September 15, 2008
There’s nothing I could say about Taylor Swift that hasn’t already been said – and that’s the point. She knows how to score that attention; she knows how to make the dough. With a strong push from the team at Big Machine, this girl has built a multimedia empire on the back of one triple platinum-selling album, some very crafty Internet skills, and a sparkling, sweetly savvy persona. She is the sort of rare, distinctive star people can’t help but talk about, whether they like her or not. And although her singing and songwriting talents have not yet caught up to her market appeal or massive popularity, she has certainly demonstrated that she knows her way around a singable hook.
Whether these qualities are conducive or relevant to her actual artistic merit is certainly debatable; the lead single for Fearless, for example, finds her trying to pepper up a nondescript teenage romance with misplaced allusions to Romeo & Juliet and The Scarlet Letter, all to a more anemic melody than we’re used to hearing from her. The lyrics are lame, the singing is weak, the package just doesn’t come together. To the average, wary listener, it sounds as if Swift has lost control of her own game.
But here’s where the phenom and her handlers have got you beat: Swift’s fans aren’t average, wary listeners. They’re plugged-in, multi-sensory consumers, weaned heavily on MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, the Disney Channel. To them, more so than to any generation prior, music is as much a visual medium as it is an auditory one. As you sit here reading this review, thousands of Swift fans – some closeted, some not – have already logged onto CMT.com and watched the video for this song.
And they should. As a video, “Love Story” is an unexpected treat: a big-budget, gorgeously-shot piece that highlights much of what is appealing about Swift as an artist – meaning, of course, that the song itself is a bit downplayed. Truly, it’s hard not to watch this thing and wonder whether Swift might have written “Love Story” just to have her “modernized fairytale” concept brought to the screen. What sounded trite on record is still trite on video, but what Swift lacks in voice and writing, she makes up for in spades with charisma. Given the right sort of role, she’s not just pretty; she’s friendly, warm, nuanced, oddly universal.
As a narrative, the video does exactly what you expect it to, but as an experience, it’s startlingly endearing – and it all comes down to that girl on the balcony. Swift may have written a crappy song, but she has figured out how to work around that. Her Prince Charming may be a totally interchangeable snooze, but she’s got enough personality to sell this corny arc all by herself – even if she’s playing the victim throughout much of it, which is disheartening, albeit historically accurate.
In the end, I still dislike the song, and I still dislike the story. As a music fan, I even dislike what this video represents, what it’s allowing this artist to get away with. But I don’t really think this video was intended to change my feelings on any of that. As she demonstrated with her treatment of “Our Song,” director Trey Fanjoy seems to know, intuitively, that the only important thing about any Taylor Swift video is that it features Taylor Swift. She may be overly precious, perky, pandering – but she’s also a princess.
Directed by Trey Fanjoy