radio

Single review: Taylor Swift’s ‘Look What You Made Me Do’

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Gone are the days when critics had the power to pronounce artists “dead”. Now, it seems, they have taken matters into their own hands.

By now, you’ve probably heard the news: “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now….she’s dead!” Together with the sudden erasure of her social media accounts, and a move away from the Victoria’s Secret aesthetic, it is very clear that we are at the beginning of what Swifties lovingly refer to as an “era”.

At least, that’s what Swift is desperate for us to think. But why, if she is seeking to obliterate her past, has Swift called her upcoming album Reputation, a word that by its very definition requires a past?

And why so keen to kill off the old Swift? What did she ever do to deserve an early demise? Done in such a contrived manner, it reeks of fear. Fear of the PR effects of supposedly bitchy falling-outs so publicised by the media. Fear of remaining the same. And, perhaps most of all, fear of never again reaching the height at which 1989 set the bar.

Valid fears, one and all.  But this violent casting-off of the old would be far less offensive and far more effective, if the single around which this hype was generated was something more than…okay. Ish.

I won’t lie: the opening is spine-tingling. Strings? Sparkling synth? Hello. And then those booming beats, with Taylor right on the mic, her breath in our ears, spitting words that have the syntactic mastery of Blank Space. “I don’t like your little games/ Don’t like your tilted stage/ The role you made me play/ Of the fool, no I don’t like you”.

At the 45th second we have our pre-chorus, where, with rapid-fire piano chords and even quicker lyrics, things are starting to escalate (“But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time”) and that volume knob is going up, up, up.

The anticipation of a theatrical burst of anthemic, savvy pop is high. Very high. Until that amazingly, deafeningly, anticlimactic chorus.

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It’s as though the bottom just drops out of this song. The harmonic underpinnings vanish, the momentum evaporates, and we are left with a sparse, repeated refrain that sounds more like yesterday’s Meghan Trainor than today’s born-again Taylor Swift.  I’ll say it again: THERE IS NO CHORUS TO SING HERE. Move along folks. Have a nice day.

To top it all off, there’s something a little offensive about having this accusatory single flung in our faces. What have we done? It’s hard to know. Probably nothing, it’s probably all Kayne’s fault, but even so it feels a little…aggressive.

Revenge has always been her shtick, but as Swift sings “the world moves on, another day another drama/ But not for me, all I think about is karma” it all starts to sound a little petty.  1989 was not only a significant new musical direction, it was a welcome move away from the cryptic mud-slinging. Ironically, Reputation seems to be a return to the insecurity we thought she’d shed.

No, the old Taylor is not dead. She is just in hiding, behind the increasingly impersonal facade of the Swift™ machine.

Images: Variety & Giphy
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On Lorde’s “Green Light” and its brave ugliness.

The first time I listened to Lorde’s Green Light, I wasn’t sure if she’d got away with it.

Growling right at the lowest end of her register, battling with an almost disastrous chord change in the chorus, the Kiwi kid of Royals acclaim had me crying “What the hell are you doing?!” sooner than she had me singing along.

No surprises that Jack Antonoff was involved – the sparse, pop-savvy verse will conjure references to Taylor Swift’s 1989 with little effort. And, like 1989, the experimentation ultimately paid off.

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Because by some devilry, that chorus works. While the initial shock might have cooled our enthusiasm for a second, Lorde brings it all flooding back with a dance refrain that will be flailed to on many a drunken night – and let’s be honest, some sober ones too.

I may have been bamboozled for a moment or two, but those seconds of shock and uncertainty were some of the most exciting of my day (I know, I live a wild life). Who dares to let these rough edges show, on radio of all places? Who dares to create something so uncomfortable, in the name of art? Not many artists who get airplay, that’s who.

And this, time and again, is why Lorde stands out. Because she refuses to shy away from a little ugliness, that little ugliness that is an inescapable and very real part of life, and which gives her art all the more credibility and daring.

Things I think while listening to the radio: part II

25. Drake – One Dance

WHY THE HELL IS THIS STILL ON THE RADIO.

24. Andy Grammar – Fresh Eyes

This actually does sound fresh, given it hasn’t reached grotesquely overplayed status yet. It’s average in the extreme, though.

23. Zara Larsson – Ain’t My Fault

That I am switching radio stations right now? Yes Zara, it is.

22. Illy ft. Anne-Marie – Catch 22

I like my rap with a catchy chorus to break up the monotony, so I am SOLD. Plus, there’s a sense of camaraderie about this track that means it’s unlikely to go stale anytime soon. Winning.

