Single Review: Taylor Swift, “Mean”

I’m just gonna put it out there.

I’ve never been a big fan of Taylor Swift because of two reasons. One, I don’t find any personal relevance in the adolescent perspective that she usually writes from.  And two, I don’t care for her vocal style.

Go figure that she writes what’s probably her most adolescent song since “Picture to Burn” and directly answers criticisms that she can’t sing in the third verse, and the end result is my favorite thing she’s done to date.

Seriously. I want to go buy the album now. I realize that the song was inspired by those who’ve criticized her talent more than her work. But just like “Not Ready to Make Nice” was a direct response to death threats over a political statement but tapped into something more universal, “Mean” serves a larger purpose as well.  It puts into song that feeling of being disrespected and insulted by someone with more power or a larger platform than you, for no other reason than they don’t like you.

The image I always use in my head is one of inner light.  When that light shines bright, it offends those who’ve had their light go out. Nothing frustrates people like that more than someone whose light is completely resistant to every attempt made to extinguish it.  It brings out their inner meanness. 

Swift’s message to those on the receiving end is that those who will put you down may have power over you now, but it’s limited by time, place, and your own self-awareness.

I’m glad that this song exists. There isn’t nearly enough civility and kindness in the world, and some people really are just mean.  I can’t think of another song that articulates the distinction between honesty and cruelty so well. It does it in a very adolescent way, with a healthy dose of snark-ridden contempt, but since mean people usually haven’t evolved beyond adolescence in the first place, such an approach seems wickedly appropriate.

Written by Taylor Swift

Grade: A

Listen: Mean


  1. “Mean” is one catchy song. It stands out because of its countryfied arraignment. Taylor is very clever here and this is how you answer your critics. I’m thinking this is going to be a huge hit this summer

  2. The artwork for the single alone is more interesting than half of the stuff on the airwaves lately. Seriously; in the sea of generic head shots, that’s gotta be one of the coolest images out there, right?

  3. Okay, I’m awake now! I thought I was hallucinating from morning sleepiness, but I could have sworn that Kevin not only gave Taylor Swift an A, but made me see one of her songs in a whole new light, and realize that I may have under-evaluated it. I’d better go drink some coffee, and then come back to make sure I read this right.

  4. Kevin probably has more than a few good points here in giving “Mean” the rating he did.

    I think the problem I’ve had with her is not so much in her song lyrics (which, after all, are directed at people half my age), as it is with her voice, which I find irritatingly robotic and monotonic. She still needs to work on that, because when and if she does, that would be an even better and more solid response to her critics than “Mean” (IMHO)>

  5. I like that it’s one of her ‘country-est’ songs to date, and as Kevin said, taps into a wider message.

    And I’ve said that “Mean” is one of my favorites of the album, despite it’s adolescent-ish feel. But I don’t know if I’d have given it an ‘A.’

  6. Here is someone who has evolved right before our eyes and ears. Since hitting the scene, Taylor has blossomed from innocent pop-country starlet to full-grown superstar. In the meantime, she has become a woman, and like most women she’s learned how to handle herself gracefully in trying situations, and picked up some world-wise sentiments along the way. That she’s shrewd and talented enough to parlay those things into her music also makes one of the more interesting artists on the scene today. I didn’t give her enough credit when she was starting out, but we have a serious, long-term act here.

    Oh, and I like this song too. Not as much as ‘December’, but it’s clever.

  7. First of all, that picture is awesome, and would have made a cool looking album cover.

    Second, I can’t disagree with the article. I’ve never questioned Taylor as an artist, I just resented her for the way she was presented and marketed. There was no reason to pigeon-hole her as country when she clearly has musical tendencies that aren’t inherently country. That being said, you can’t fault her for ever putting out a “weak” song. There’s been very little “filler” material from her, and most everything seems well intentioned and eloquently presented. I definitely enjoy this song and won’t necessarily groan every time I hear it come on the radio.

