This should have not happened. A self-respecting music snob finally succumbing to the appeal of Taylor Swift, the epitome of mainstream pop whom New York Times’ ethicist-cum-music-critic Chuck Klosterman describes as “a one-woman Hotel California” (Hotel California here, of course, is a shorthand for rock and roll’s most vapid product).
But the inevitable has happened. In the past six months, I have grown to appreciate the music of Taylor Swift and I think about a month ago, I have decided to really, really like her music. How is this even possible?
As with parents everywhere, I want to instill values to my nine-year-old daughter and since I am not quite a religious person, and one who is a bit of a moral relativist, I am concerned more about what she should listen. I care more about how she will develop her taste in music. I did not quite believe that playing Mozart, Bach or Karajan, would turn her into the next Einstein, I opted to turn her to Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Shins and Neutral Milk Hotel.
When she was three, the musical lesson seemed to have worked. I still kept the video when she first danced to The Shins’ “Australia” at the age of three. If I can remember correctly she wanted nothing but Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Fever To Tell” in the house when she turned four. Her first outdoor concert was that of Stevie Wonder, so when she was five, I took pride from her sophisticated taste.
But then things began to fall apart by the time she was seven. She started to like One Direction, Avici, Ke$ha, Katy Perry, which I suspected she picked up from Top-40 radio (I bought her a boombox when she was four, but she started listening regularly by the time she turned six). For some reason that I don’t know she got a tattoo of Avici’s logo on her left arm (her friend from school drew that).
And soon the backlash happened. She started to make fun of my vinyl collection. “Dad, have you fed the bird today?” she teased me when the weekend comes. The bird here of course refers to my vinyl collection, which she likens to a pet bird (In fact she uses the Javanese word “badut”, a term used by old Javanese folks to call their favorite fowl). She gave me that wicked smile whenever I play Deafheaven’s 14-minute track of constant shrieking and wall of guitars on her way home from school.
“What’s the duration again?” she teased me every time the song hits the 10-minute mark. “That’s all there is?” she asked me about the absence of any harmony in the vocals.
The only thing that she apparently got from me is the excitement for regularly going to the music store. But now that she totally developed her own taste, her pick of CDs would totally humiliate me, when I have to come forward to the record store clerk and pay for the purchase. Last year, she picked from the shelf Taylor Swift’s latest album Red, and as the cliché goes, my life would never be the same again.
“Can we change the CD with Taylor Swift?” she always asked me on the morning drive to school. And after about 14 spins per month, I finally learned the appeal of Red.
This album is not really a masterpiece, but with five stunning tracks and half a dozen fillers, this is certainly not a fluke (you can certainly say the same thing about The Smiths’ Meat is Murder or Radiohead’s The Bends). Lyrically, Swift writes about many things that don’t mean anything to a father of one (heartbreak, hating hipster or that love is a ruthless game), but musically she is a serious talent, probably in the same league with Eagles’ Don Henley or even Moz himself. She is also one of the greatest composers that the mainstream pop has to offer.
The album’s title track has one of last year’s best guitar solos that could put Johnny Ramones to shame. And to eliminate all competitions, for the track Swift gives a lesson about how to effectively use banjo as a lead instrument. And these are all anthemic songs that could induce stadium-sized singalong. Most of the time now we scream our lungs out for the high notes from “State of Grace” and shortly before we wrapped up our trip from school, we are already finished with the choruses from mightily catchy “22”.
Next month, both Taylor Swift and Deafheaven will play their gigs here. I am more excited to see the former.
About Taufiq Rahman
Taufiq runs an independent record label.