21. FRENSHIP – Capsize

Peaceful filler material. Good driving music. Mindless ease. And yes, those are all backhanded compliments.

20. Mike Perry and Shy Martin – The Ocean

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

19. Jonas Blue – Perfect Strangers

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

18. Starley – Call On Me

I guess I can groove to this. For the millionth time.

17. Shawn Mendes – Mercy

NONONONONONONONONONONONONONO. No more. Mercy. Please. #ironyintheextreme

16. Nevada et. al. – The Mack

I guess I can-…but really, can we just inject some new tunes already?!

15. Little Mix – Shout Out To My Ex

If you do not hear the fun in this, you are surely a rock in human form.

14. Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha – In The Name Of Love

Time to headbang in slow motion/sing with much angst. I have no shame.

13. Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

New Bruno Mars?! OMG yay!! Wait…it’s a lukewarm Uptown Funk. Dammit.

12. Drake – Fake Love

Oh Drake…I don’t know how you do it, but your voice annoys the absolute bejeezus out of me. This song is no exception.

11. Sia – The Greatest

Oh God, how am I going to convince my vocal students not to try and sing like that? Sounds simultaneously painful and kickass. Thanks Sia. Technique aside, I shall happily endorse this song.

10. Calvin Harris – My Way

How am I not yet sick of this song? That riff, dammit. So catchy, so danceable.

9. Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj – Side To Side

I may have to wash my ears out afterwards, but I am going to listen to this song anyway. Coz hot damn, that beat.

8. Hailee Steinfeld – Starving

I didn’t know that I was starving until you reminded me Hailee. And now I’m hungry and grumpy, because all three major radio stations are playing your song at the same time. For the fifth time this half hour.

7. DJ Snake ft. Justin Bieber – Let Me Love You

Good lyrics, good groove…I am going to holler that chorus like my life depends on it.

6. Major Lazer ft. Justin Bieber and MO – Cold Water

More Bieber?! What luck! A little less catchy, but still seamless. Good times.

5. Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar – Don’t Wanna Know

Meh. *nods head absentmindedly*

4. The Chainsmokers ft. Phoebe Ryan – All We Know

All you know, Chainsmokers, is how to make songs that sound like Closer.

3. James Arthur – Say You Won’t Let Go

Ladies and gentlemen, successfully filling the void that Jamie Lawson left when we finally got over I Wasn’t Expecting That, please welcome Mr James Arthur! Can we all move on from the cutesy acoustic ballads now?

2. The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – Closer

Why is that riff not more annoying? Is it annoying? Do I like it? Oh yay Halsey’s singing.

1. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – Starboy

Must there be a counter-intuitive emphasis on the end of each phrase? It messes with my classical brain. Also there’s only so many times I can tolerate ‘ah’ and its rhyming colleagues. Not feeling this one Weeknd, soz dude.

Things I think while listening to the radio: part I

It’s been a long week. And a long week – for me – involves long drives. Or at least, multiple longish ones.

This week I was also unhappily disorganised – read, left key items from my beloved CD collection at home. So, FM radio it was. Oh woe was I.

Don’t get me wrong, mainstream radio offers me guilty pleasures on a regular basis (I am a newly converted Belieber, after all). But one week solid of JUST. RADIO. was more than any person should have to resort to.

While it may feel like I listened to the same five songs all week, apparently there were at least 50 in rotation…HEAVY rotation.

Strange things happen to songs when they are overplayed…here’s an insight into the mental anguish* that occurs:

*strong use of melodrama intentional

50. Adele – Send My Love To Your New Lover

Thank God 25 hasn’t passed its radio date yet. *cue heartfelt singalong*

49. Justin Timberlake – CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!

WHY IS THIS TITLE ALWAYS IN CAPITALS? WHY DOES IT ALWAYS SOUND LIKE IT’S BEING SUNG IN CAPITALS? I USED TO LOVE THIS AND NOW IT’S A MONSTER.

48. Calvin Harris ft. Rhianna – This Is What You Came For

Taylor Swift should be singing this, Rhianna sounds bored.

47. gnash ft. Olivia O’Brien – i hate u, i love u

Nononononononononononononononono. *changes station*

46. Drake and Rhianna – Too Good

A venomous song, without the venom. Bring back Carly Simon please.

45. Joel Adams – Please Don’t Go

Emotive moaning. Next.

44. Lil Wayne et. al. – Sucker For Pain

Not sure if this is an ode to S&M, or a misguided commentary on mental dysfunction. Feel safer betting on the former.

43. Terror Jr – Come First

Thought this was a lacklustre version of Can’t Keep My Hands To Myself for a second…then realised it was just lacklustre.

