Can Taylor Swift age gracefully with Red?

Taylor Swift at the Xcel, June 2011
Taylor Swift at the Xcel, June 2011
Photo by Steve Cohen

See also:
Taylor Swift at the Xcel Energy Center, 6/14/11 and 6/15/11
Taylor Swift sells out Xcel

Much has been made this week of Taylor Swift's Monday night video chat, in which 72,000 fans tuned in to watch the totally-pop, maybe-kinda-country songstress discuss her upcoming record, Red, with a gaggle of gals assembled in a Nashville studio. While critics have largely been kind to Swift, video of the awkward conversation/album reveal has not escaped backlash.

A few highlights from commentary by Rolling Stone readers:

Is this shit on the level?

This girl is mental.

Someone need [sic] to call her a doctor or hold an intervention.

Why would any man date this lyric-whore after she's written songs about anyone who ever said hello to her twice? Guess she can't see past those oversized false eyelashes to realize there's a world beyond collecting penises.


Okay, so we don't know what that last comment's about, but really, Swift's not all that bad. Lyrical narratives of heartache aside, we question her country credentials, to be sure, but not her capacity for fame among young country audiences. Overlooking her millions of dollars and roster of famous boyfriends, she's just too... too much like them.

"Oh, hey!" Swift greets the camera with her typical, dorky non-chalance, as if an unexpected old friend has just stumbled into the intimate gathering she's assembled of her "closest friends."

It's somehow surprising that the women (and men) assembled are not in pigtails and jammies, each clutching a Pillow People doll.

This is the one I had, in a time before Taylor's time.
This is the one I had, in a time before Taylor's time.

"Um, I'm Taylor. These are my friends, these are actually fans from all over the world. Everybody say hi, that's the whole world."

(Everyone say "Hi!" now!)

"Wow! Okay, I just, I'm so excited you guys, I have wanted to tell you so many things for so long. And so I figured I would just tell you them all right now. Or most of them. Um, I have some really big news, I'm really excited because..."

Ooh, Taylor - are we gonna play Girl Talk now?!? I'm totally gonna make you wear a zit sticker if you don't tell me which boy you kissed!

"I have a new album coming out on October 22!"

(Everyone say "Woooooh!" now!)

Swift reveals the album's cover art -- a close-up shot of her face, partially-obscured by shadow, punctuated by ruby-red lipstick -- and the girls assembled fawn over her, over her new record, over, uh... her lips.

The forced Q&A to follow has Swift disclosing the inspiration for her newest batch of songs. "When I was coming up with the name for this album it seemed crazy because it was really simple," Swift explains. "I wrote a song called 'Red' and thinking about what that song means to me and all the different emotions on this album they're all pretty much about the tumultuous, crazy, insane, intense, semi-toxic relationships I've experienced in the last two years and all those emotions fanning from intense love, intense frustration, intense jealousy, confusion, all of that in my mind, all those emotions are red. There's nothing in between, there's nothing beige about those feelings and so I called my record that."

"I tend to skew in the direction of writing songs about love-related things, relationship- and feeling-related things, that's where I naturally go," Swift elaborates. "I ended up being inspired by a lot of zero-to-100 then it hits a wall and explodes-type relationships which are so fun to write about, really dysfunctional and not good generally but when you write about them it gives you a lot of inspiration."

Swift's fourth album has proven to be more collaborative than her previous, with songs co-written by Mark Foster (Foster the People), Dan Wilson, and English singer Ed Sheeran. "Ed and I wrote a song while sitting on a trampoline that was so much fun and we loved so much that we actually ended up recording it as a duet," she explains in the video conference.

The chat ends as Swift plays the first single from the album, "We are Never Ever Getting Back Together," while boogieing in her chair and mouthing along to the words. It is here, perhaps, that one might respond to that Rolling Stone commenter, "Yes, Sir, she is mental."

Or perhaps its just a very strange world that she lives in, and one which speaks to her millions of adoring fans.

It's presumed that her ex- John Mayer (or maybe Joe Jonas? Hey, what about Crocs co-founder George Boedecker?) is the subject of the new song. Mayer, also the presumed subject of her 2010 song "Dear John," recently told Rolling Stone , "I was really caught off-guard, and it really humiliated me at a time when I'd already been dressed down. I mean, how would you feel if, at the lowest you've ever been, someone kicked you even lower?" He goes on: "I will say as a songwriter that I think it's kind of cheap songwriting. I know she's the biggest thing in the world, and I'm not trying to sink anybody's ship, but I think it's abusing your talent to rub your hands together and go, 'Wait till he gets a load of this!' That's bullshit."

But see, this is the kind of bullshit that resonates with jilted young women, does it not? Whether it's about Mayer or not, hearing her newest single immediately induces panic in the listener, as it places one squarely amidst the racks of the giant Forever 21 store in the Mall of America on a busy Saturday afternoon, five dollar baby Ts and ten dollar denim skirts being thrown hither and yon. If Swift can stay Forever 21 (or twenty-two, as she is now), she'll continue to draw the sort of audience she has today. Alas, we all must grow up eventually, stop dwelling on how mean our ex-boyfriends were, and start singing grown-up songs. One has to wonder -- will Swift grow old gracefully? And will her audience choose to grow up with her?

It's questionable. But for now, we have Red, set to be released on Big Machine Records October 22, 2012.

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