Before any tween happens upon this and goes ballistic, let me start off with this: I don’t particularly mind Taylor Swift as a concept. She has a hand in writing her own music, and she can actually do things on her own, like play guitar and fog a mirror and stuff – as far as anything that is played on the radio goes, that’s about as much as you can hope for these days. She seems like a nice enough girl. Her songs are catchy, and she writes well for her intended audience. I recognize that.
That said, I have never (ever?) seen a PR Anvil like I have seen for her new single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” The Clear Channel Abomination (oh, I’m sorry, it’s now called I HEART ABOMINATION) I have my alarm set to usually doesn’t play music until it’s approximately 9 months past its expiration date, yet they aired this new single within like, 5 seconds of its release. Seriously – I heard it at 5 in the morning that very day followed by an audio clip of some interview with her. This is coming from a station that plays “Hungry Like the Wolf” at least 3 times a week at 5:30am. By 8 a.m. that morning, every news outlet had an entertainment story about the song, with titles like, “Who Is She Writing About?” “John Mayer and His Nazi Penis Gets Dissed by Pop Princess!” “Some Jonas Guy Stays Relevant and Says Song Isn’t About Him!” By 5 p.m., the article titles evolved to “TAYLOR’S NEW SINGLE IS MOST AIRED EVRRR!” Yay for her.
I draw the line, however, when NPR weighs into the hoopla with the article, “Taylor Swift, Princess Of Punk?”
I’m creating a new paragraph not because it is grammatically correct; I want your eyes to rest on that title for a moment. Let it marinate in your head and gurgle in your esophagus.
The author, Ann Powers, is actually a well-established writer who has written about women in rock for years and years. She knows what she’s doing, right? One would assume she knows the world of punk, yet…
WHAT IN THE WHAT?
What is punk? There’s a wide variety of punk out there. Some of it sounds like this:
And some punk sounds like this:
But I guarantee you none of it sounds like this song. Powers discusses a sort of modern-day “punk movement” in female pop music, dating back to that wild and crazy time Kelly Clarkson flipped the bird in her video for “Since U Been Gone.” Breakaway is a great pop album, no lie; It is not a punk album. It is not even in the district of punk. It might be a distant moon on the edge of the punk universe where guitars, drums and some semblance of talent exist just outside the gravitational pull of The Great Auto-Tune Black Hole of Suckage that drains the life force out of everything good and original to spit out cotton candy-scented masturbatory fantasies. In other words: catchy? Yes. Talented? Sure. Punk, or even the catch-all Columbia House Record Club category of “Alternative”? Not by a mile.
Flipping off the camera in your high-dollar music video does not make you punk. Unless you come across as a girl-next-door type, like Clarkson always does, flipping off a camera just makes you look like a spoiled brat. As the emo movement proved long ago, brats are not punk.
I suppose Powers’ angle is to celebrate the message of Independent Girl and feminism in these songs. The problem with this idea is the songs mentioned in her article aren’t about independent women, they are about young women attempting to validate their existence after some guy dumped them. That’s all fine and good for the Billboard Hot 100 – hey, radio would be a lonely place without a bunch of singable break-up songs – but let’s not confuse that with feminism. Or, you know, punk. Is this what we’re settling for now – both musically and as women? Have we really become so formulaic and compliant that stepping a single toe out of our Mary-Sue caricatures is considered revolutionary? Sprinkling one grain of salt on your treacle is the new punk?
Ladies? I love a good pop song – there is truly nothing wrong with something that makes you want to sing, dance, or smile; but if this is what we now consider counterculture? We’ve got to put away the Stepford sundresses and sing louder, rock harder and just flat out do better. Please.