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Category Archives: youth

Above is a picture of Taylor Swift performing at a country music festival, possibly in character for this song:

“You Belong With Me” is Swift’s third single off of her sophomore record Fearless–a record that, though she may have proven herself a pretty good country artist on her self-titled debut, shows that Swift is an even better pop star. On Taylor Swift, she hopscotched through various conventions of country songwriting, acting out a bit of vengeful female here (“Picture To Burn”), lovelorn pining there (“Teardrops On My Guitar,” such a classic country title also), with a fair dose of perky down-home good ol’ girl sentiment thrown in (“Our Song,” “Mary’s Song [Oh My My My]”). What elevates Swift’s songs beyond their traditions, however, is the quality of her songwriting craft–whether it’s in the specificity of details, the tweaking of a chorus lyric or in the subtle way she sings a line that creates an unexpected texture to the writing itself.

This kind of exceptional craft is all over the place in Fearless, and every song on here is a winner to boot. Easily my favorite thing about Swift is her dedication to being a certain kind of teenage girl–the kind of bright-eyed optimist who believes in the stories of fairy tales and reimagines Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending (“Love Story”). This naivete is all the more striking when the record takes its downward turn to heartbreak, starting with the refutation of fairy tale imagery in “White Horse” with such clarity so as to make it striking:

I’m not a princess, this ain’t no fairy tale
I’m not the one you’ll sweep off her feet
and lead her up a stairwell

Except for rhythmic innovation, her songwriting contains much of what I want out of pop music; while there’s a strong dedication to convention and tradition, what Swift does within the lines are charmingly fresh. Liz Phair and Sheryl Crow only wish they could write songs like these, and Swift is decades younger than they are. Even better than the heartbreak of songs like “White Horse” and “You’re Not Sorry” (in which she sounds like she’s been directed to think of whatever Jonas brother it was that dumped her), however, are the big-hearted ones like “Fifteen”–another exercise in teenage mythology that simultaneously celebrates it and tears it down–and “The Best Day,” a song so moving that, as Sasha Frere-Jones put it in his stellar New Yorker profile on Swift, it should become the official Mother’s Day song.

But to get back to “You Belong With Me” for a second. It’s already her highest charting single on Billboard‘s Hot 100, currently at #3, and I hope she finally gets a #1 single soon, especially if it means dethroning the horrible turd-filled run that the Black Eyed Peas have had with first “Boom Boom Pow” and now “I Gotta Feeling.” Why? Fearless is probably my favorite ever pop album made by a teenage girl (sorry, Fiona), and “You Belong With Me” is like a sweeter, non-grating version of Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend”; the fact that these two could make a song and video so thematically similar and yet one comes off as bitchy and cruel and the other comes off as sunny and adorable speaks volumes to their respective personalities.

“You Belong With Me” also takes a hackneyed teen movie concept and boils its essentials (the dichotomy of shorts skirts/t-shirts, of high heels/sneakers, cheer captain/being on the bleachers) down to a delightful 4 minutes rather than the interminable 90 which would have included, oh, Rachel Leigh Cook’s bitchface or Freddie Prinze Jr.’s non-personality. The absolute zoom on the chorus, and how Swift’s reed-thin voice manages to ride its bombast before flattening with vulnerability. And then there’s my absolute favorite moment of pop music in 2009: Swift’s audible gasp at 2:46 before breathlessly listing every lovesick reason why she’d be this dumb oblivious schmuck’s perfect girlfriend. So desperate and sad and hilarious, like much of teenage existence.

And the mere fact that she deserves it; since 2006’s “Tim McGraw,” she has had my favorite run of singles this decade with nary a #1 to show for it. Putting this in perspective, B2K has more #1 hits than Swift. One of these acts is keeping the music industry afloat, and the other is one you have never heard of. And there’d be no one more fitting to knock off the Black Eyed Peas–who represent everything that is evil and wrong with pop music–than Swift, who represents much of what is wonderful and great about it.

Also, look at that picture! Conceptual dedication and regular gosh-darned cuteness.

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tx_minka1

If this song isn’t used during an incredibly moving montage full of puppy-dog eyes and closed-teeth crying at the end of Lyla Garrity’s final appearance on Friday Night Lights, I will be incredibly disappointed.

Also it is nearly embarrassing how much I love Taylor Swift’s Fearless. More articulated thoughts regarding that TK.