Taylor-made revenge is sweet for country star
Taylor Swift’s album to those who wronged her may not pack much of a punch, but it follows in a grand tradition of revenge songs
YOUR boyfriend’s dumped you, your heart’s broken and a rap star just ruined your moment of glory at the MTV Video Music Awards. How do you get your own back? In the case of the US country-pop star Taylor Swift, revenge is a dish best served on CD.
The 20-year-old singer’s third album, Speak Now, addresses the people who have wronged her over the past couple of years, including two ex-boyfriends (the singers Joe Jonas and John Mayer) and the rapper Kanye West, who notoriously interrupted her acceptance speech for best video at last year’s MTV awards and told the audience the award should have gone to Beyoncé instead.
“These songs are made up of words I didn’t say when the moment was right in front of me,” says the four-time Grammy winner. “These songs are open letters. Each is written with a specific person in mind, telling them what I meant to tell them in person.”
Not for the sylph-like Swift an expletive-riddled rant in the vein of Cee-Lo Green’s current smash hit, F**k You (the second song with that title to top the charts). Instead she delivers her retribution in an oblique lyric.
“There’s going to be a lot of speculation and guessing games about who [each song] is about because it’s been an eventful two years for me, but I have never been too afraid of the consequences of writing the truth,” she told a US entertainment show.
It’s hard to imagine musicologists analysing the lyrics of Dear John(“Don’t you think 19’s too young / to be played by your dark, twisted games / When I loved you so”) the way they might ponder the words to A Day in the Lifeor I Am the Walrus, and it’s doubtful if Joe Jonas will quake in his pixie boots when he hears Better than Revenge, aimed at the starlet Jonas went out with after dumping Swift. As far as revenge songs go, these sound a little to sweet to bite.
Still, Swift can take comfort in her huge record sales – her last album, Fearless, was the biggest-selling record in the US in 2009; the new album, released worldwide last Monday, is predicted to have the biggest first-week sales in the US this year – and in the knowledge that she’s following in a grand tradition of revenge songs.
Country music history is littered with songs of revenge, retaliation and recompense, from Tammy Wynette’s D.I.V.O.R.C.E. to Hank Williams’s Your Cheatin’ Heart.Country stars usually aim their barbed lyrics at no-good lovers, real or imaginary, who done them wrong, but Dixie Chicks’ Not Ready to Make Nicewas a response to their experience of being ostracised (and demonised) for speaking out against the Iraq war.
Hip-hop and R&B stars thrive on vendetta – no self-respecting rapper would pass up the opportunity to take a lyrical pop at a rival if it means extra sales. And during the break-up of The Beatles, Lennon and McCartney were firing vengeful songs at each other like schoolboys with catapults.
Dissing your enemy in a song is one thing; spreading your vitriol over an entire album takes focus. Marvin Gaye recorded the deliberately uncommercial Here My Dearas a riposte to his ex-wife, who stood to gain from the album’s sales. More recently, Rihanna’s 2009 album Rated Rhit back at her ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, who had been arrested for assault earlier that year.
Almost four decades after it hit the top 10, the identity of the titular narcissist in Carly Simon’s You’re So Vainis still a mystery. Candidates include former husband James Taylor, former record label boss David Geffen (she was said to be jealous because he paid more attention to the career of her rival labelmate Joni Mitchell) and former suitor Warren Beatty.
More recently, Lily Allen’s Smile, a parade of put-downs dressed as a sunny ska-pop tune, was said to be about her former boyfriend Lester Lloyd, a DJ. No mystery who Martha Wainwright’s Bloody Motherf**king Assholeis about: her dear old dad, Loudon Wainwright III.
Nothing so, er, forthright on Swift’s new album, although her single Picture to Burn, recorded when she was 17, contains the lyric: “Go ahead and tell your friends I’m obsessive and crazy / I’ll tell mine you’re gay.” You go, girl.
Best served on CD 10 revenge songs
1 F**k You
2 How Do You Sleep?
3 Bloody Motherf**king Asshole
4 You Oughta Know
5 Positively Fourth Street
6 Starsuckers Inc
Nine Inch Nails
8 F**k You
9 You’re So Vain