Songwriting is an important part of Swift’s spellbook, so covers are treated more harshly than originals.
Because Swift’s career began so young, we’re left in the awkward position of judging work done by a literal high-schooler, which can feel at times like punching down.
And, outside the legions of fans who eat up everything she puts out, no take on her ever stays solid for long.
She was a precocious teenager, and the ultimate embodiment of white privilege. And yet, unlike Madonna or Bowie, Swift got through the first 11 years of her career without any major reinventions.
Other Swift songs have clunkier rhymes, or worse production values, but none of them have such a gaping hole at the center. / Then I think there is something we all forgot.” In the future, Swift would get better at holding onto some empathy when she was casting a critical eye at the silly things people care about; here, the vibe is judgmental in a way that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever reread their teenage diary.
(2010): A nasty little song that has not aged well.
But the villain costume sits uneasily on Swift’s shoulders, and even worse, the songwriting just isn’t there. “Christmas Must Mean Something More,” (2007): One of two originals on Swift’s early-career Christmas album, “Something More” is a plea to put the Christ back in Christmas.
The verses are vacuous, the insults have no teeth, and just when the whole thing seems to be leading up to a gigantic redemptive chorus, suddenly The air goes out of it and we’re left with a taunting Right Said Fred reference — the musical equivalent of pulling a Looney Tunes gag on the listener. “Umbrella,” (2008): Swift has recorded plenty of covers in her career, and none are less essential than this 90-second rendition of the Rihanna hit recorded at the peak of the song’s popularity. Or as she puts it: “What if happiness came in a cardboard box?
But I do recommend sampling as many of these songs as you see fit.
Even with the widespread critical embrace of poptimism — a development I suspect has as much to do with the economics of online media as it does with the shifting winds of taste — there are still those who see Swift as just another industry widget, a Miley or Katy with the tuner set to “girl with a guitar.” If this list does anything, I hope it convinces you that, underneath all the thinkpieces, exes, and feuds, she is one of our era’s great singer-songwriters.
“Bad Blood,” (2014): When Swift teamed up with Max Martin and Shellback, the marriage of their dark eldritch songcraft nearly broke the pop charts. The lyric here indulges the worst habits of late-period Swift — an eagerness to play the victim, a slight lack of resemblance to anything approaching real life — attached to a schoolyard-chant melody that will never leave your head, even when you may want it to.
The remix hollows out the production and replaces Swift’s verses with two from Kendrick Lamar; it’s less embarrassing than the original, which does not make it more memorable. In an admirable bit of dedication, she also showed up to play it in the film’s climax.
Worst of all is this duet with po-faced Ulsterman Gary Lightbody, which feels about ten minutes long.