saw Richard” because we were too busy talking about Taylor Swift.