She’s Just a Dime Store Cowgirl, but It’s Not All She’ll Ever Be

Kacey Musgraves has experienced a meteoric rise–not just in country music, but contemporary music as we know it. She’s toured with Willie Nelson and Allison Krauss; she’s been to a ton of festivals, exposing her music to new audiences across America; and on her current press tour for Pageant Material, her latest record that dropped last week, she’s hit up the likes of NPR and even Pitchfork has reviewed the singular album.

Before Pageant Material came out, I anticipated a great record–and it’s far better than “great”–but part of me wondered if Musgraves would have enough of her “signature” material to draw from to top Same Trailer Different Park, her beyond-outstanding album that earned her a few Grammys. If she’s been out on the road all this time, would she still have the ability to incisively critique small-town living in the South that made Same Trailer so incredible? The answer is a resounding yes.

The first two songs quell that anxiety. “High Time,” the opening track, sets the musical tone for the entire record: throw-back country sounds like pedal steel, whistling, strings, and even some hand-clapping. The artful lyrics reassure us that she’s back to who she is at the core:

Been missing my roots
I’m getting rid of the flash
Nobody needs a thousand-dollar suit just to take out the trash

“Dime Store Cowgirl,” a standout on the record, chronicles the emblems of success she’s achieved with her trademark wink-wink-nudge-nudge elocution (“I’ve had my picture made with Willie Nelson/Stayed in a hotel with a pool”). Yet the heart of the song reminds us that she’s grounded, despite her achievements, and the bridge punctuates this idea: “I’m happy with what I got, cause what I got is all I need/Just cause it don’t cost a lot, don’t cost a lot, don’t mean it’s cheap.”

Overall, the record is about the human condition–you could probably this say about a lot of music–but there’s something special about Musgraves’ perspective. She takes the platitudes we’ve all come to know (“You can take me out of the country/But you can’t take the country out of me”) and even shares with us some of her own (“Life ain’t always roses and pantyhose”). Some may call this approach simplistic, but I call it brilliant. Musgraves writes lyrics that roll off the tongue and lodge themselves in your brain because they’re made up of completely natural language. They’re rife with detail and imagery and convey big ideas. She’s probably one of the best lyricists out there today.

“Pageant Material” and “This Town” are two examples of Musgraves’ masterful writing and powerful commentary. From the first verse, you may think that “Pageant Material” is a self-deprecating tune about Musgraves’ inability to live up to Southern beauty standards (“I ain’t pageant material”), but it’s actually a critique of the ridiculousness of pageants:

God bless the girls who smile and hug
When they’re called out as a runner up on TV
I wish I could, but I just can’t
Wear a smile when a smile ain’t what I’m feelin’
And who’s to say I’m a 9.5
Or a 4.0 if you don’t even know me

She ends the song with a punch: “I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t.” In a way, the title “Pageant Material” refers both to what Musgraves isn’t (the first-level meaning of the song) and the stuff that gave her inspiration to write her critique: literal material about pageants and what they represent to and perpetuate in Southern society.

At face value, “This Town” sounds like a paean to deep South small-town ways–and maybe that’s what it mostly is–but, on the flip side, it reveals Musgraves’ highly evolved point of view:

We finally got a flashing light, they put it in last year
And everybody got real happy when the grocery store got beer

I don’t know many country songwriters today who are able to simultaneously describe something in detail and stand back to critique it. My favorite lyric in the song does just that, as well: “What goes around comes back around by Friday’s football game.”

The thoughtful “Somebody to Love” could have gone by a different title because it isn’t a love song; it gets at that human condition theme that runs through the record. “Die Fun” lends insight into Musgraves’ “live in the moment” mantra. “Family Is Family” is a hilarious and very pointed tune that moves along at a clip (“Family is family, in church or in prison/You get what you get, and you don’t get to pick ’em”). And “Biscuits” feels like a “Follow Your Arrow”/”Trailer Song” redux.

The last song I’ll mention is “Good Ol’ Boys Club,” which some publications have suggested contains a dig at Taylor Swift. I’d like to correct and clear up this misperception. If you listen to any of the lyrics to this song, it’s abundantly clear that it’s about the Country Music Establishment, and even conservative life and politics at large:

I don’t need a membership to validate
The hard work I put in and the dues I paid
Never been to good at just goin’ along
I guess I’ve always kind of been for the underdog

Favors for friends will get you in and get you far
Shouldn’t be about who it is you know
But about how good you are

The irony of the song is its thorough country feel. A slight back beat of the drum, an acoustic guitar that strums along, and a pedal steel cutting up a line behind the vocals.