    I think they Taylor haters need to face it, that whether she’s country or not, or whether she has strong vocal talents, she has more artistic integrity, and more to say in a song than most any artist today.

  8. I’ve liked a few of Taylor’s songs, and I think she showcased some of her best work on “Speak Now.” She has evolved, and is continuing to polish her writing at an impressive rate.

    That said, “Mean” is a big step in the wrong direction for me. It harbors her most immature lyrics since “Picture To Burn,” which is telling considering she wrote that song five years ago.

    Her vocal is incredibly grating as well; I don’t usually take issue with her vocals on recorded tracks, but this is just awful. It’s nasally,overly processed, and grating.

    I respect many of the observations in this review, but I can’t get behind the notion that this song is mature by any stretch of the imagination, let alone calling this song acceptable material for a supposedly mature 21-year-old young woman.

    The lyrics are hypocritical, and equate to the game of “Na na boo boo” a four-year-old might use on the playground.

    I don’t like the notion that Taylor can call out every person who has ever done her wrong, yet when someone makes an equally personal (and perhaps more accurate) comment about her, they’re a mean and pathetic liar? As someone who is a year younger than Miss Swift, I take offense to the idea that anyone would call such behavior mature or acceptable.

    Taylor has a great ear for polished, catchy pop songs, but I can’t help but feel the country elements were a bit forced on this track.
    It’s as if Taylor realizes she needs to do something to “prove” she’s still a country artist after all her success at pop radio.
    I’ve always had an issue with artists doing such things, and if Taylor wants to remain in country music, why can’t she make it at least seem natural?

  9. @K: “Taylor has a great ear for polished, catchy pop songs, but I can’t help but feel the country elements were a bit forced on this track.”

    Having a “great ear” for such songs indicates that she selects her material from a pool of writers, a la George Strait or Tim McGraw. That’s not the case at all; she writes her material herself.

    Also, there’s nothing hypocritical about the song. She hasn’t gone after anyone–in song or otherwise–unless they’ve upset her. Say what you will about turning the other cheek and all that, but a lot of people really dig these kinds of retaliation songs. (I still think the king of them is Toby Keith’s “How Do You Like Me Now?!”)

  10. I don’t like mean people, either, so I like this song in a broad sense — it calls out life’s bullies.

    But I struggle with this: Is it mean to attempt to critique a superstar’s songwriting abilities or voice, expecially when you find one or both of them lacking and feel that numerous other singers are much more talented and yet never get airplay? Are critics bullies if they don’t say glowing things?

  11. Good point, Hard Times. Criticizing one’s singing ability does not automatically make the critic mean. It’s called honesty.

  12. I agree that it’s not wrong for a critic to point out that she can’t sing well, but I’m fine with her thinking that it’s mean. Of course she’d think that. Even if she was thirty, she’d think so.

  13. It probably has a lot to do in the WAY it was said. You can say she has a very average (read: not good) singing voice. You can also be downright disrespectful and rude in the way you say it. To spawn an entire song of “retaliation” from an artist (who has to be thick skinned at this point), I have to think it probably crossed a line.

  14. Hard Times kinda outlines my thinking on the song. In the broad sense, it’s very cool, and this review outlines why extremely well. In the specific sense, in which we’re listening to Taylor Swift respond to one particular critic who apparently used to praise her and now says she can’t sing, it doesn’t feel like a worthy retort.

    The explicit reference to her singing ability makes it hard for me to listen to the song in the broad sense – I guess “sing” just doesn’t work as a metaphor for anything else for me. So I’m stuck in the specific sense, where I find “you’re meeean!” a silly answer to an music critic/industry commentator – and same to the assertion that that person is “cold” and the speculation about why. Especially because Taylor Swift is a superstar who could live in any “big ol’ city” she chooses, and such-and-such critic is not; so she might feel like the “weaker man,” but to an outsider, it sounds silly.

    On the other hand, maybe it’s just been a while since I had to deal with a genuinely mean person.

