28 December 2023


It should surprise exactly no one that I'm not a Swiftie; more accurately, I'm not a Cowelly or a Brauny. No one performer or songwriter is obligated to do anything beyond the strictly personal, or at least inspired by the strictly personal, if that's where their strengths are. The hit-making machines and "all of our artists only record dancefloor hits" attitude of the contemporary music business, however, just pisses me off even more than it did during my misspent youth. That attitude reflects that neither the performers they tend to sign up nor the executives doing the signing actually have any real exposure to much of anything beyond their own families and their own hormones — and sure as hell don't want listeners thinking about anything off the damned dance floor/outside the concert megaevent.1

Put another way, it's not that those personal pieces or intensely-personal performers are inherently bad… but the cumulative weight of them when used to suppress other voices and perspectives is. Four decades ago, Brothers in Arms — an album with about half of one "relationship-oriented" piece — reached number 1. Today, it probably couldn't even be released, thanks to the relentless hits-right-now approach in the music industry. (Admittedly, Taylor Swift is one helluva lot better a singer than Mark Knopfler ever was — but then, so were Pat Boone and whoever actually did the vocals for Milli Vanilli.) And I didn't listen to a lot of AOR radio back then, either, because there was too much poor musicianship and offensive ignorance offered via certain big-name performers from Indiana, New Jersey, California, and Kent — you know who you are, mostly don't care because you didn't/don't really have anything to say anyway, and certainly didn't have anything to say to listeners whose perspectives were already beyond their own run-down dance clubs and class reunions. Your labels certainly didn't/don't care! Even so, "Brothers in Arms" and "Pride (in the Name of Love)" and "Wuthering Heights" still got at least some airplay (even if "Things I Don't Understand" and "Running Man" and "Too Late the Hero"… really didn't).2

I object to the predictable-market-excused suppression of the art/music/etc. whose relationship issues originate in Fallujah and not Falls' Church, that acknowledge perspectives not lived by/around the songwriter, that demand listening more than once or twice to really appreciate, that experiment. So I'm not a Swiftie, or at least not a Swift-cultury (notwithstanding my occasional resort to Tom Swifties to make a point). I'm a bit more of a Simony (and I don't mean some composite villain — a connection that no computerized playlist system would make).

  1. …which may take place in a revival tent. The less said about worship-and-praise-flavored popular music the better, regardless of the particular variety of worship.
  2. The "streaming services" are, if anything, worse — certainly from a discoverability perspective. The "coding" used to characterize similarities and differences ends up with inaccurately-calculated lowest common denominators, inferring that the listener only wants dance-beat so-called world music from a list starting with "Biko" and "You Can Call Me Al." It's also almost impossible to intelligently exclude the unwanted without adverse side effects — rejection of every Springsteen performance leads to rejection of Manfred Mann, overassociated with Springsteen due to cover versions. Just like large language models, acknowledging or understanding subtlety is not a strength — but for this subject matter, it's utterly necessary.