I think some of these idiot reviewers are latching onto the line “another gear in a big machine don’t sound like fun to me.” Big Machine is Taylor’s record company, but since when is Taylor part of the “good ol’ boys club”? “Big machine” more likely refers to the idea of living up to certain standards to become accepted–in country music and by Southern ideals. Anyway, don’t listen to the haters! Musgraves has admitted there’s a bit of dig embedded within this song, but surely it’s not toward Taylor Swift.

If you liked Same Trailer and Kacey Musgraves’ witty observations, you’ll enjoy Pageant Material. If you’ve never heard of her, you should definitely give this record a listen anyway.

Even better things are on the horizon for Kacey Musgraves. She may feel like she’s a dime store cowgirl, and I do believe she’ll always stick to her roots, but she’ll always be much more than that to me.

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1989 by Taylor Swift

IMG_0040After my initial listen of 1989, I realized why Taylor Swift released “Shake It Off” as the first single off the album. On its own, “Shake It Off” signals a shift in her priorities and sound, and can be categorized as the “Mean” of 2014. When heard in its context, the song represents the melodic center of the album. The other songs radiate out from “Shake It Off” in various shapes and gradients of the pure pop sound imbued in the track. With this at its center, 1989 is not only a departure from her supposed country roots, but also serves as a revolution in pop music as we know it.

The album begins with a surrealist, synth pop number called “Welcome to New York.” The rhythmic sway of the song makes it ideal for walking down any avenue in Manhattan, and the inspiring, optimistic lyrics warm any jaded New Yorker’s heart (let’s not comment on her NYC ambassador appointment). “Welcome to New York” sets the tone—both lyrically and melodically—for the rest of the album. When she sings, “The lights are so bright but they never blind me,” it suggests that she is perhaps less star struck by this city than we (read: the media) like to believe.

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On 1989, Taylor experiments with form. The second track, “Blank Space,” is a brilliant piece of commentary on the media’s portrayal of her so-called boy-obsessed public image. She sings in the chorus,

Got a long list of ex-lovers

They’ll tell you I’m insane

‘Cause you know I love the players

And you love the game

Jessica Valenti has already picked up on the sheer intelligence of this song, which you can read here, and the masterpiece of a video is below. However, one of the things that struck me the most about this song is the extremely long chorus. The above passage is the first part of the chorus, with a second part that follows. On the third track, “Style,” a paean to a past lover whose name shall remain undisclosed, she includes a similarly long chorus, composed of two parts, and doesn’t even have a real bridge. As she did with “All Too Well” from Red, which did not have a chorus yet told an elegant story, Taylor has masterfully played with the structure of her songs and has transformed what we may have considered possible for a pop song.

In another genius move, Taylor includes a song called “Bad Blood,” which sounds like it’s straight off a Katy Perry album. And, interestingly enough, the song is rumored to be about the sexy songstress. Its deep beats and clever lyrics make it feel applicable to anyone who may have done you wrong in your life.

One of my personal favorites is “I Know Places,” which seems appropriate for the new Hunger Games film, as other reviewers have suggested. The fact that “I Know Places,” a superb track, lands at number 12 on this album truly demonstrates the tremendous caliber of the finished product. The final song, “Clean,” is an excellent bookend, as she sings about letting go of past hurt and finally breathing (living) again and its sound slightly contrasts to the opening song, which shows the progression of this work of art.

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On the deluxe edition, she offers three additional tracks with a handful of voice memos that reveal her songwriting process and prowess. “New Romantics” is the clear winner of the deluxe tracks, with its incisive commentary on society, and the voice memos are fascinating.

If you’re not one of the more than one million people who bought her album last week, become one of the next million this week. 1989 is Taylor’s best album to date, and I can’t wait to see her continue to evolve.

“x” Marks the Spot

Fingers sliding across guitar strings and a simple note or two begin Ed Sheeran’s latest album, x, on the song “The One.” The regret-tinged love tune sets the tone for Sheeran’s tour de force. You see, in Sheeran’s latest album, he raps, sings in falsetto and gets you moving in your seat with tracks like “Sing” but, by and large, the material he covers centers on his struggle to maintain a romantic relationship while pursuing his dreams.

In the April 2013 Vanity Fair cover story, Taylor Swift addresses the double standard when it comes to writing songs that are often about love.

For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated—a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way—that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.

Swift hit it on the head when she called it sexist. Case in point: Ed Sheeran. His songs are nearly solely devoted to love and his experience with it, and nobody remarks about his penchant for writing about his “feelings.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear that Sheeran appreciates women, when he writes lyrics like “You look so wonderful in your dress/ I love your hair like that/ The way it falls on the side of your neck/ Down your shoulders and back” in the lovey-dovey “Tenerife Sea.” But, overwhelmingly, he draws inspiration from his feelings, too.

taylor swift and ed sheeran

taylor swift and ed sheeran

Though the subject matter may be similar, x is a departure from his debut, +, in terms of influences and tones. Justin Timberlake and John Mayer, to name two well-known artists, are all over this record in spirit. And Sheeran owes a lot to hip hop, as he brings together folk-pop and rap on every other song. His chart-topping single “Sing” is right for the club, due to its dance-inducing rhythm and sway, yet features acoustic guitar strums all over the track. With this song alone, Sheeran has single-handedly transformed a genre.

And some may be surprised that Sheeran veers on the adult matters of sex, drugs and alcohol, but I’m not. The beginnings of these subjects were all over + and, though he may have toured with squeaky-clean Taylor Swift, that has no bearing whatsoever on his freedom to write about his reality.

For listeners who are familiar with +, “Take It Back” resonates as a new manifesto that picks up where “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” left off. Ever aware of his unique physique, Sheeran begins the third verse with:

I take it back now

Now I don’t ever want to be perfect,

Cause I’m a singer that you

Never want to see shirtless

And I accept the fact that someone’s gotta win worst-dressed,

Taking my first steps into the scene,

Giving me focus

In his rap, he reminds us he’s still on the rise—and, judging by his quick ascent, he’s surely onto something. The second song on the album, “I’m a Mess,” features a repetitive swell as the outro, much like “Give Me Love” did on +. In my opinion, the rise and fall of these outros makes for successful, memorable and rhythmically clever songs.

For me, the first 13 songs are winners, but the final three could have been omitted. x is a long album, and Sheeran may have benefited from using the final tracks as bonus ones, rather than cobbling them in with the rest of the very strong, very incisive songs that precede them.

All in all, x is definitely a success for Sheeran. Recently, Taylor Swift encouraged her followers to buy Sheeran’s new album with a photo of him snuggling with her cat, Meredith, on Instagram. Swift exposed the softer side of Sheeran with that post, but it’s something any listener of x will also witness through his poignant songs.

Taylor Swift Live!

Last night, I saw Taylor Swift perform at the Newark Prudential Center. She was incredible! Ed Sheeran opened for her, and he was spectacular, as well.

taylor swift and ed sheeran

taylor swift and ed sheeran

They played together on “Everything Has Changed” from the back of arena, near where our seats were located. It was a mind-blowing experience!

I took a video, too, of her performance of “Mean.” Check it out below and enjoy 🙂

In Defense of Taylor Swift

taylor swiftSomeone asked me today what Taylor Swift means to me. An odd question, sure, but I thought about it. Basically, I told her that I perceive Taylor to be a great role model for girls. One that should be admired, and one whom I personally admire. I was surprised that I didn’t have something less generic, more unique to say to her.

It’s articles like this one in the New York Times (in Sunday Styles, no less) that get under my skin. They say she dates too many men, that she’s a cradle robber, that she’s on the decline. Though, my greatest fear is that the article is correct in alleging that there is a robust backlash against Taylor happening as we speak. There is, and I wish it wasn’t so.

I know many of you read this blog to find out what restaurants I’m visiting and what I think about them. But, to me, this blog serves another purpose. It’s a defense of Taylor Swift.

That may alienate some, for certain, but it’s the way I feel. Taylor is an extremely gifted young person, who writes music from the heart. And, in stringing together simple words into memorable phrases, she touches so many lives.

So, the  magazines that she graces the covers of don’t sell as well as those with Lady Gaga plastered upon them? So, CoverGirl didn’t renew her contract? So what, New York Times!

She’s a genuine, grounded individual who has her whole life ahead of her to do great things. An ardent supporter of arts education, she already donates significant chunks of cash to charitable organizations that help young people. And, by virtue of her music alone, she influences the minds and hearts of many.

