I may not be the stereotypical Taylor Swift fan, but there’s something about her 1989 album of which I just can’t get enough. Yes, it makes me want to dance. And she’s a gifted story teller. And she can sing.
It’s more than that though. And I’m not sure I knew what it was until I listened to Ryan Adams cover of her entire album. I like his version of 1989 too, more or less. It is more my style of music–male vocals and acoustic guitar. And I trust his intentions in releasing the album are good and noble, no matter how mansplaining-ish many of the reviews have been. “Oh thank goodness a man came along and fixed T Swift….blah blah blah…..” (This article on the Mansplaining of Taylor Swift made me cheer.) I also am confident that Taylor Swift needs nobody’s defense. As she delivers her wheelbarrows of royalty checks from Adams’ cover to the bank, I’m sure that will afford good therapy to help her get over the mansplaining.
Where Swift’s album makes me want to dance, Adam’s cover makes me want to drown my sorrows in a dingy bar, alone in a corner booth.
Here’s where the contrast really hit me though–what I love about Swift’s album is that she never, ever apologizes for being a woman. Adams’ cover seems to want to smooth off the edges, to put the female character in the songs in some sort of better behaved box.
Granted, some of the lyrics sung by Swift would have sounded silly in Adams voice. These lyrics, in particular, are missing from Blank Space on Adams’ cover:
“cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”
“I could make the bad guys good for a weekend”
“Boys only want love if it’s torture
Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t, warn you”
And I really missed those lyrics.
Perhaps what resonated most in me about Swift’s original album is the way she names and claims a particular feminine perspective of how to inhabit this world. She is a sexual being, on her own terms. She is a flawed human being, not pretending otherwise. (Got a long list of ex-lovers/ They’ll tell you I’m insane). She flirts. She faces public criticism for her behavior and shakes it off.
In the song “Style”, Adams removes every mention of the “style” evoked in the original song. “James Dean day dream” becomes “Daydream Nation”. “Red lip classic thing that you like” becomes “pent up love thing that you like”. Part of the power of the first song is the way the character owns and claims the way she attracts a man with her “style” and is, in turn, drawn to him for similar reasons. In the original song, they may be a star crossed or ill-fated couple, but I see the attraction. In Adams version, it seems so tame.
I guess I’m tired of female voices being tamed.
I don’t want to overplay the importance of this (remember–let’s solve the Syrian refugee crisis first), but I’ll admire Adams’ album for the sonic exercise it was, and then go back to dancing to T Swift. Shake it off, I know. I know.
2 thoughts on “I just can’t Shake it Off”
Good thoughts, my friend. I’ll offer two things:
First, Adams version is notably tamer, as you pointed out, but I don’t think it’s intended to somehow “correct” T.Swift. I actually think a tame male voice is a welcome change when a good chunk of the other male voices getting all the attention these days are testosterone-laden songs celebrating all kinds of silly testosterone nonsense.
Second I, for one, don’t believe Adams’ version trumps T.Swift’s, but rather exposes how brilliant and versatile these songs really are.
Of course, the T.Swift version I REALLY like is yours at Montreat this summer. Just sayin’.
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I don’t think Adams was trying to correct her. I was referring to reviews that praised his album as having “gotten it right” somehow.
Ultimately, I think, her lyrics as sung through a man’s voice, take away the defiant power and joy in the songs for me. Maybe “take away” is too strong. It dilutes it, perhaps.
And I guarantee the version of Blank Space that I do at my next lip sync battle will be hers, cause darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.
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