Pop Song Review: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

Another pop song review for all you sexy things out there, howzat? Anyway, today’s review is “Blank Space”, the new Taylor Swift single.

First impressions: Insert obligatory “Lorde knock-off” remark here. In all seriousness, though, there’s a definite Lorde-y vibe here in the breathy vocals, the clear thudding beat and the minimalist electronic production. Dear Lorde, amiright?

The music: Swift continues her march into popdom with her latest single: a morose, mournful song about the end of summer and the long, slow crawl through the cold, unforgiving winter months. At least, that’s the impression I get from the music.

As much as I generally dislike A Dose of Buckley, because tangential connection, he does make a good point in one of his videos about the success of “Royals” by Lorde: that the likely reason it took off as it did was because of the catchiness and textual opulence of the repeated “gold teeth, grey goose” hook and not because of the rest of the music or the lyrics. This makes sense to me, personally, because I never quite understood the success of “Royals” or, indeed, any of Lorde’s music: it always struck me as cold, joyless, cynical and emotionally distant. Decent for the indie scene, sure, but pretty poor pop music. Now, given that Swift has obviously opted for a similar style for her latest single, the one thing I feel she could have done was inject some warmth into it, or at least put some of her trademark personal touch on it that might have given us a reason to care about the song.

As you might guess, that doesn’t happen. The music is sombre, frosty and dark which, on its own, I suppose is fine, but not necessarily for someone whose last hit was the ebullient “Shake It Off”. The only real musical elements at play here are the melody and a quiet, ringing synth stuffed into the background. The melody isn’t all that interesting – there aren’t any decent hooks and it’s more of a tuneful rap for the most part – and the synths are unassuming, so overall it makes for a pretty useless and drab experience. That cacophonous, marching beat doesn’t let up, though, pounding into your senses as that droning synth bass that modern artists are so puzzlingly fond of buzzes like a swarm of hornets beneath the surface. If there was anything lively or catchy about any of its pieces the song might have worked, but it’s all too serious and “artsy” to be enjoyable. It’s a song you “appreciate” more than you actually like.

Ultimately, all “Blank Space” offers is just that: a clear, white surface, pure but faceless, clean but void of personality or warmth. This is some of the coldest, most emotionally stilted music Swift has ever put out – but hey, at least it sounds like 1989, right? Because the album name and the… yeah, I have no idea what 1989 sounded like, either.

The lyrics: Taylor Swift is… urgh, jeez, this is boring. Huh, what? Oh, hello, yes, sorry about that. Anyway, Taylor Swift is a mean-loving woman who wants herself… I guess a mean-loving man, but I’m not too sure. Who else wants to put odds on this song appearing in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie next February?

“I could show you incredible things / magic, madness, heaven, sin / saw you there and I thought / “oh my God, look at that face” / you look like my next mistake.” So she’s someone who claims to have some significant skills and abilities to her name and likes to pick out lovers who she feels are wrong for her. So really she’s holding all the cards here? That’s female empowerment, I guess. I mean, it’d be nice for women not to have to feel that the only way to empower herself is through sexual prowess or some sort of dominatrix fantasy, but it’s a multi-angled thing, this self-confidence business – different strokes and all that – so… hm. Okay, I’m not looking, but how many articles have Jezebel published about this song in the past fortnight?

“New money, suit and tie / I can read you like a magazine / ain’t it funny, rumours fly / and I know you heard about me.” So are there rumours about him too? Or is she just pre-empting the rumours about her? Why are there rumours about either of them? Who are these people supposed to be and why should I care?

Boys only want love if it’s torture.” Do we? Oh, I guess it’s like that whole “women like it rough and sleazy” thing the hair metal bands were going with in the mid- to late-Eighties (hey, that’s what 1989 sounded like!). Of course, those bands were, and still are, widely reviled for that sort of attitude towards women, reducing them to objects that looked good and tasted even better rather than regarding them as human beings with thoughts and feelings of their own. That’s different to this song, of course, because we learn so much about the guy in this song. I mean, he’s pretty and he has nice stuff and… er… well, I guess she’s not exactly sexualising him, either, so… I don’t know. I don’t even know anymore. And you know what? I freaking love hair metal, too, so do your worst.

“Screaming, crying, perfect storms / I can make all the tables turn / rose garden filled with thorns / keep you second guessing like, / “oh my God, who is she?” / I get drunk on jealousy / but you’ll come back each time you leave / ’cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” She sounds delightful, doesn’t she? Okay, so she’s playing up the whole “I’m bad and you’d better know it” stuff in order to project a sense of confidence, wildness and unpredictability, but really it comes off as less that and more, “whatever pets you own, I will murder them, just for kicks.” It’s pretty funny how we can romanticise abusive relationships these days as long as it’s a woman singing her own crazy plaudits. Imagine a man telling his lover that he can “make all the tables turn” and that he gets “drunk on jealousy” and the whole thing gets a lot more sinister. I mean, do guys actually want to sleep with crazy women? Somebody better tell Gilbert and Gubar that the madwoman got out of the attic and, apparently, she’s a bit of a fox.

“Got a long list of ex-lovers / they’ll tell you I’m insane.” Oh, I bet the tabloids have just gone nuts over this line, haven’t they?

Verdict: You know, if there’s anything the recent S Club 7 quasi-reunion told me, it’s that pop music used to be fun. I won’t argue that it was much better, but I will admit that “Don’t Stop Movin'” was my jam back in 2001 simply because it was catchy, upbeat and fun. I struggle to think what poor child would look back at 2014 in thirteen years’ time and think, “oh man, yeah, I was just all about “Blank Space” back then.”

This isn’t good pop music, is what I’m saying: it’s boring, listless, tuneless and bland. “But it’s what the kids are listening to these days!” you all say. Yes, and somehow the kids were tricked into buying tedious, soulless music. Why? I think, really, because it’s popular: if there’s one thing you need to know about young people, it’s that they’ll do anything, say anything and buy anything as long as they think it’s popular. Your teenage years are basically one long popularity contest and the music you listen to is just one factor of that. 2 out of 5, and only because I really don’t want to have to listen to it again to be sure I shouldn’t have given it a 1 instead.

Today’s double-up is not, in fact, “Don’t Stop Movin'”, though here’s the video if you fancy a nostalgia-gasm for lunch. The actual double-up is “Just Like a Woman” by Black Spiders.

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