No matter what happens in the media–whether she dates another 10 famous men and sees each relationship crash and burn–I still believe in her. And I will continue to believe in her, no matter what.

I hope you will continue to support me by reading this blog.

 

Background Vocals and Intricate Instrumentals on “Red”

taylor swiftI’ve exercised restraint in posting about Taylor Swift’s new album, Red. Truth be told, it’s one of my favorite albums–ever. The lyrics are intriguing, the music is upbeat and … swift. And the songs just make me want to sing along, all day long.

In my many listens, I’ve noticed that Taylor Swift creatively uses background vocals to enhance the richness of certain songs. On her previous albums, Taylor begins and ends the songs with the same elements throughout–the same vocals, the same instruments, the same chorus. On Red, she ventures into a more complex world of music, rewarding the listener for sticking with her for the entire song.

Case in point: the opening track, “State of Grace,” begins with a drum, a guitar, a bass, and Taylor’s beautiful voice lilting lyrics over the pounding beats. As if the song weren’t intense enough already, she throws in background vocals singing “oh oh oh oh whoa” in the second instance of the chorus, thus making the song pop even more.

In “All Too Well,” possibly my favorite song on the album, Taylor begins the song with an acoustic guitar playing chords and an electric guitar chiming in with a melody. After the first verse, the patter of a snare drum comes in. What’s unique about this song is that Taylor does not use a traditional chorus throughout. Rather, each verse is followed by the same chords for a “chordsus” but not a true “chorus” since the lyrics aren’t the same each time around.

For example, the first instance of the chordsus goes:

Cause there we are again on that little town street

You almost ran the red cause you were lookin’ over at me

Wind in my hair, I was there, I remember it all too well

In the second chordsus, suddenly an influx of music overwhelms the listener–a male background vocalist sings harmony to Taylor’s melody, with the following lyrics:

Cause here we are again in the middle of the night

We dance around the kitchen in the refrigerator light

Down the stairs, I was there, I remember it all too well

From there, the electric guitar really moves and the whole song seems to explode at the bridge. Her vocals elevate in the next verse and, what the listener gets as he or she continues to listen to the song is an exhilarating experience.

On “Holy Ground,” she does something similar as she did on “State of Grace”–building into the song with interesting background vocals. “Holy Ground” has a fast clip and once the listener gets to the second verse, we hear female singers in the background, enhancing the spirit of the song.

A fan favorite, “Everything Has Changed” that features vocals by Ed Sheeran, also rewards the listener. Undeniably catchy and rhythmically beautiful, “Everything Has Changed” features Sheeran’s harmony to Taylor’s melody on the first chorus. Already filled with background vocals from Sheeran’s charming harmony, the song takes on a new dimension in the second chorus with a guitar playing underneath the chorus refrain, doing its own little pretty thing.

Taylor Swift never did this before–this strategic use of background vocals and intricate instrumentals. After a close listen to her previous albums, I realized that the only other time she may have nearly used background vocals in this way was on the song “Enchanted” from Speak Now. “Enchanted” undoubtedly builds and reaches a climax at each chorus, but it’s the same build over and over throughout the song. It isn’t strategic the way Red plays.

This is just an observation I had about this album that clearly demonstrates a new sense of maturity about Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift’s “Red” – An Act of Maturity

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I love the New York Times. Really, I do. Not only is it the world’s leading newspaper, it speaks my language–the language of liberals. As much as it might not want to admit this, it does. However, I’m sometimes miffed by their reviews. They often miss the mark. For a paper as erudite as this one, it seems, their reviewers should “get” whatever they’re reviewing.

Case in point: Taylor Swift’s latest album Red. In a piece titled, “No More Kid Stuff for Taylor Swift,” Jon Caramanica (an expert on pop music, perhaps?) provides a glimpse into what he believes Red is all about.

He erroneously begins the review by stating that Taylor’s sole two subjects are love and heartbreak. Has he not heard “Eyes Open” or “Ronan”? Surely, a New York Times reviewer would do their research prior to stating “facts” all over the place. But, no, not Caramanica. Strike number one against his piece.

To frame his perspective that he’ll later support, he states, “Her growth is largely musical, not experiential.” Here’s where I mostly disagree with Caramanica.