  15. Just because Swift has yet again managed to turn her priviledged life into a song about her being vicimized and mistreated so all the world can side with her and say “we know how you feel Taylor” does not make a childish sesame street song into a major country release by a premier country artist. If the song itself was not so “mean” than maybe it might make more sense and the writer could justifiably recommend it.
    But considering she has herself making it big and the critic ends up drunk and lonely in a bar somewhere, I guess made this critic a little concerned about his own ability to actually critique a song.
    She sings it poorly. She wallows in false modesty. And she sends anyone who disagrees with her “to the corn field”!
    Mature for a 21 year old.
    It’s scary to me that this writer would call it obviously adolesent but reads his own spin onto it and assumes that TS must be a genius for concocting such a great idea of writing an adolesent song about adolesent behavior.
    Note to writer, she is not that clever. She is just adolesent, at 21!

  16. “Also, there’s nothing hypocritical about the song. She hasn’t gone after anyone–in song or otherwise–unless they’ve upset her. Say what you will about turning the other cheek and all that, but a lot of people really dig these kinds of retaliation songs. (I still think the king of them is Toby Keith’s “How Do You Like Me Now?!”)

    I completely disagree. Taylor DOES go after people who’ve done her wrong in her songs- and sometimes she can be just as scathing as those critics can be to her.

    Just because she writes the songs because she’s upset doesn’t excuse the fact that she herself hasn’t been the nicest to the subjects in her songs.

    Every story has two sides; at least her ex’s have been classy enough to keep their own feelings known, positive or not.

    I realize that Taylor expresses herself through her music, but I just don’t buy the notion that she wants to call critics pathetic and mean for calling her out in writing, yet she can say whatever she pleases about people she doesn’t like.

    She’s saying it’s “mean” and pathetic” to have a negative opinion of anything she does, yet she doesn’t realize she victimizes her own song subjects in much the same way she is singing about here.

    Like it or not, critics are paid to give an opinion. I have no issue with Taylor addressing her critics, but I do take issue with the elementary way in which the song was written.

  17. Taylor never ceases to impress me. She is one talented young lady. True, she doesn’t have the greatest vocal talent out there, but she sings with conviction and sells her songs well. She is a great song writer, one of the most gifted ever IMO, and I can’t wait to hear what she writes when she reaches her peak in 5 to 10 years (generally 25 to 30 is the time an artist establishes their true signature).

  18. I guess this would be one of her better songs, but with that being said, I think all of her music has went downhill since “Tim McGraw”. I’m not a Taylor Swift fan and this doesn’t make me want to go out and buy her CD. Several of you bring up a good point about immature, adolescent lyrics that she writes her songs with. Right now she is still young enough for the teenager and younger crowd to identify with her. I’m just wondering what will happen when she gets older? I think she is going to have to come up with something different to write about.

  19. Hmmm…calling someone a “liar” who’s “alone in life” and “pathetic.” Very nice, Taylor. Very nice.

    I don’t have a problem with fighting back when someone insults you, but c’mon. Someone told Taylor that she can’t sing. Taylor told that someone they’re a “washed up,” “bitter” drunkard who must be lying. Because that’s the only explanation for having that opinion. You can’t decry someone for being mean in the same breath as being mean yourself. This song is so hypocritical it’s phenomenal. And my mind is absolutely blown that so few seem to question it.

    Besides, what does “big enough” even mean? Swift is the bestselling digital artist in history—at one point, one in every five albums sold was hers—and she has millions of fans and dollars, not to mention almost unanimous critical acclaim. She has so much support that one has to wonder:
    if that is big enough, then what is?

    This could’ve been a good song about verbal violence. I’m sure many in Swift’s core audience have had to face gossip or ridicule. But the dénouement, those details starting at around 2:43, personalizes “Mean” to the point that any larger relevance she had is negated. I like how personal and ‘authentic’ she is, to a point. Still, there are times when she’s just too insular.

    Unlike Swift, I appreciate that there are perspectives beyond my own, but to me, this review is bullshit. Swift is just a snot-nosed brat railing on against some unnamed assailant (Bob Lefsetz?) who just told her what she thought, and she needs to grow up.

  20. And if being mean while critiquing someone for being mean whilst rebuking someone for being mean seems equally hypocritical, I apologize. And I’d like to clarify: I think that Taylor Swift has redeeming qualities as an artist. But the redeeming qualities of this song are few and far between.

    It’s also ironic she says that she won’t be lead “down that road” and that “the cycle ends here.” Judging solely from this song, I’d beg to differ. But I’d like to know what, exactly, is so mean that “all you are is mean and a liar and pathetic and alone in life” just isn’t by comparison.

  21. Ha. Bob Lefsetz hopes it’s about him.

    >And if being mean while critiquing someone for being mean whilst rebuking someone for being mean seems equally hypocritical, I apologize.

    “This review is bullshit” is less mean than it is classless.

  22. It would make sense if it’s about Bob Lefsetz, just because he’s an industry voice who outright championed her, then seemed to immediately turn on her after the Grammy performance. (Not only criticizing her performance, but saying it outed her as a fraud, and that her “young and dumb” mistake in not auto-tuning it consigned her to the “dustbin of teen phenoms. Who we expect to burn brightly and then fade away.” I personally think the criticism is kind of astute, though time will tell whether it’s true. But it did seem like a whiplash of a turnaround, and he had corresponded with Swift personally while he was a fan, so I can understand why she’d be really hurt by it.)

    That works for the song; she makes references to “switching sides” and “humiliation,” and the secret message in the lyrics of the liner notes is “I THOUGHT YOU GOT ME.” Don’t look at me like that…I like the Taylor Swift mythology. :p

  23. I certainly don’t disagree with the harsh critics. I’m one of them, including regarding Swift. But I’m fine with an immature response to what she perceives as somebody being mean to her. And if it’s about Lefsisz (and he thinks it is about him), I can understand the knee-jerk, hurt response too. Having somebody squarely in your corner and then turning away so venomously would be an emotional shock to anyone, especially a young person who is probably constantly faced with wondering who she can trust. Of course, he’s a critic and it’s his job to call somebody out when she deserves it as a singer, but it doesn’t make the situation any less painful to the person experiencing it, especially when the supportive person bails just when you’re being attacked from all sides, as is what happened after the Grammy performance.

    Do I think the song would be more relateable without the reference to the critic? Yes. But I don’t think it’d be authentic to Swift’s experiences at the time. It’d just be another fist-pumping, “don’t let people be mean to you” anthem.

    Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but I think there’s a difference between Swift calling the critic bitter and washed up and what she actually did, which is imagine that it could happen someday “And I can see you years from now in a bar, talking over a football game/ With that same big loud opinion but nobody’s listening/ Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things/ Drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing.

    The last line is amusing to me.

  24. …this is slightly to nursery rime-ish for my liking, but her delivery fits it perfectly. i’m with leeann, the last line is clever and amusing. taylormade.

  25. Hmmm…you’re right, Leeann. I was caught up with reviewing the song and wasn’t even thinking about what I said about this review. Well, regardless of whether I had Kevin in mind when I typed that line, it was classless, and I apologize for it.

    The problem is, even though I’m sure I could find out more about what, specifically, Swift might be referring to [Thanks to Dan Milliken, btw; you brought some information I wasn’t aware of to the table], it’s just not in the song. Within the lyrics resides a strange dichotomy of having such a narrow perspective and being surprisingly nondescript. That whole section quoted by Leeann is so specific to her that I can’t imagine it being about myself or just anybody I know, which makes it kind of unrelatable. Yet at the same time, she doesn’t actually clarify what “You” did with concrete details like the ones Dan Milliken provided, so her reaction doesn’t seem appropriate to me. And that I am one of those people who thinks she cannot sing probably doesn’t help on my end. Without those details, “Mean” comes off not as a commentary relative to a singular event, but an absolute statement about anybody who doesn’t like her. Even if that is not what she meant it to be. The world isn’t kind enough to judge by intentions. Judging the song by the song, it’s shoddy at best. I just do not get the reaction I am supposed to, and because I know there are so many ways in which “Mean” could have worked better, I do not think that the blame rests solely on my shoulders as the listener.

    I think that Taylor could’ve made a great song about bullying or criticism or whatever she wanted to. In my mind, she just didn’t this time.

  26. A better way of communicating what I meant with that aforementioned line would have been to omit it and instead saying something much more longwinded like “the perspective expressed in this review is so counter to my own experience listening to the song that, though I am sure Kevin was sincere when he typed it, I have trouble empathizing with it.”

  27. …perhaps a series of events [instead of “a singular event”] would’ve been more accurate. But that’s just the thing. I don’t know. It’s not really in the song. Without those lines toward the end, it’d be just “another fist-pumping, “don’t let people be mean to you” anthem.”

    Dan Milliken, would you happen to know where I can find more information about this? I’d like to know more about what happened between Swift and Lefsetz, but I honestly don’t want to invest too much time in it. And you seem like you might have some links or something that would prove illuminating. [This isn’t a riff on you for liking Taylor. I’m simply curious but lazy.]

    And Leeann, maybe she wasn’t outright calling “You” a bitter, washed up drunkard, but she was outright calling “You” a pathetic liar who’s alone in life. And that’s double-take worthy enough for me.

  28. As Taylor said herself, this song is about someone who is repeatedly being mean to her. She said there’s many kind of criticism, constructive/professional… and there’s just being “mean” where the person repeatedly crossed the line. Saying lies, attacking someones whole being. She said that she had no problems with people who criticized her… given that it’s “constructive” criticism.
    Also she added that this may considered as the “anti-bullying” song cause she said that everyone has that somebody who’s going to be mean at you no matter what.
    Regarding to the song, I like that she’s somewhat cheeky and hilarious on it. And for me it’s very cleverly and well written songs and you expect from Taylor.
    Favorite line: “all you are is mean and a liar and pathetic and alone in life and mean…” cause sometimes you just want to go off to someone and say exactly that. Don’t get why others say that she’s being immature. She doesn’t retaliate to someone who’s been fair and good to her. I’m just saying.

  29. And if the KKK says it, it must be true.

    It’s immature because she’s being hypocritical. Obviously, Taylor thinks that being mean is wrong. But she’s being mean herself. I mean, do you NOT think your favorite line is mean? Doing something you say shouldn’t be done=hypocrisy.

    It’d be different if she addressed it somehow, if it seemed like she was knowingly making the statement that it’s okay to be mean to someone if they’ve been mean to you. But she doesn’t say that. She doesn’t say much at all.

  30. It’s a song Jon G. I’m sorry but I just can’t take it all that seriously. But on another note have I ever wanted to be mean to someone thats been mean to me? you betcha I have, and if anyone here says they haven’t felt like getting even with someone who has been mean to them I would have a hard time believing them.

  31. Jon G.,

    I think the best way to get informed if it is Lefsetz is just to read a few of the articles that he has about Taylor. Other than that, everything else I’ve read about that rumor has pretty much just said what I did above. These are in chonological order, I think:

    Glowing review of a Swift concert:

    Recounting a phone call with Taylor in which they talk about lots of stuff:


    “More Taylor Swift”:

    “Saving Taylor Swift”:

    Wondering whether “Mean” is about him:

    Responding to Speak Now as a whole:

  32. Why would Taylor call the subject of the song “liar” when a line in the same song says,”as if I don’t already see them.” What was the lie then?

  33. My feelings about this song can be summed up in about six words: Love the music, despise the lyrics. And for that, I personally give it a C. Shame too, because this probably would have been one of my favorite songs on the album if it were better written.

    As a side note, I’ve always enjoyed and preferred her acoustic/country work, so hopefully she’ll put out more of that in the future.

