Track Marks 2020: “No Body, No Crime” by Taylor Swift

Track Marks is a recurring feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

For poptimists of a certain basic sensibility—not that I have anyone in mind—the prospect of Taylor Swift collaborating with Haim was tantalizing. (When I learned the news about Swift’s surprise December album, I was more excited than I’d been for any new music since… well, since Swift released her first quarantine record less than four months earlier. 2020 was an undeniably terrible year, but it had its first-world silver linings.) But “no body, no crime,” the sixth track off of Swift’s evermore, doesn’t just feature Haim as musicians; it features Haim as characters. It’s a murder ballad, starring Este Haim as the scorned woman who confronts her unfaithful husband, who then promptly kills her.

Sorry, did I spoil the ending? Not really, though I can understand the complaint. With its potboiler tone and its canny details—weekly dinners at Olive Garden, fateful life insurance policies—“no body, no crime” is decidedly cinematic, a 1940s noir by way of the Coen Brothers. In just three-and-a-half minutes, Swift tells a three-act story that opens with infidelity, progresses to homicide, and concludes with righteous vengeance. The plot traffics in hairpin twists and grisly violence: First, Este confides her suspicions about her husband (“that ain’t my Merlot on his mouth”) before accusing him of adultery, at which point she suddenly disappears; then Swift, ever the loyal friend, responds by killing the killer, framing his mistress for good measure. (Her alibi comes courtesy of Este’s sister, Danielle Haim, who casually lies to the police: “She was with me, dude.”) The lyrics are so clean and sharp, they compel you to imagine the sordid scenes unfolding in your mind, Swift effortlessly conjuring a squalid world of cheap jewelry, incriminating tire tracks, and corpse-carrying speedboats.

All of this may sound ugly on the page, but musically speaking, “no body, no crime” is an absolute romp. Working with Aaron Dessner, Swift fluidly incorporates wailing sirens, steel guitars, and Josh Kaufman’s seductive harmonica (which appeared earlier in 2020 on “betty”), creating a sonic tapestry that’s tightly mixed, and properly subservient to her ever-steady voice. “I think he did it, but I just can’t prooove it,” she croons over and over, drawing out the penultimate word to emphasize the burden of proof, or maybe just because it sounds cool. (In a classic Swiftian move, the final choral repetition flips the pronouns, recognizing that the mistress now has unverifiable suspicions of her own.) With Haim’s backing vocals and Dessner’s swirling production, the track is simultaneously crisp and carefree, a carefully controlled arrangement that’s nonetheless downright giddy in its execution.

At one point in Gone Girl—yes, this is the kind of song that makes you contemplate Gone Girl—Kim Dickens’ detective laments how difficult it is to prosecute a murder case without first producing a cadaver. “no body, no crime” manifests that truth, but it also features Taylor Swift making a different kind of case: that well-orchestrated pop music can still bring us joy, and that genre storytelling still retains a certain cathartic power. Armed with three short verses, two Haim sisters, and her own singular talent, she proves that beyond any definition of reasonable doubt.

Jeremy Beck