Not loud enough to impact sales or stardom but far too loud to be ignored, the opinion of country purists has always been that Taylor Swift’s music was too poppy for the genre. Not necessarily the most accurate–and certainly not the most admirable–stance, it was not without some merit. Indeed, even Swift’s earliest recordings are overflowing with pop sensibility.
But it was not until the release of “Red” singles “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” that Swift fully committed herself to the pop landscape. These were not country songs with a splash of pop. They were not even pop songs with a pinch of country. They were contemporary pop songs designed to compete in the contemporary market. And they did.
They became the biggest hits of her career, proving that Swift’s earlier Top 40 success was not simply a product of novelty. Sure, she did inject country into most of her hits. Sure, she adhered strongly to a girl-next-door image in a society that practically begs women to become overtly sexual. Sure, her unique lyrics made consistent waves for reading like alternations between pages from a gossip rag and teenage diary.
But the real message was that Swift was a true musical powerhouse. Being endlessly self-aware and endlessly wise to music, Swift could credibly adapt to new genres and styles without sacrificing her own honesty or artistry.
And though they were her most public examples, they were not her only examples. With songs like “Eyes Open” and “State of Grace,” Swift proved her message could resonate in the alt- and arena rock genres. Her Civil Wars collaboration “Safe & Sound” saw her complementing–rather than diminishing–the aura created by the successful duo.
“Sweeter Than Fiction,” her collaboration with fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff for the British movie “One Chance,” represents her latest foray into new territory. This time, the target is the glossier side of 80s New Wave.
The end result is far from perfect. While Swift largely stays true to the song’s glitzy 80s vibe, she always seems inches away from veering into melody more reminiscent of her pop-country sound. Swift-esque instrumentals, particularly in the solo, do little to patch that rift.
But true of this song, as is the case with most of Swift’s experimental endeavors, is an underlying sense of credibility. Her vocal delivery might reflect a yearning to escape the constraints of the song, but it also reflects a complete awareness of who the song requires her to be. And, more often than not, she performs as that person – and she sounds good while doing so.
And not all of that credibility–and resonance–comes from Swift’s voice. She and collaborator Antonoff created a 4-minute piece that feels both modern and faithful to its 80s influences.
One such influence, particularly evident in the chorus, appears to be OMD’s “If You Leave.”
And Antonoff does not appear to be denying that source of inspiration. In a Tweet announcing the song, the guitarist asked, “hear the john hughes in it?”
While Antonoff technically could have meant John Hughes of new wave act Minor Detail (which would fit in its own way) he is far more likely referring to filmmaker John Hughes, whose 80s teen movies were known, among many things, for their soundtracks.
“If You Leave” appeared in his “Pretty in Pink.”
The track, which plays over the end credits of “One Chance,” is now available on iTunes; a YouTube stream of the audio follows: