Taylor Swift, "You Belong With Me"

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April 19, 2009

taylor-you-belongProbably the trickiest part of being a big country music fan right now is explaining to people why I don't hate Taylor Swift. It's certainly easy to see why I would. On the surface, Swift seems an impossible sell for any country classicist: she writes bubbly pop-rock, she never seems to sing well live, her whole spiel is basically the epitome of teenybop. Depending on how much those qualities bother you, it can be very hard to avoid judging the entire Taylor Swift book by its cover (or in this case, totally rad t-shirt + fan-mosaic OMG!).

But to dismiss Swift's art because of her trimmings is to ignore just how good that art is at doing what it sets out to do. Yes, “You Belong to Me” finds Swift writing about a high school crush, and no, it isn't really country, even if it is (quite wrongly) being shipped to country radio. These issues may clash strongly with certain personal tastes and personal desires for the mainstream country climate – they do mine, at least. But do they make this, on its own, bad music?

I certainly don't think so. If anything, I think this works because Swift sounds fully invested in her youthful perspective and poppy approach. The lyrics here sound directly ripped from the cute pink diary (or LiveJournal) of a self-conscious girl unsure of how else to express herself. The melody, perhaps her catchiest yet, surges with the somewhat melodramatic intensity you'd expect from a young person experiencing his or her first big heartache. Even Swift's girly, gaspy vocal stylings sound fully in service of the particular song she's singing, the particular character she's portraying.

Of course, it's not a character we're used to hearing about in country music, and it may not be one we can all identify with or even like right away. But it's a c

haracter Swift endows with feeling, life and believability, and that's a hugely impressive feat for any musical artist – country or pop, nineteen or ninety.

Now, Taylor, if you'll just go ahead and transfer this release directly to Top 40 stations and Radio Disney, we can just pretend this whole mix-up never happened. :p. <3. lol.

Written by Taylor Swift & Liz Rose

Grade: A-

Listen: You Belong With Me

Buy:

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31 Comments

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  1. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Dan,
    This is why you’re such a great writer. Even if I can’t get behind this song, I thoroughly enjoyed the review and I really wanted to agree with you as a result.

    I haven’t been able to get into this album, due to sonic reasons, but I’m still amused by her and think that she fills her niche better than anyone else in her bracket. I respect her writing and appreciate her catchy melodies, even if you’re right that there’s been a mix up regarding the genre that she claims.

  2. Cowboy BleauNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, Dan and I agreed on a Taylor Swift song, K Leeann, now I’m really getin worried, lol.

  3. Chris D.No Gravatar says:

    This sounds like exactly the kind of review I was going to attempt to write for this song. Now I have to think of something else, since I completely agree with all of your points. Great review Dan! xD

  4. bobbyNo Gravatar says:

    I am not really a taylor Swift fan, but I do think she is a talented songwriter when she takes themes that are what she is going through and makes them sound mature. For example, White Horse sounds really mature even if the theme isn’t mature.
    This song bothers me it just leaves me feeling like it’s an immature song.

  5. Lynn DouglasNo Gravatar says:

    Dan, I’m oddly on your Swift bandwagon. Not wholeheartedly, but I found myself wishing for Taylor Swift when I was reviewing the Kate & Kacey song. Like you said, she does what she sets out to do very well. :P <3 lol. loool…

  6. vpNo Gravatar says:

    Well I’ve been out of loop here for a while but that is a very ambitious -A to me. The first time I heard this song the melody caught my attention and I am still searching for who they ripped it off of. I know it is something from The Fray or O.A.R., and that does not impress me since that would be the second time she is recycling melodies, good ones at that. What really bothers me is as much as I don’t like her music its catchy.

    The best and most true statement from the review “Now, Taylor, if you’ll just go ahead and transfer this release directly to Top 40 stations and Radio Disney, we can just pretend this whole mix-up never happened. :p. <3. lol.”

    I can’t believe country radio has let it go this far with her (or Avril, or Pink, or Miley oh they are not all the one in the same artist my bad). The worst is that she gets credit for “Lovestory”
    (yet another catchy one) being the first country song to go #1 on the billboard 100 or top 40, but its not even the country version, such a false fact that will live on.

  7. SamBNo Gravatar says:

    I really like Taylor, and there’s one very simple reason – just because I like country music, doesn’t mean I can’t like pop music too. And I do love pop music.

  8. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Really, the reason I can’t wholly get behind Taylor is because I’m not a pop music fan. So, I suppose it’s nothing personal against her music, but more the genre that she’s courting that doesn’t work for me. If I liked pop music though, I’d probably be more on board. As it is, I still enjoy some stuff from her first album for what it is. I’m just not at all into this new album due to the pop-ness, which I wouldn’t be able to get into from anybody.

