Taylor Swift with Mick Jagger
Here’s a great photo of the lovely Taylor Swift in a short black dress onstage with Mick Jagger. It’s a cool photo and her legs look amazing, but could you imagine the old-school Rolling Stones inviting a pop star like her onstage?
Taylor Swift at the People’s Choice Awards
Here’s Taylor Swift, Favorite Country Artist Winner, during The People’s Choice Awards from the other night.which aired on the CBS Television Network.
Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc.
Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
RIYL: Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Lupe Fiasco
In these days of PR flacks and image groomers, the era of the divisive, unpredictable pop star is almost a distant memory – now that we’re living in a world of infinite niche audiences, conventional wisdom says the only safe bet is to try and be all things to all people. But then there’s Kanye West, a guy whose propensity for water cooler-worthy gaffes seems to grow along with his sales; one of the few true stars left in the music industry, he’s also one of the least “managed” celebrities around, and while his actions have a tendency to alienate and offend, there’s something undeniably refreshing about a guy who blurts out whatever’s on his mind.
As an artist, West has always been just as messy – and just as captivating. It’s a shame that some people will never listen to his albums simply because of the things he’s said and done outside the recording studio, but part of his music’s appeal is how unfiltered it feels – the dude just can’t shut his mouth. In fact, for most of his fifth studio outing, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he sounds so blanketed in creative impulses that he can barely breathe – this is a record that careens from one emotional extreme to the next with dazzling urgency, so stuffed with ideas that it takes an army of guest stars and a series of wildly inflated running times to get them all out. On paper, it’s an ungodly, unwieldy mess, and further proof that West desperately needs an editor.
But through the speakers – where it counts – Fantasy lives up to each of the words in its title in equal measure: it’s a startlingly rich artistic outburst from a guy who’s made a career out of exceeding expectations, no matter how high they get. An about-face from 2008′s cold, insular 808s & Heartbreak, it signals a return to the anthemic, eclectic form he displayed on 2007′s Graduation, but it isn’t a retreat; rather, it’s a deepening and an extension of West’s playfully broad aesthetic. An album that incorporates a King Crimson sample, Bon Iver cameos, and a Chris Rock skit before closing with a dose of Gil Scott-Heron shouldn’t work; a song featuring Rihanna on the hook, Elton John playing piano, and Fergie rapping should collapse under the weight of its own ridiculous ambition. Fantasy contains all these things and many more, and defies the laws of pop physics as it goes – it’s the kind of record that keeps the ideas coming so quickly you don’t even notice the songs routinely stretch out past the five-minute mark. (In fact, four songs clock in over six minutes, with “Runaway” leading them all at 9:08.)
If there’s any real negative to draw from Fantasy, it’s the overriding sense that West is frantically pouring out ideas as quickly as they come; he’s too captivated by his muse to slow down – or to consider the consequences of failure. He won’t be able to maintain this pace forever, and when he finally does take a breath, it might be hard to resist the urge to think before he speaks. That’s just nervous nitpicking, though – and there’s no reason to waste your time with it when one of the best albums of the year is waiting to swagger its way into your brain. God only knows how West will top this one; here’s hoping it isn’t long before we get to hear him try. (Roc-a-Fella 2010)
Kanye West MySpace page
Taylor Swift: Speak Now
RIYL: Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood
This is what happens when you’re a 20-year-old powerhouse in an industry perilously short on power: you decide you’re going to write all the songs on your third album by yourself, and you’re going to co-produce it, too. Who’s going to stop you? Your first two releases sold a combined 10 million copies, you’re the biggest act on your label, and the last time someone got in your way, they had to go on TV – on that awful, short-lived Jay Leno show, no less – and apologize.
And because you’re only 20, and because the music industry has never really cared about artistic growth, the songs on your new album are going to sound pretty much like the ones you recorded before – which will be a very good thing, according to the record company’s accountants and the millions of 10-year-old girls who glue your picture to their binders, but also sort of troubling in terms of your long-term prospects. Because when you’re that age, you can get away with writing glittery ballads and snotty, vindictive kiss-off songs and chalking it up to an autobiographical concept – in your words, “boy-crazy country starlet tries to stop dripping tears all over her guitar” – but you should also be craving change and experimentation rather than reheated formula. And no, that doesn’t mean writing a song that sounds like you’ve been listening to a lot of Coldplay (“Enchanted”) or testing the limits of how long one boy-crazy country starlet can drag out a soggy breakup song (“Dear John,” 6:43).
It isn’t all bad. In fact, a lot of it is quite good. Your thin, tremulous vocals remain a weak point, as your critics are so fond of pointing out (and as you winkingly acknowledge in one of the album’s best tracks, “Mean”), but if a weak singing voice meant you couldn’t be a star, then Bob Dylan would still be Robert Zimmerman. The important thing is that you have an uncommon gift for melody, and even if you also have an annoying, Art Alexakis-ish tendency to repeat musical themes, there’s no arguing with your ability to put together an indelible hook. You do it on your third album, and often enough to pretty much guarantee another multiplatinum certification – but not often enough to cover up for the fact that the day is coming when your petulant rockers (“Better Than Revenge”) and unicorn ballads (“Sparks Fly”) won’t be cute anymore. And what then? No matter how many times they play Speak Now, your listeners won’t have a clue. You probably don’t either, and that’s fine – hell, that’s what being 20 is all about. But it sure would be nice if some of those scary wide open spaces showed up on your next record. (Big Machine 2010)
Taylor Swift MySpace page
Taylor Swift: Fearless – Platinum Edition
RIYL: Julianne Hough, Miranda Lambert, buying stuff twice
Even by the record industry’s inflated, pre-Internet standards, Taylor Swift’s Fearless was a huge album, particularly for a teenage singer/songwriter on her sophomore release: in less than a year, it sold more than five million copies in the States, spun off a record-breaking 12 Top 40 hits, and provided some of 2009’s only tangible evidence that someone other than Michael Jackson can still sell records. All of which is presumably the only justification Swift’s label needed to join the obnoxious “deluxe reissue” trend by tacking on five brand new recordings, a “piano version” of album track “Forever & Always,” and a bonus DVD containing five music videos, four behind-the-scenes featurettes, a photo gallery, and the infamous CMT Awards clip that found Swift donning a sideways cap and rapping alongside T-Pain as T-Swizzle. It’s a ton of extra content, to be sure – and at Amazon’s loss-leader early price of $14.99, it’s a heckuva bargain, too. And it’s also worth mentioning that in today’s era of a la carte digital distribution, this kind of repackaging isn’t quite as crass as it was before iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 Store came along. Still, Fearless: Platinum Edition fails to resonate on two levels: first, although the new tracks aren’t bad at all, they don’t feel like missing pieces of the original album – which ties into the second problem, which is that at 19 tracks and almost 100 minutes of music, this is a bloated, unfocused version of a record that was pretty close to perfect as it was. Why not release an EP – or better yet, why not save these songs for the next full-length album? Simply to drop a piece of premium-priced product on store shelves in time for the holiday season, when Swift’s many teenaged fans can hit up their loved ones for a copy. Fearless still does a fine job of illustrating Swift’s gifts as a songwriter and performer, but this version just isn’t as much fun. (Big Machine 2009)
Taylor Swift MySpace page