What’s strange about his review is that he actually cites lyrics from Red that support the opposite of his thesis. For example, he picks up on the mini-conversation Taylor has with herself during “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” I believe this aside reveals Taylor’s true sense of humor, which, in turn, shows her evolution from serious country star to someone who’s willing to laugh at herself–an adult trait. Carmanica says, “There is something different in Ms. Swift’s voice here: it’s serious and deep, and also shrewd. She has been through this before. She sounds like an adult.” Right, she sounds like an adult–so how does this prove that her growth is solely musical, not experiential?

Caramanica also cites “I Knew You Were Trouble” as misplaced evidence of his own thesis. Instead of proving that it’s just the music that has evolved, he pins Taylor as someone who has pointed the finger at herself as the “culpable” agent in the rocky relationship she sings about. Isn’t that something an adult would do? Isn’t this self-implication unique to Red? I think so.

Providing insight into previously uncharted territory for Taylor, Caramanica discusses Taylor’s foray into the sensual experience of love. How does this not show her evolution has been experiential?  “On ‘Treacherous,’ written with the pop savant Dan Wilson, she sighs, ‘I’ll do anything you say if you say it with your hands,'” he writes.

Beyond Caramanica’s lyrics examples, there are other lyrics that reveal Taylor’s newfound journey into adulthood. In “The Lucky One,” a piece rife with commentary about being in the spotlight, Taylor sings,

And they still tell the legend of how you disappeared,

How you took the money and your dignity and got the hell out.

They say you bought a bunch of land somewhere

Chose the Rose Garden over Madison Square,

And it took some time, but I understand it now.

‘Cause now my name is up in lights, but I think you got it right.

These lyrics signal to the reader that Taylor has had a revelation about her celebrity. “Yeah, they tell you now you’re the lucky one,” she sings, about herself. She is the lucky one, and she knows it, but uses the story of the ex-celebrity as a cautionary tale for herself and her own trajectory. If this doesn’t show “experiential” maturity, I’m not sure what does.

And the fact that Taylor, a seasoned songwriter in her own right who has had 50 Billboard Top 100 hits, made the adult move to collaborate with her “dream” industry songwriters and producers proves she doesn’t need to take full credit for her songs–an egoless decision and something not many songwriters who have had the success Taylor has had would dare do.

An element of Caramanica’s review that I enjoyed was his observation that country cannot define Taylor and that she’s driving her own terms in the pop arena. “That’s because Ms. Swift is post-gatekeeper: country radio no longer gets to define her, and pop radio has accepted her novel terms,” he writes. I believe this is true, and I appreciate his pointing it out. Taylor Swift has had an unparalleled career–from country darling to pop sensation, she’s struck out with her own style and flair in every album she’s put together.

I also agree when Caramanica writes, “Almost everything here is corroded in some way.” From the musical to the lyrical, Red is filled with less-joyful innuendo than her previous albums.

And, Carmanica’s summary of Taylor Swift’s evolution is apt: “Ms. Swift has come a long way from ‘You Belong With Me,’ one of her biggest hits, in which she was the outsider throwing barbs at the more conventional, pretty, popular girl. ‘I’m listening to the kind of music she doesn’t like,’ she sang, wearing her individuality as a badge of pride. But now that other girl, she listens to Taylor Swift. She might even be Taylor Swift.” It’s true.

So, New York Times–you kinda, sorta didn’t get at the heart of Red, but part of what you said was spot on.

Burning “Red” is Right

Superbly written at every turn, Taylor Swift’s latest single, “Red” (which is also the title track of her forthcoming new album), will blow you away. It’s a combination of country and rock and pop, and the ping of the banjo is undeniably relentless. “Red” will have you tapping your foot and dancing in your seat. And, if you listen closely, you’ll find an entire English lesson’s worth of similes and metaphors to mine.

Though different from “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” her first single off Red, “Red” shares the same forward-moving rhythm that makes “We Are Never…” so catchy. The banjo plucking at the beginning is ghosted by what sounds like a synthesizer sounding fake strings, as My Dining Partner observed. A departure from the true country hit “Begin Again,” her second single from Red, “Red” has a country feel that’s updated to Taylor’s new pop-rock sound.

Now, how great is this song’s lyrics, you ask? So great. So so great.