  34. I think you’ve overstated the merits of this song considerably, Kevin. It’s not bad – I’d give it a C or maybe even a C+. It still suffers from the fact that Ms Swift cannot sing, and I think it would get on my nerves with too much repetition on radio

  35. Nice instrumentation and melody, but the (rather juvenile) lyrics don’t quite hang together for me – isn’t she a big star NOW? Why does she look forward to “someday, living in the big old city”? It would all work better if this was not being presented as a personal song. And I’m afraid the vocals are still poor enough to make this unlistenable for me, and if that makes me mean, so be it.

  36. I still think that the only reason this particular song was released as a single was for awards season. She’s trying to strategically put herself in country fans’ radios during April’s ACM awards season with the only blatantly country song she has on her album. It makes no sense for her to release the full on pop-single “The Story of Us” in Europe but still trying to have a hold on country radio in the US. For goodness sakes, please don’t vote this girl for ACM EOTY when she’s been rightfully denied of it before. Brad Paisley or Miranda Lambert both deserve it much more than her for their faithfulness to the genre. (Especially Brad Paisley for his amazing year.)

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. She’s not representing country music well outside the US (as she’s saying she’s proud to do so) when it’s questionable that she even belongs in the genre in the first place. Instead of standing tall and proud in one genre, she’s constantly trying to play the field with pop music disguised as country. So – Vote for Brad! Or Miranda!!

  37. Sara’s comment makes a lot of sense. Taylor’s faithfulness to country music has been going down hill more and more. When she accepted her award as one of CMT’s Artists of the year, she quoted a pop song in her speech, and asked Hayley Williams to present it to her. Plus, she’s stated her love of Katy Perry in the past. If she wants to be faithful to country music, she’s having a hard time showing it.

    Also, Occasional Hope has helped me to view “Mean” in a whole new light. I still really like a lot about the song, but I have to agree with the whole “someday” comment. Taylor is a big star NOW. And she currently is “living in the big ole’ city.” Maybe she wrote this song before moving out on her own (though I doubt it)? There has to be a reason she kept it in the future tense and not rooted in the present.

  38. I think maybe it’s left in the future tense so it can relate to others, such as those who are bullied in school (who are not living in big ol’ cities).

  39. I know these were all posted a few weeks ago, but I think many of you are focusing way too much on who this might be about, when I heard this song for the first time on the Country Music awards, I was reminded of a friends Dad who was always mean to his daughter, hit her around a bit, and who left and made something of herself and I can see that old man at the bar…I’ve met him and he’s not a music critic who hurt her feelings, I think this can be about many different people and this is relatable to many people and even a 49 yr old Mom like me remembering things long in my past.

  40. Travis McClain’s mentioning of “How Do You Like Me Now” pretty much renders any argument against the maturity of this song moot.

    Toby’s song, which catapulted him from big star to superstar, is considered one of the great “screw you” songs in country music. You don’t hear many fans referring to Toby as immature, however. Why, then, is Taylor Swift immature? Because she’s a young girl? Because she sings like that young girl? I guess if you have an agenda against someone, you’ll find ways to bring them down.

    Putting aside the song’s insane catchiness and rootsy production, the lyrics capture that emotion we all feel when someone criticizes us. It leaves us feeling exposed and, yes, defensive. We’ll get over it, but it’s always fun to turn that criticism around for a moment.

    Even if you don’t like that lyric about Taylor’s singing ability, to let that completely squash your opinion of the song (e.g., the 9513’s review) seems petty and shortsighted.

    Come on, why you gotta be so mean?

  41. I had to read this twice-I thought I was going to hurl. No one disputes Taylor can write but the girl cannot sing. To give this an A-I need a bottle of scotch and a hearing aid- no wait Kevin does-How much did Taylor’s dad pay this site for such a rave review? Nice try-

  42. Jus another bad Taylor vocal that makes my shopping experience in the grocery store a quick get through and get out when the screeching comes on Pop radio – can I say ” oooh , hurts so bad”

  43. Beyond whatever one thinks of the subject matter of her songwriting, which if we’re honest with ourselves is not necessarily dealing in things we can really relate to any longer, Taylor suffers even more in terms of voice when we’re talking about female singers of the past, who didn’t have studio gimmicks like Auto Tune or Pro Tools at their disposal like she does. Brenda Lee, if I remember right, was only 13 when she first hit with “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” in 1958, and she proved to have a very big voice (“Little Miss Dynamite”, indeed). LeAnn Rimes was that same age in 1996 when she first hit with “Blue”; many though she sounded like Patsy Cline. And back in 1967, when she was Taylor’s current age of 21, Linda Ronstadt first hit the airwaves with “Different Drum”, again with a big voice and doing rather mature material so early on.

    The real crux of the matter, I think, is whether Taylor can sustain herself both in the studio and on stage without a net, which the female artists of the past managed to do. At this point, I think it’s a tall order for her; but if she’s honest with herself, she’ll have to work very hard at it. “Mean” may address her most catty critics, but it doesn’t exactly address her own deficiencies, which the critics will continue to point out until or unless she does something about them.

  44. @ Matt:

    What I guess I meant to say is that not all of us can necessarily relate to the thematic content of her stuff like we might have when we were all her age; her songs are, after all, intended for an audience that is roughly her age right now. I can live with that.

    At the risk of sounding like one of the snarky critics she goes after in “Mean”, however, I stand by my opinion that her voice, both in comparison to several of today’s female singers and many great female singers of the past, is lacking. She needs to set aside the studio and stage vocal gimmickry, and really concentrate on getting her voice naturally better than it is if she expects to have a career of any real length and take on the kinds of challenges that all of her predecessors have done to become great singers. As I’ve said, “Mean” only addresses the critics; it doesn’t address her own deficiencies.

  45. I just don’t care much that Taylor Swift’s voice is what it is. Technically strong vocals are nice, but I feel like I’ve watched too much American Idol and lived in too much Nashville to place a lot of emphasis on them anymore. There are technically great singers everywhere; there aren’t a lot of interesting artists. We give Hayes Carll and Lucinda Williams and the like a free pass for their limited but expressive vocals; I think it’s only because Taylor Swift is young, earnest and mainstream (and, to a possible extent, female) that she suffers comparison to artists she doesn’t even have much in common with in terms of her type of appeal.

  46. I’d like to add that this song works for Taylor because of her age, she is still able to do these kinds of songs and gets away with it, in five years is a different story.

  47. @Dan: It’s sad that you don’t seem to care about Taylor’s vocal being what it is. I would think that being able to sing well should be the first requirement to being a SINGER, not being able to write songs. Sad that it does not seem to matter anymore. Maybe I can accept that in pop, but this is the country genre we’re talking about. Swift is presenting herself as a singer and songwriter, so that should mean she is proficient at BOTH. It should not be one good skill (songwriting) being used to compensate for the other mediocre skill (singing).

  48. “Sad that it does not seem to matter anymore.”

    It has only ever mattered to an extent. Being a recording artist has never been just about technical singing ability; it’s not like there have been a ton of ugly, completely uncharismatic music superstars in the last century. And there has always been a place for popular but technically unimpressive vocalists. Read this:

    “Swift is presenting herself as a singer and songwriter, so that should mean she is proficient at BOTH.”

    By the same token, we could say that any singer who dares to dabble more than occasionally in writing/co-writing better have material as strong as what he/she could get from outside writers. I can think of more than a few Darius Rucker, Carrie Underwood and Dierks Bentley songs that wouldn’t survive such scrutiny.

    I should clear up, perhaps, that I don’t just tolerate Taylor Swift’s vocals; as I said in the comment above, I find them “limited but expressive.” I genuinely enjoy most of her studio performances – they have life and character. Would I go see her live? Not to hear her, probably, but her fans would probably sing over her anyway, and that’d be something to witness. She gets people to sing – and to really mean it. Artists like that are rare. I don’t mind saying I’m a fan. (Though my feelings on this particular song remain mixed.)

