My Top 20 Songs of 2012 #4: Taylor Swift – ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’


I’ll admit that the first time I heard about this song was a few weeks ago, from my brother, who insisted on its brilliance.

Before this, Taylor Swift’s records were, for me, things to be ignored. They were the sort of records that boring people would earnestly describe as “soulful” and “resonant”, which they weren’t; they were “boring” and “trite”. It was earnest “MOR country rock” music (see also bore-merchants Lonestar, Faith Hill and Rascal Flatts) whose poor record sales in the UK made even this Bernard-Shaw fan feel a patriotic glow. It was music that made The Eagles sound like Steve Reich. In short, I was more than a little sceptical of my brother’s recommendation.

Then I looked the song up on Wikipedia and I found out that Max Martin was involved: the man behind undeniably brilliant smash hits like Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”, Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” (although even Martin couldn’t make the execrable faux-rebellion of Pink tolerable).

On Wikipedia the song’s critical reception is summed up as follows: “The song received mixed reviews from music critics; some praised the catchy, radio-friendly hook while others felt the song lacked the thoughtfulness of Swift’s previous, more guitar-based work.” Guitars laid to one side? Radio-friendly hook? Lack of thoughtfulness? YES, PLEASE!

The general reaction to this record seemed to lay out, in microcosm, the current fight for the heart of pop music. It is a fight that is also being waged on our TV screens via the X-Factor. The fight is supposed to be “credible pop music” (boring) vs “silly pop music” (fun). Not to get all Pseud’s Corner on your arses, but it’s a false dichotomy.

First, just as it’s possible to make great dumb pop music (Girls Aloud, Backstreet Boys, The Saturdays), it’s also possible to make interesting, clever pop music to which you can dance like a loon (Pet Shop Boys, Madonna, Prince). Secondly, it’s quite possible to make “credible” pop music that’s a steaming pile of dog-jizz, trite, earnest and unconscionably dull (James Blunt, Snow Patrol and Ed Bloody Sheeran). Thirdly, just because you’ve banged on about how much “fun” and “danceable” your pop song is, it doesn’t stop it occasionally being the musical equivalent of that person in your office who will, without any irony, describe themselves as “wacky” or “zany” (i.e. irritating) and state that they “just tell it like it is” (i.e. they are plain rude). This type of pop will relentlessly bang on about how much fun is, use “party” as a verb and generally irritate the fuck out of anyone with more brain cells than an Alsatian with a head injury. In reality, it’s the Louis Walsh of pop: it’s so inane and stupid that it somehow goes full-circle back to unconscionably dull (Pink, Black Eyed Peas and über-clown Olly Murs). However, it was the “credible” crowd who were the most insidious.

It is the X-Factor’s continuing insistence on finding “credible” artists that has led, in part, to the success of Christopher Maloney. Yes, he appeals to the granny market, but it is that combined with his novelty “cumbersome karaoke nincompoop” shtick that has kept him in the competition to the end, ahead of supposedly “credible” singers. Even having watched a mere smattering of this year’s show, I would certainly vote for Christopher Maloney if it meant I never had to hear from James Arthur ever again, a man who seems to be labouring under the illusion that the only thing you need to be a serious artist is an acoustic guitar and a collection of rubbish hats. And if you think that the bosses of the X-Factor are actually happy about the success of Maloney, or that it’s all some nefarious scheme to keep viewers hooked, then take a look at the series of negative stories about him that have been “leaked” to the tabloids by “insiders” in recent weeks. Perhaps, finally, the public are tiring of the show’s judges constantly harping on about “real music” or “credible artists”.

There isn’t “credible” pop music and “silly” pop music, there’s just pop music. It’s all “credible” until it’s shit, or unless you’re hanging around with the sort of blokes who call each other “lad”, engage in “banter” or, worse, “bants” and claim to have actually enjoyed the Beady Eye album.

Anyway, back to the actual song. Well, it’s just a mega pop smash isn’t it? It’s massive. It’s catchier than a superbug in an hospital ward for the elderly and it also has one of my favourite lyrics this year: “You will hide away and find your piece of mind with some indie record that’s much cooler than mine.” In short, it’s a three minute “fuck you” to the false notion of credible pop.


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