Taylor Swift, the Pinnacle of American Culture, Failure, Video of the Year

Taylor Swift.

I won’t say her music is awful. I’ve heard worse, really, much worse. I saw a band once in Columbus, Ohio where the guitar player was out of tune and the singer let out a kind of screechy howl, or maybe it was a howly screech, but either way it didn’t matter for it made me feel epileptic. My left shoulder raised a little, and my head tilted slightly forward when that singer let loose, and I knew that if I didn’t leave I’d be twitching like that all night. I do so even now to think about it. So I left, and as another indication of the awfulness, I abandoned a full pitcher of beer. It was worth the sacrifice.

So there is definitely worse music than Swift’s. For her what I’ll say is that like most popular pop music, her tunes are bland and easy to endure. They waft somewhere just overhead, not quite out of reach, before floating away. If her music comes on the radio, I might forget to change the channel while thinking about other things and suddenly realize only when the song is ending that I’d let it play through. This is because it’s average in every sense. It doesn’t require thought and doesn’t provoke any. It doesn’t challenge. It doesn’t move the soul one way or the other. It is, in short, ordinary. Whenever I hear Swift’s music, that scene from Dead Poets Society comes to mind where Mr. Keating reminds a student to not let his poems be so.

‘The cat sat on the mat.” Sadly, that could be a pop lyric, probably is in some song somewhere

The thing is, though, I’m not here to attack Taylor Swift or her music. She’s probably a decent person, and more power to her for her success. She’s already set for life on the financial front, and that’s certainly more than I am. No, what I’m here to write about, to respond to, is a line from a review about one of her shows. It was from an article on Noisey. The quote is this:

She is, on every single level, the pinnacle of American Culture as it exists today.

It makes me sad that such a line could ever be written, makes me want to shout, “No, no, no, no!” Granted, Swift is doing her part to contribute to the empowerment of women. I applaud that as well as her efforts to battle the music streaming services, but to call her the pinnacle of American culture makes me think I’ve failed. It makes me think we’ve all failed. When I wrote The Music Book, I included bands whose music I thought should be every bit as famous and successful as Taylor Swift’s, and most of those bands had female singers who were also the primary songwriters. It wasn’t by design. I had simply discovered that most of the best music in Seattle was being fronted by women, women whose music had nothing to do with image or being sexy or being seen with the right people, women whose music was anything but ordinary. And given the chance, these women could take up the banner of feminism and women in rock and swing it with the force of a thousand Taylor Swift’s while letting out a barbaric yawp that would bring the 1989 tour to a grinding halt. But these women play in small clubs for small crowds. And they don’t get written about on Noisey.

Furniture Girls

We need to change that.

We should start a write-in campaign for MTVs video music awards for Video of the Year. Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj recently had their Twitter feud/conversation about this, but I say neither of them deserve the award. They have enough already. I say Furniture Girls, a band fronted by two women, Stacey Meyer and Kate Bradley, should get the nod for their video for “Lily.” They would rock the MTV house and leave a swath of destruction in the award show after parties. I’d like to see that.

Maybe I’m stuck. Maybe I won’t rest until I see these bands and others get more recognition. Or, and I have to admit this is a possibility, maybe I could have written a better book. So maybe I’m the one who failed to get the word out. And maybe that means we need Taylor Swift to come swooping in, but rather than parade Heidi Klum around on stage, she should give a shout out to all the bands and female musicians whose music deserves a wider audience. Perhaps, she should have Furniture Girls open up for her upcoming show at CenturyLink field on August 8th. What say you, Taylor? I’d even come to write about it. Maybe I’d even end up a fan.


Dave O’Leary is a writer and musician living in Seattle. The Music Book, his second novel, was published by Booktrope in September 2014. In addition to writing for Northwest Music Scene, he has also had work published in The Monarch Review and on Slate.com. Visit his website at http://www.daveoleary.net. Photo by Stacy Albright, stacyalbrightimages.com.

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