By now, everyone has had time to digest Taylor Swift’s latest designs for pop domination, as if she hadn’t already completed that goal before. Her fifth album 1989 will be out in October, with “Shake It Off” serving as the album’s lead single. It is a catchy, Max Martin-produced ditty that will undoubtedly stay at the top of the Hot 100 for weeks on end, if not for the utter dearth of serious competition, then for the pure radio power she’s acquired after release of 2012’s Red. Of course, a song can be seriously catchy and radio-friendly and still suck.
“Shake It Off” sucks.
It wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it was just a bad song. All artists have a clunker here and there, and even release them as singles. What makes “Shake It Off” so offensive is what it represents. “Shake It Off” is Swift’s first serious attempt at releasing purely pop music. There is not an iota of anything resembling country in this track, which will surely delight radio programmers and more casual Swift listeners. But the production isn’t the problem; it’s actually the only thing going for it. What is shockingly bad is the lyrics, which has long been her strong point.
Even if you don’t particularly like Taylor Swift, you would be a fool (or pretentious) to not admit that she knows her way around a songwriter’s pen. She has crafted some of pop’s most indelible hooks and has a knack for a telling a story that is both personal and universal. It is this talent, not her voice or production values, that has catapulted her to multiple multi-platinum albums and a Grammy win for Album of the Year. Last year’s Red, which was also nominated for Album of the Year, found Taylor playing more with pop, but holding onto her strength as a song craftsman (I have no more Taylor Swift songs from Red than any other album for this reason, and I’m still confused as to why the title track wasn’t pushed a single).
Which makes “Shake It Off” all the more confusing, and disappointing. She is more than capable of creating a great well-written pop record, but instead goes with a “haters gonna hate-hate-hate-hate-hate” hook and some basic lyrics that could be recorded by any female pop artist without the integrity or intelligence to know better. If she wanted to record a send-up to the people who say she “goes out on too many dates”, I’m sure she could’ve done a little better than dancing around (badly, if the video and her infamous awards show audience dancing is anything to go by) and ignoring them.
Taylor Swift is too talented to be releasing material like this, material that could have been released by Katy Perry and sung more convincingly. Even worse, she didn’t have to release this kind of material. Her albums are the only ones going multi-platinum these days (besides Adele) and she scored two of the biggest hits of her career just two years ago. She didn’t have to throw her artistic ability into question by releasing a throwaway track, no matter how loud kids in the frats will be screaming this come September.
Taylor Swift succeeded by being the standout in a sea of pop female artists, willing to do things her way and making the industry bend to her will. This is a disappointing step backwards for her, and I wonder how the industry will respond to its wunderkind running with the pack. Probably not well.