  9. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar says:

    Taylor is what she is, and does that very well.

    She ain’t County, but she ain’t the only one…

  10. AaronNo Gravatar says:

    I have to say that this song and “White Horse” are probably my two favorite Taylor Swift songs. This one is just extremely catchy, like most of her stuff, and for me it was kind of hard not to like. Now I find myself walking around singing it “she wears high heels i wear sneakers she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers…” yea it probably seems kind of weird since I’m a 21-year-old guy…but hey I don’t care! It’s catchy!

    And I do agree that’s about time she transfer over to the pop side.

  11. TaraNo Gravatar says:

    Dan, I really admire that you dug past the surface in this review. I think where we differ is this: I don’t believe this song even stands up in the pop world. There are better pop writers (though I give Taylor huge props for her writing skills) and far better pop vocalists (understatement!). So no, it’s not a great song in the realm of country…but to me, it’s not a great song in the realm of pop either. And where does that leave it?

    For the record, I do enjoy this song. I just can’t justify it on an artistic level.

  12. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Steve,,
    I don’t think anyone has suggested that she’s the only one. She’s just the one we’re talking about right now.

  13. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    Whenever I think about this song, honestly, I become less impressed with it. But every time I actually listen to it, it grabs me again. And I’m not sure whether anyone but Swift could pull it off, strange as that may sound. Love her or hate her (personally, I’m ambivalent), there’s an inescapable “Taylor Swift persona” that seeps into most of her work which can really impact how you perceive it.

    I would probably find this exact same song annoying and whiny by practically any other pop artist, but something about Swift doing material like this just feels very genuine to me, like it’s something she really needed to express, and I wind up sympathizing with her character instead. So I guess the review is based as much on that intangible feeling of “trusting” the singer as much as on the objective qualities of the song.

    And of course, I definitely have a pop sweet tooth, so that factors in, too. :)

  14. Canadian BoyNo Gravatar says:

    Rally, an A-? I’ll admit that this song has grown on me since the first time I heard it, but I’m still not a fan of this song. I have a sweet tooth for pop too, but this is so sugary it’s giving me cavities. Plus after her last single being ‘White Horse’ which I really liked this fails in comparison. Taylor’s energy does help the song out a lot though. C-

  15. Canadian BoyNo Gravatar says:

    I meant C+ :P

  16. The quoted bit of lyric sounds disturbingly similar to Girl Next Door, which Julie Roberts did a few years ago.

  17. TejasNinaNo Gravatar says:

    The song is ok for what it is. The music video is really clique. I also can’t wait for a brunette to get on radio again. sick of being the “bad guy” in all of these blondies’ videos.

  18. BrianNo Gravatar says:

    I just can’t get into Taylor the singer. Taylor the songwriter is really good at tapping into the adolescent teen girl audience and that is her bread and butter. If only she were a stronger singer to go along with it.

    I’ve made the comment before to friends that I really wish she had been around in the mid 90′s when LeeAnn Rimes got popular. Rimes was too often singing songs written by grownups that sounded silly. Rimes singing “White Horse,” or something like that would’ve been excellent.

  19. Soul Miners DaughterNo Gravatar says:

    I actually like Taylor Swift. Her songs aren’t deep (at least perhaps for someone my age) but she is OBVIOUSLY filling a niche, and that’s what it’s all about I suppose.
    She seems like a really nice person (and is from those who have met her). She’s a refreshing role model for my nieces and that’s what is important to me when it comes to Miss Swift.
    Yeah, she’s young. Yeah, she’s not as country as Tammy, Loretta, or Dolly BUT (like Steve from Boston noted) she sure ain’t alone in that area!
    She is what she is and is very good at it.
    I will say this…. next cd they oughta think about moving her along a notch or two, at least get her out of high-school mode.

  20. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Yeah, my teen sisters are big fans of hers too. They really have no idea that she’s considered country.

  21. Steve from BostonNo Gravatar says:

    Leeann, I realize that no one suggested Taylor was the only one, but some folks criticize her AS THOUGH she was the only one.

    And there was one comment in particular that I felt bashed her unfairly,(accusing her of plagerism?) and my comment was also directed there and to anyone who was buying into that unfair criticism. Since that accusation was basically unanswered, I felt it appropriate to weigh in with a general, low key reply. And the reason I kept it non specific is because I was trying to avoid opening up a sidetrack debate. At the same time, I felt the need to defend Taylor in some fashion.