  49. @Dan: Uh oh, you’ve mentioned Underwood, this will surely trigger a Carrie v. Taylor fanwar nth edition on the comments section, kidding. Seriously, I see your point, though I dislike countering arguments by citing other artists. We are talking about Swift here. I’d like to hear explanations on why she gets a free pass by being mediocre on one skill, not arguments that basically say that since others are like that then Taylor should be allowed to get away with it also. And I actually agree with you about Underwood’s songwriting, though if I discuss it this comment will be too long and boring, lol. Darius I agree also, not sure about Martina’s songwriting.
    Since we’re mentioning other artists, I gotta say that for me one artist who truly deserves the singer/songwriter distinction is Miranda Lambert. Right balance of good singing and good songwriting skills.
    Random thought: why do artists like Martina and Carrie etc feel that they should be active in the songwriting process? Is it really a necessity nowadays to have your name on the songwriting credits to be recognized as a legitimate artist? Trisha Yearwood as an example, if I’m not mistaken, did not write the songs on her album, but her albums have been generally recognized to be good artistic works by a good vocalist. Even if you’re a topnotch vocalist but if the songs you wrote and included on your album are not up to par with the vocals wouldn’t that diminish the quality of your work?

  50. ^^In the same way, even if one is a good songwriter but if the singing is not good, wouldn’t it lower the quality of the work. I’m sorry, but I’m old-fashioned, I want my singers to actually be good at singing.

  51. I’m with Dan. Judging by my music collection, I much prefer artists with less than perfect voices with charisma to technically perfect voices that lack distinguishable characteristics to make them interesting to me. Then again, my favorite artist is Vince Gill, which shows that I’m open to both smooth and perfect and rough around the edges. While Swift’s music generally doesn’t work for me, it’s not her less than perfect voice that’s my problem (except for her live performances).

  52. As long as Taylor writes about her life, she will stay relevant. I doubt her “technical” voice will hold her back as she matures. It certainly hasn’t so far. But it’s her other “voice,” the one that expresses (through her writing) those honest emotions, truths, and unique perspectives on life experiences, that keep her at the top. I think it’s admirable for vocalists to try to write songs, but in the end, I respect Reba, Trisha, and yes, Carrie, as much for their special vocal gifts as I do Taylor for her writing, and for how she connects with her audience. By the way, Johnny Cash’s vocals were not exactly a vocal teacher’s dream, but boy, were they powerful and in the end, legendary. Heck, he could talk a song better than most people could sing it.

  53. “I’d like to hear explanations on why she gets a free pass by being mediocre on one skill, not arguments that basically say that since others are like that then Taylor should be allowed to get away with it also.”

    Fair enough. Practically speaking, I think she gets a “free pass” because all other aspects of her artistic identity – particularly her songwriting – are so well formed that it’s easy to market her without having to focus too much on the vocals. So basically, she does get to “compensate” in the eyes of those of who don’t think her vocals are anything special. Whether that’s fair or not is subjective, I guess.

  54. @Dan- Thanks, I think that’s a solid explanation to the Taylor phenomenon. She really is a great songwriter I have to admit. I think she still has to develop her vocals and learn to emphasize what works for her range and not go for glory notes like what she attempted in Mine. A good vocalist is not necessarily equivalent to belting, lol.

    Random thought: I know most fans loved the Fearless album most, well, based on its phenomenal sales, but personally my favorite is still the debut album.

  55. Dan I agree with Lynn that what you said is a good explanation and to Lynn I personally like her first album best as well because it just seemed more genuine, real, and well accesable. With the last two albums (both of which are good) she’s become more focus on relationships alone and getting the crossover hits it seems (also I feel she has made a mistake with Speak Now in that it seems she removed the instantly catchy hooks).

  56. I can’t for a moment understand how anyone could give this song an A. Taylor is not 12 – you really think this was good writing – won’t even touch what I think of the singing – she is old enough now to be treated like an adult and to approve of this is pathetic in itself. The next auto tuned song has got to be better or I may never turn on the radio again!!

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