The opening stanza grabs you like a punch in the stomach:

Loving him is like driving a new Maserati down a dead end street

Faster than wind, passionate as sin, ended so suddenly

Loving him is like trying to change your mind

Once you’re already flying through the free fall

Like the colors in autumn

So bright just before they lose it all

Taylor Swift infuses a true country-pop song with such golden word-nuggets. Imagine driving an old Maserati down a dead end street–the thrill of it would end so suddenly, as she sings. What I love best about this stanza is the bit about autumn leaves. This sentiment–that they’re so bright right before they lose their color–is especially poignant because it paints a highly articulate picture of what loving him is like. That is, a splash of greatness followed by a fall or emptiness.

And the chorus is outstanding;

Losing him was blue like I’d never known

Missing him was dark grey all alone

Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you’ve never met

But loving him was red

Loving him was red

How true is her portrayal of what these colors feel like? How aptly conveyed are their emotional colors?  Blue = feeling a loss, feeling down. Dark grey = all alone. Red = intense passion that spouts like lava from a volcano. That’s what her love for this individual was like–fiery, impassioned, red. And it’s brilliant.

The rest of the song continues with these ingenious similes and metaphors, explaining the many facets of her love for this person. Now, as alluded to in my review of “Ronan,” songwriting like this makes you wonder what Taylor could do with non-love-story content. Like, what if she wanted to write about lofty subjects like world peace and war? And the human condition? Well, as for the latter, we know she can write beautifully about that (see “Ronan” and “Eyes Open”).

Think of the evolution of the Beatles. They started out writing about love and ended up writing about metaphysics. I’m betting Taylor’s subjects will, over time, evolve, as well. You may think I’m crazy for comparing the Beatles to Taylor Swift, but I truly believe her songwriting ability is of that high caliber. She can do it. I know she can.

I look forward to October 22, the release date of Red. Are you going to download it or buy it in the store? I’m going to Best Buy on my lunch break to get the album, but I’m tempted to download it to my iPhone. Decisions!

“Ronan”: A Revelation of Taylor Swift’s Songwriting Ability

I’ve never cried while listening to a song before I heard “Ronan,” Taylor Swift’s latest single. She wrote this unbelievably poignant song about a little boy named Ronan who died from neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor of the nerve tissue. Taylor learned of Ronan’s story through a blog written by Ronan’s mom. She even credits Ronan’s mom on the song. All of the proceeds from the song will go to the Taylor Swift Charitable Fund.

Now, why is this song so incredible?

It’s truly a revelation of Taylor’s songwriting ability. She has mastered the key to great writing: using details to craft a story. Taylor very carefully builds the narrative of a typical child’s experience that transforms into heartbreaking sadness. The first two stanzas of the song focus on the elements of a happy, healthy childhood:

I remember your bare feet down the hallway

I remember your little laugh

Racecars on the kitchen floor, plastic dinosaurs

I love you to the moon and back

 

I remember your blue eyes looking into mine

Like we had our own secret club

I remember you dancin’ before bedtime

Then jumping on me, waking me up

Yet Ronan’s childhood was plagued by illness, which is hinted at in the third stanza: “You fought it hard like an army guy”–“it” being his neuroblastoma, obviously, but the listener doesn’t quite know the severity of Ronan’s condition or the tremendous lost felt by his mother until the fourth stanza (the first stanza after the first instance of the chorus):

I remember the drive home when the blind hope

Turned to crying and screaming why

Flowers pile up in the worst way

No one knows what to say

‘Bout a beautiful boy who died

And it’s about to be Halloween

You could be anything you wanted if you were still here

I remember the last day when I kissed your face

I whispered in your ear

And then the song launches into the chorus again.

The fourth stanza is where the listener realizes that Taylor Swift truly understands the magnitude of this boy’s illness and its effect on his mother. She alludes to his funeral with that one line (“Flowers pile up in the worst way”) without saying “It was so sad to attend his funeral.” And that terrible feeling of not knowing what to say when “a beautiful boy” has died — she hits the emotional target square on the head. Then, it’s when she mentions Halloween that the listener’s heart truly breaks. She captures the agony faced by the mother who realizes that her son would have probably loved nothing more than to dress up on Halloween and collect candy, in the way that all children do.

Taylor Swift truly comprehends the loss that the mother has faced. Her deep-rooted understanding is further established by the bridge:

What if I’m standing in your closet trying to talk to you

What if I kept the hand-me-downs you won’t grow into

And what if I really thought some miracle would see us through

What if the miracle was even getting one moment with you

Through her miraculous grasp of the human condition, Taylor is able to lock herself into the mindset of the mother and ask the questions any parent who has experienced such a loss would ask. Again, it’s the details that make this bridge so affecting: the closet where all of his clothes and belongings are; the clothes the mother had from previous children or other family members’ kids that Ronan will never wear–these small details are what make the song so great.

My Dining Partner asked me why Taylor Swift doesn’t write more songs like this. In his estimation, “Ronan” is one of her greatest songs. “Maybe if she had different life experiences, she’d write different (read: better) songs,” he said. I think, with the advent of “Eyes Open” and now “Ronan,” it’s abundantly clear that Taylor Swift is one of the greatest living songwriters today.

And by the way she sings “Ronan,” it’s clear that her voice is but a mere vehicle for this tragic tale. There aren’t any flourishes of her voice, no riffs on the last gasp of the chorus. It’s just her simple voice, the guitar and a drum.

I cried my eyes out the first two times I heard “Ronan,” and I’m afraid to go back and listen to the song again, for fear of bawling uncontrollably. I don’t know Ronan’s mom personally and I never will, but I understand her plight–something I, myself, have never experienced and hope to never experience–because of Taylor Swift.

Here is a video of Taylor Swift singing “Ronan” at the cancer benefit from Friday night:

The full lyrics (as I heard them) are listed here:

“Ronan”

I remember your bare feet down the hallway

I remember your little laugh

Race cars on the kitchen floor, plastic dinosaurs

I love you to the moon and back

 

I remember your blue eyes looking into mine

Like we had our own secret club

I remember you dancin’ before bedtime

Then jumping on me, waking me up

 

I can still feel you hold my hand, little man

How even the moment I knew

You fought it hard like an army guy

Remember I leaned in and whispered to you

 

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

You were my best four years

 

I remember the drive home when the blind hope

Turned to crying and screaming why

Flowers pile up in the worst way

No one knows what to say

‘Bout a beautiful boy who died

And it’s about to be Halloween

You could be anything you wanted if you were still here

I remember the last day when I kissed your face

I whispered in your ear

 

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

Out of this curtained room in this hospital grey

We’ll just disappear

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

You were my best four years

 

What if I’m standing in your closet trying to talk to you

What if I kept the hand-me-downs you won’t grow into

And what if I really thought some miracle would see us through

What if the miracle was even getting one moment with you

 

Come on baby

We’re gonna fly away

From here

 

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

You were my best four years

 

I remember your bare feet down the hallway

I love you to the moon and back

You Are Never, Ever, Ever Gonna Believe Taylor’s New Single

taylor swiftTaylor Swift is a woman of great feats. She’s sold out football stadiums all over this country and arenas spanning the globe. She’s taken country by storm with her self-titled album and broken through the moody rock barrier with “Eyes Open.” She’s completely transcended industry labels without losing a fan along the way, as artists who are perceived to be “sell outs” often do. And now, with the advent of her latest single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor has mastered the art of the pop song.

Last night, in a webcast (attended by more than 70,000 fans), Taylor revealed the release date (October 22, 2012) and title (Red) of her next album. She also debuted her new single, which has already hit #1 on iTunes.

“We Are Never” starts with clipped acoustic guitar and, as her vocals tune in, a heavy back beat swells. Right off the bat, the song sounds different. It isn’t country. It isn’t rock. It’s a well-crafted pop song. A “Call Me Maybe” with true staying power.

Taylor’s personality shines through the lyrics. She peppers the song with “like, ever” and nearly raps the stanzas, so quick is her locution. By the time the chorus locks in, you’re hooked. And the chorus sings:

We are never ever ever

Getting back together

We are never ever ever

Getting back together

You go talk to your friends

Talk to my friends, talk to me

But we are never ever ever

Getting back together

(Like, ever)

After hearing the chorus the first time, you’re ready to sing along when it comes back for a second and third appearance.

The true Taylor is especially revealed during the second stanza:

I’m really gonna miss you picking fights, and me

Falling for it, screaming that I’m right, and you

Would hide away and find your piece of mind, with some

Indie record that’s much cooler than mine.

At the bridge, she lulls you in with a sweet lullaby-like line and then promptly switches to her speaking voice to say, “So he calls me up and he’s like, I still love you, and, I’m like, I’m just, this is exhausting, you know, we are never getting back together. Like ever.”

The song primes you for hand waving and foot tapping as the lyrics whisk by with intentional middle school-esque hyperbole.

It’s the perfect pop song and I can’t wait to see it climb up the Billboard chart.