Yeah, Taylor Swift writes songs about her ex-boyfriends and uses their real names, and in a lot of ways it’s immature or obnoxious. But why do people act like she’s the only one in the history of music to do that? Remember “Cry Me a River”? We all love JT, the song is a jam and the video is hot—but holy jesus, why was there not more of an outcry about how fucking creepy it is?
A couple of tangentially-related points:
- This video is fucking creepy. Music video directors don’t usually get a ton of recognition, but it’s worth noting that Francis Lawrence – in addition to directing music videos for just about every major pop artist of the last twenty years- would go on to direct Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video, as well as Constantine and I Am Legend. I wonder how much of the video’s vision came from Lawrence, and how much came from Timberlake.
- The most famous example of public-figure-as-song-inspiration that I can think of is “Layla”, a song for which Clapton garnered almost universal acclaim. I’m not denying the gender angle, but some of the backlash toward Swift might come from the fact that while Clapton and Timberlake both sound heartbroken, she comes off as a little petulant. Take a song like “Forever and Always”: sure, the lyrics are sad - but the music? It’s upbeat power-pop.
- Julia, before you say it: no, the Unplugged version of “Layla” is in no way whatsoever superior to the original.
- One thing that I think gets overlooked about modern pop-music is how weird it can be. My favorite example of this is actually “Viva La Vida”. Coldplay was a group that, until that song, had played conventional soft-rock music. But that song is a weirdly orchestral thing: gone are the electric guitars and the drum kit, and in their place is literally a string quartet. It sounds more like a genre cover of a Coldplay song than it sounds like an original Coldplay song. Yet it was a smash-hit by any standard.
"Cry Me A River" is the same way. The song is introduced by a weird organ solo that sounds like it was lifted from the soundtrack of a film about a haunted carnival. There’s a bass-line to the song, sure, but the rest of the percussion is all a-capella, a bunch of weird mouth noises. And the coda to the song features an interplay between Timberland’s backup singers and a string section.
Of course, pop music is generally a conservative medium, but that’s precisely why I wish there was more attention paid to those songs that wildly appropriate musical conventions from other genres.