42. The Chainsmokers ft. Daya – Don’t Let Me Down

Okay. Yes. This is cool. Overplayed, but cool.

41. Twenty One Pilots – Heathens

What is this edgy piece of intelligence doing on the FM airwaves? Transcending the drivel, that’s what.

40. Cheat Codes and Dante Klein – Let Me Hold You (Turn Me On)

Next.

39. NEIKED ft. Dyo – Sexual

Hell yes, this is a nice little piece of songwriting. Grammatically dubious chorus lyrics, but I’m singing along anyway.

38. Niall Horan – This Town

Niall, Niall, Niall. You aimed valiantly for ‘poignant’, missed by a mile and landed squarely in ‘yawn-worthy’. Also ‘whingy’ and ‘cliche-riddled’.

37. MO – Final Song

*adds to list of songs to learn all lyrics to because it’s such a damn cool singalong*

36. Coldplay ft. Seeb – Hymn For The Weekend

A Coldplay song I almost care about! For two minutes. Pity it’s 3’32”.

35. Cashmere Cat et. al. – Trust Nobody

Sexy talk, autotune and celeb cameos. Ahh, the tried and tested formula…packaged into something as charismatic as plastic. Next.

34. Marc E Bassy and G-Eazy – You & Me

Oooh, there’s a reggae thing happening. I like.

33. Shawn Mendes – Treat You Better

Ahhhh, it was only a matter of time before you showed up, Mendes. This is a decent tune, I’m sure I can listen to it for the bazillionth ti-…nope. Nope. I’m done.

32. Peking Duck and Elliphant – Stranger

*zones out and focuses on traffic/what to cook for dinner*

31. Alessia Cara – Scars To Your Beautiful

I am okay with listening to empowering cliches. Bored, but okay.

30. Calum Scott – Dancing On My Own

There is a reason she’s not dancing with you, Calum. Go and tell Shawn Mendes about it, he’ll understand. Could even be a collab in it.

29. Flume ft. Tove Lo – Say It

Yessssssssssssssssss, there is something so inherently bad-ass about this track. So much tension, so much release. Crank. That. Volume.

28. Anne-Marie – Alarm

Yeahhhh boi, another solid TUNE…well, for the first chorus anyway. Then it has the same monotonous effect as a real alarm. Wahh why does all this music lack staying power?!

27. Illy ft. Vera Blue – Papercuts

Yeah. Mm. Maybe. Kinda. Sorta. Next.

26. Tove Lo – Cool Girl

*zoning out again*

On repeat lately: radio edition

I blame my car for my radio habit. Minus Bluetooth and an auxiliary input, my dear little old-school Golf forced me to either:

a) Keep every CD I own on the passenger seat/car floor or
b) Turn on the damn radio.

After a brief tussle with option a) that resulted in many, many cracked jewel cases, option b) took precedence…with AM radio, because I am actually an 80 year-old in the body of a 24 year-old (I also like tea and early nights. Form a line, gentlemen).

Luckily I also have a younger brother who, if I let him, does a pretty good job of assisting me on the street-cred front. Together, little bro and his car’s sub-woofer gently introduced me to the wonders of FM radio, which filter effortlessly into the house from the driveway, on a daily basis.

On delving into FM territory during my commutes over the last few weeks, I discovered that there is a simple set of rules for FM stations: Find approximately five catchy songs. Repeat ad nauseum. Talk about inane things in between.

And yet…I’m still listening. Well, channel-flicking. Good pop is a mysterious branch of sorcery and I unwittingly strayed into its (evil?) clutches. Hashtag ‘guilty pleasures’. Don’t judge me (I already have).

#5. Justin Beiber – Sorry

After the shock of becoming a Swifty last year, I’m not ready to accept Belieber status as well…but I just can’t help turning this one up every time it’s on. #sorrynotsorry #seewhatIdidthere

#4. Justin Timberlake – Can’t Stop The Feeling

It still doesn’t top SexyBack, but this track has almost made me late for work, thanks to my inability to turn the radio off mid-song.

#3. Sia – Cheap Thrills

Anything with a samba beat makes love to my ears, so this one gets me every. damn. time.

#2. Ariana Grande – Dangerous Woman

In my defence, I would like to state that I have never belted out the chorus of this song while performing moves I am not hot enough to pull off. In the interests of journalistic integrity, I also need to state that the previous sentence is a barefaced lie.

#1. DNCE – Cake By The Ocean

And the winner is…DNCE of course. Because hot damn*, I’m somehow never sorry to hear this song, despite the obscene amount of airplay it’s getting. Sorcery, I say!!

*lyric reference totally intended