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TRACK MARKS 2019: “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” by Taylor Swift

Jeremy Beck

Jeremy Beck runs the website MovieManifesto, where he writes many, many movie reviews that nobody reads.

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. As usual, we’re closing out the year by talking about a bunch of songs that we loved over the past 12 months.

Given that she’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world, it should be difficult for Taylor Swift to don the cloak of the underdog. But among her many gifts as a songwriter is a knack for immersion, the way she can use a sharp hook or a snappy phrase to instantly pull you into her filigreed worlds. Lover is a massive album (18 tracks!) that was massively successful (double platinum!), but when “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” kicks off, Swift is just another shattered teenage girl again; she effortlessly conjures a familiar high-school dystopia, the modest drums combining with her slightly breathy vocals to yank you back to a time of adolescent heartache. The lyrics are characteristically simple but evocative: She’s ripped up her prom dress, she’s running through rose thorns, she’s fending off whispers from judgmental classmates about how she’s a bad, bad girl. It’s The Scarlet Letter by way of Mean Girls.

Of course, “Miss Americana” is more than just another of Swift’s teen-centric fairy tales, like “White Horse” or “Love Story”; it’s also a cri de coeur in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. “Boys will be boys, then where are the wise men?” she asks rhetorically while staring helplessly at “American glory faded before me,” and her despair is palpable. There’s even a whiff of gerrymandering/voter suppression (“The whole school is rolling fake dice”), but mostly she’s just left helpless and depressed, learning of the election results (via a football scoreboard, naturally) and then running for her life. When the bad guys are exchanging high fives, all that’s left to do is paint the town blue.

Here’s the thing, though: None of that political metaphor is essential to appreciating “Miss Americana” as a kickass song, a finely constructed ballad that builds to a soaring conclusion. Swift is such a phenom, it’s easy to overlook just how skilled she is, how she approaches her work with sincerity and craft. It’s there in the spondaic shouts of “OH-KAY!” that punctuate several lines, and in the light piano that pops up in the chorus, meshing with the throbbing synths. My favorite part of the song is the bridge, where backup singers shout the last word of each line: “And I don’t want you to GO! / I don’t really wanna FIGHT! / ‘Cause nobody’s gonna WIN!” That sounds like surrender, but listen closer; after three crushing repetitions, Swift suddenly inverts the lyrics, promising that she’ll never go, that she’s staying to fight, that she’s determined to win. It’s a lightning-quick flip—from compliance to defiance, from desolation to resolution—and it turns this once-despondent ditty into a roaring battle cry. So sure, maybe it’s tough to accept Taylor Swift as the underdog, but only because—as this intricate, ecstatic song proves—she doesn’t know how to lose.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Your Love Is Killing Me” by Sharon Van Etten

Sara

Sara is big into reading and writing fiction like it's her job, because it is. That doesn't mean she isn't real as it gets. She loves real stuff like polka dots, indie rock, and underground fight clubs. I may have made some of that up. I don't know her that well. You can tell she didn't just write this in the third person because if she had written it there would have been less suspect sentence construction.
Sara

This week, SportsAlcohol.com writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our collective top five, but did appear on our individual best-album ballots.

Sharon Van Etten may very well have amassed as many break up songs as Taylor Swift in her limited but uniformly excellent discography so far. The difference is when Van Etten sings about her pain, I believe her. Nowhere is that more evident than in this single from her 2014 album Are We There. It has a soft, dirge-y start, an organ grinding over a steady, ghostly beat. Van Etten has the sort of chameleon-like voice that can be both threadbare and galvanizing at any given moment and when she begins singing the lyrics here she’s barely above a whisper. That changes abruptly with the bridge, where the song’s title becomes more than just metaphor.

“Break my legs so I won’t walk to you,” she howls, her voice forceful but never strident. “Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you.” This is not just a song depicting an abusive relationship but a song about the seductions of such intense bonds. It’s the harm we allow others to do to us but also the harm we do to ourselves, sometimes even the harm we need to do to ourselves. It’s a sledgehammer of a song and while its subject matter can make it a difficult listen, it’s also stunningly beautiful for the contradictions it inhabits: the strength in Van Etten’s voice against the vulnerability of her lyrics, a declaration of self living beside the destruction of it. The part of us that knows better and the part that doesn’t care. This is the state Van Etten’s music often finds her in and I’m happy to meet her there.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2014: “Backseat Shake Off (Kendrick Lamar vs Taylor Swift)” by The Hood Internet

Rob

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

This week, SportsAlcohol.com writers are recounting the best music of 2014. Today’s Track Marks focus on individual songs from albums that didn’t make our individual best-album lists.

I know what you’re thinking, reader: “Rob, a mashup was one of your favorite songs of 2014?! There are less embarrassing ways to relive your college years.”

Fret not, reader. I have so many great reasons to include The Hood Internet’s latest.

I wanted an excuse to post this video.


“Backseat Shakeoff” was released at the tail end of the media’s coverage of the  mutual admiration society between Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift. This appeals to a very particular demographic AND I AM PART OF IT. I wish I had something more insightful to add beyond “I think it’s cool that Taylor Swift is into Kendrick Lamar and vice versa” on this point, but  I’m not sure what to add on this point.

Just Enough T-Swift

 


Maybe Jesse and I are just clueless old men who just don’t get the success of Taylor Swift’s march towards world domination, but we’re totally the type of dudes who love great pop music to the degree people question our sexual orientation. I’m serious. Jesse and I did a radio show during summers in college and we’d throw in some Mandy Moore and Atomic Kitty in between the de rigueur Guided By Voices and Built To Spill. We would sometimes get phone calls full of homosexual slurs.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I really like the idea of Taylor Swift transitioning from country to pop superstardom, but the tunes don’t always grab me. “Shake It Off”, the lead single from her latest album, is a mixed a bag. The Hood Internet take the good parts for their mashup by just using the beat, the first verse, and one chorus. The pseudo-rap, spoken word breakdown and troubling music video get left on the cutting room floor.

Kendrick Freaking Lamar

I was late to the party on Kendrick Lamar, but I am here now. While it works well in the context of the full album, “Backseat Freestyle” is (to me) one of the less interesting songs on his breakout good kid, m.A.A.d city. I know it’s one of the clear singles from that record, but it lacks the nuance and insight of Kendrick at his finest. That being said, “Backseat Freestyle” is the obvious choice to mash up with “Shake It Off”. While most of Kenrick’s songs could be described as downbeat, this isn’t one of them.