Single Review: Taylor Swift, "Begin Again"

The title of Taylor Swift’s new single is oddly appropriate, as her label hits the reset button at country radio.

“We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was apparently too pop for her genre home base, though it will certainly continue to dominate top forty for a good long while.  Country radio is now getting its own single, and it’s quite the genre exercise.

It follows in the same coffee shop folk vein as recent success “Ours.”   Lyrically, it’s little more than a picturesque diary entry.   It’s sweet and goes down smoothly, but as Swift continues to grow older, it’s becoming more troublesome that her sense of self-worth and happiness is always inextricably linked to whatever man is currently the object of her affection.

I wanted to hear more from the girl in the first verse who is rediscovering what she likes for herself, be it a pair of shoes or a song on her iPod.  She sounds far more interesting than the girl who can’t possibly think she’s funny because the guy before her didn’t think she was funny, but this new guy thinks she’s funny, so maybe she really is funny!

Maybe my memory is failing me, and I’m not terribly familiar with Swift’s work beyond the radio

singles.  But I can’t remember her ever releasing a song about hanging with the girls, or even just hanging with herself.  There’s always a guy getting all up in her head, happy or bad,  angry or sad.

There has to be more to her than that, right?

Written by Taylor Swift

Grade: B




  1. A pleasant enough song in general, but I agree that Swift should be branching out a bit with her lyrical material. I do think it’s nice to hear a song from her that retains some more tangible country elements, though it does make me wonder if the genre-straddling is going to result in a disjointed album.

    I didn’t even realize that “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” had already finished its run at country radio. Interestingly, it seems it was her first official country radio release ever to miss the Top 10.

  2. I check out the American Country Countdown with Kix Brooks each week on the unlikely chance that something I like will crack the top 40. The chart came out this evening for the week of October 1. It has the TS song moving up 1 notch from 17 last week to 16. The countdown also is referred to as “the 40 hottest hits based on the official MediaBase country music chart!” I don’t know anything about Mediabase, such as how it determines chart position, etc.

  3. I like her vocal on this one. I think her voice is suited for this kind of songs.

    I wonder if they released We Are Never knowing that it will probably won’t chart very high in country but risked it anyway bec reintroducing her to pop market is the priority, or if they didn’t expect it to stall this way. Anyway regardless, I highly prefer this second single than We Are Never.

    Regarding the subject matter of her songs, she did record songs that are not about love and boys, but I don’t think any of them has been released as singles.

  4. …in all fairness, taylor swift has quite a few songs that deal with other major country music issues – trucks – e.g. too. in the “picutre to burn” clip you find references like: “he lets her drive the truck? he never let me drive the truck! kind of so messed up! or in “tim mcgraw”, where the chevy truck of just a boy had a tendency of gettin’ stuck on back roads at night.

    fair enough, she couldn’t quite keep the opposite sex out of it completely – call her single minded, but neither could dave dudley in most of his serious truck songs.

    as long as she spares us with a song that describes a new first date in which she starts explaining, why she’ll never be getting back together with the previous guy. who needs mtv’s “savage u” countrified? on second thought…

    “begin again” is a rather pleasant single. still, imagine what a truck in it could do to that tune – just ask tim mcgraw.

  5. Bob, Mediabase’s chart is based on airplay on roughly 200 stations across the country. It’s used for most countdown shows, including Kix Brooks, Bob Kingsley, Lon Helton and Crook & Chase. It’s also how a lot of stations – including the one I work at – determine how often a given song will play.

    It is probably worth noting that Mediabase is owned by Clear Channel and payola is alive and well, though much more subtle than in the past so it doesn’t get prosecuted. For example, earlier this year “Feel Like A Rockstar” shot up the charts when it was first released because Clear Channel directed a number of its stations to play the song once an hour during the 36 hours after it debuted on the ACM Awards.

  6. “Begin Again” is a powerful single, one of Swift’s best in recent memory. Swift’s vocals are sweet, soothing and vulnerable. The instrumentation is beautiful. A smart choice to release this singer-songwriter/folksy tune after the potentially damaging release (at least to country fans) of Max Martin’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

    This song is a testament to her wonderful songwriting ability. The song has a message, delivered with such subtly you might miss it on a first listen. That, is the mark of a great songwriter. The message is that Swift is trying to convey is about how girls should be treated. She attempts to tell her audience that they deserve to be treated with respect: from the smallest things to big ones. It’s not okay to put people down, especially the ones you’re supposed to be in love with.

    She’s not beating you over the head with the message until it sinks in. It’s a graceful, storytelling based approach that songwriters often take years to develop. Swift has mastered the art at a young age. Swift effortlessly can switch between a scorned young woman looking for revenge, to a woman with wisdom far beyond her years. There’s a reason why she will have longevity far beyond anyone of her peers.

  7. Andrew, Thanks for the info on mediabase. So chart position has nothing to do with sales. Although I’m not that surprised, I find your comment on payola to be very interesting. I grew up listening to NY rock DJ’s like Alan Freed who was the key figure in the 1950’s payola scandal. I’ve often wondered if the practice still existed.