    Some folks are real quick to bash Taylor and pick her apart. She seems to be the favored scapegoat for the pop diluted mediocrity that pervades the country music scene nowadays, and I find it laughable because many of the same people that all too often do this are the same ones that will give their pop-princesses and musical heroes a pass for the very same “offenses”..only this time,(with the suggestion of plagerism) it was a new angle of attack, and a novel tactic. I guess the old arguments against her were perhaps losing a little steam.

    But Dan I really enjoyed your review, and well stated observations on Taylor and her music. I also enjoyed many of the positive comments, as well as the *fair* criticisms posted on this thread.

    Taylor’s musical style is not my cup of tea, but I sure do admire her talent as a songwriter, and I respect her authenticity.

  22. Erik NorthNo Gravatar says:

    I won’t mire myself in the debate of whether Taylor is “too pop”, or any of that, because I think that’s kind of a moot point, given how so many Nashville divas past and present, young and old, have crossed over. And I won’t do the gratuitous bashing that seems to follow Taylor all over the place.

    That said, and with all due respect to the many who do like her, I think she needs to work on the quality of her voice more than anything else, because I find it to be rather irritating. Maybe it’s the teen-bop material she’s immersed in, but then Brenda Lee dealt with that same kind of material at Taylor’s age (“Sweet Nothings”, folks?), and Brenda’s voice was BIG for a female singer in 1960. If Taylor can develop vocal strength and interpretive skills and not resort to vocal trickery, she just might end up being much more than a flash in the pan (IMHO).

  23. “So, I suppose it’s nothing personal against her music, but more the genre that she’s courting that doesn’t work for me.”

    If this is really a pop record that’s being “mistakenly” presented as country, then wouldn’t the genre she’s courting be country? ;-)

  24. BLLNo Gravatar says:

    If I had teen-aged children (my youngest is 31) I could support thier listening to Taylor’s ‘growing up, sorting it out’ song craft. I don’t so I’m not really a fan, though I do feel she knows her market and is playing well to them. The song isn’t half bad, not country, mind. I wish her well as she matures.

  25. BLLNo Gravatar says:

    Uhg ‘their’ not thier- sorry I’ve arthritis in my hands.

  26. Fadi H.No Gravatar says:

    well although i’m not a taylor swift fan, i like to judge songs fairly.
    that said, i have to say that regardless who wrote the song or who’s singing it, i find the song rather annoying.
    i gotta admit, i did like the song for a short while (the first week after downloading it), but then it really started getting on my nerves especially when taylor does her trademark eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee you belong with meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. awch!
    it’s not like i wanted to dislike the song, but i can never not skip this song 30 seconds in.
    i really hope taylor works on her vocal skills coz she does cute stuff and has a promising career in teen pop, but her voice is holding her back in my opinion.

  27. klarkNo Gravatar says:

    quite disappointed when she remixed
    this song to pop radio,
    anyway, nice lyrics

  28. ErikNo Gravatar says:

    I think this is Swift’s best song… It captures the emotional drama of teenage love perfectly, and you really do feel for Taylor’s character in the song.

  29. Dan – I never agreed with your grade of this song, but I have to say that her VMA performance tonight kind of epitomized why this song “works” with her audience and why she’s doing so well as an artist. The song and her performance of it are, as you said, very much authentic:

    “But it’s a character Swift endows with feeling, life and believability, and that’s a hugely impressive feat for any musical artist – country or pop, nineteen or ninety.”

    The whole subway/crowd of teenagers performance tonight could have been cheesy and fake in the hands of a different artist, but actually turned out to be a performance that showcased how passionately her target audience is able to connect with this song…even when they’re (likely) extras in an award show. I find that impressive and worth noting, regardless of what I think of her vocal ability.

  30. Tom UKNo Gravatar says:

    I’m a 44-year-old man with eclectic taste, and a catchy song will always work for me. Taylor Swift can obviously write songs with great hooks that appeal beyond the teen and pre-teen audience. But at times her vocals in this song frustrate me; the unwanted breaths in the middle of the extended se-ee and me-ee distract from an otherwise solid perfomance. Is it country? Possibly not to a purist, but I hear country elements in a wide variety of music.

  31. PatrickNo Gravatar says:

    “Now, Taylor, if you’ll just go ahead and transfer this release directly to Top 40 stations and Radio Disney, we can just pretend this whole mix-up never happened. :p. <3. lol."

    Nothing truer has ever been written about her. The song is good, but WAY over-played and over-exposed. So far, I've counted 6 of our local radio stations that play it. Plus, it won "Best Female Performace" on MTV. Last time I checked, MTV has nothing in common with country

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