  8. Kevin’s description of “Begin Again” as being in the same “coffee shop folk” vein of “Ours” may be more than a little prophetic. If you can believe this, Taylor has reportedly been signed to appear in a film version of Sheila Weller’s 2008 book Girls Like Us, which was about the relationships and music of Carly Simon, Carole King, and Joni Mitchell in the singer/songwriter culture of the early 1970s…and Ms. Swift is going to portray Joni Mitchell.

    Whether “Begin Again” is a sign of things to come with that film depends. But I think it’s a big stretch to go from this to “Both Sides Now”, or from never ever getting back together to paving paradise and putting up a parking lot.

  9. I’ve always thought Taylor would make good folkie. I think this type of song is a good fit for her voice. I agree that comparing her to Joni Mitchell is “a big stretch”. I also agree with the above poster that adding more “country elements” is nice and I think she should do a lot more of it- because it is really hard to find them in previous albums. I think some of her songs like “Hey Stephen” and “white horse” had the same type of folkie feel to them.

  10. @scooter: Agreed, I think her voice sounds best on slower songs like these, and I too am glad to see her returning somewhat to her country roots. I’m curious to see if her newest album will be more country or pop.

  11. There have actually been quite a few songs she’s written about non-boy topics, although, you’re correct in saying they rarely reach radio. Here’s a list of ones that have been released though:

    Ronan – for a little boy who died of cancer
    Both of Us – (helped write) about getting through crap
    Eyes Open – for The Hunger Games (keep on your toes)
    Safe & Sound – for The Hunger Games (“death lullaby”)
    Mean – anti-bullying song (originally about a critic)
    Never Grow Up – reminiscing about childhood/adulthood
    Innocent – you can always become someone new, regardless of past mistakes (originally for Kanye)
    Long Live – anthem for her band, all they went through
    Breathe – about a “break up” of friendship
    The Best Day – sweet song for her mom
    A Place In This World – figuring out where you fit in
    Tied Together With A Smile – friend who had eating disorder
    The Outside – not fitting in at school
    Mary’s Song – about her elderly neighbors who are still in love

    I think she writes a lot about love/boys because she’s the kind of writer who always creates songs out of emotion. Before you settle down in life, most of your emotion would come from things surrounding love. I’m sure once her life drastically changes, there will be a lot more to write about. Plus–from her first album to this one, she’s gone from wistfully wishing boys would notice her to writing complex songs about deeper feelings :)

  12. A lot of country music is about romantic relationships (getting it, keeping it, losing it, et cetera). Radio does cover other themes, of course, but I don’t think Swift is all that unique here.

    The review asks, “There has to be more to her than that, right?” I’m sure there’s more to her as a person than an interest in boys. But what do I care? I’m interested in hearing catchy songs from her, not some sort of authentic self-disclosure.

    I do think there is a danger she will beat certain themes into the ground, but again, same could be said for Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Justin Moore, and so many others.

  13. With this logic, “It’s becoming more troublesome that her sense of self-worth and happiness is always inextricably linked to whatever man is currently the object of her affection,” then one would have to assume that Carrie Underwood is a complete man-hater who spends her time plotting destruction and mayhem against men. Taylor sings about her experiences and, proving what a smart business woman she is, she knows how to appeal to what sells to her fan base.

  14. Can someone explain how Tim McGraw’s song has the most spins and impressions at Mediabase, yet this Swift song is actually ranked #1? It makes no sense.

  15. The song’s good and it fits nicely into the country radio format. it’s just sad that with the new hot country charts methodology, it won’t be the prestigious and well-known #1 that it used to be coz it’s just #1 on country airplay! :( I expect Red to be her next country single. Can’t believe such an old song like ‘Wanted’ got #1 on Hot Country Songs this week! the Hot Country Songs is like a HOT MESS and all over the place!

  16. Well it seems like label politics got “Begin Again” to #1 anyway. It jumped about 900 spins in the last week. No other song in the top 50 has even a 700 spin increase. Considering how long “BA” has been out, that’s really sketchy.

  17. From the country stations I listen to I am 100% positive that “Begin Again” is not #1, so there has to be some big machine somewhere doing some typical big business unethical move. I am sure Taylor is a good person. I hope one day she will actually insists to her executives to play fair and let her songs chart (good or bad)in an honest way.

  18. I confess that I have gotten a little taken with “Begin Again” recently, which is something I didn’t think I would be able to say about anything Taylor has done. It was surprisingly just a few listens on the radio that it got to me. Although I am still bugged by her irritating vocal mannerisms (something that I think she really has to get rid of before I’m sold on her as a singer), the acoustic folk/country vibe of “Begin Again” almost made me believe she had inhabited Laurel Canyon in a past life, specifically of course in the heyday of the singer/songwriter era of the late 60s and early 70s.

    And as I pointed out in September of last year, given that she may portray Joni Mitchell onscreen, this is possibly a sign of things to come. The singing and songwriting still need a lot of work in my opinion, but it just may be that I may someday be sold on her.

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