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Friday, February 3, 2012

Eight Taylor Swift Lyrics as Good as Any in Country Music

Posted By on Fri, Feb 3, 2012 at 3:30 AM

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2. "She wears short skirts/ I wear T-shirts/ She's cheer-captain/ And I'm on the bleachers"

From "You Belong With Me"

There's irony, perhaps, in this irresistible line being sung by a young woman who always looks like she just got made over for a Vanity Fair cover shoot. But country music listeners understand that in songs their stars play characters -- often, un-glam versions of their pre-fame selves. In bad songs, like Billy Currington's "Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer," that insistence upon averageness can come across as pandering, especially since the characters lack the fascinating hunger and ambition that once boiled over in the star. Some good songs, like Miranda Lambert's "Only Prettier," honor both the character (relatable!) and the star (relatable yet awesome!).

"You Belong With Me" -- a great song, one hard to resist screaming along with -- goes one step further. When Swift shouts "She wears short skirts/ I wear T-shirts," she's not just offering a succinct -- and relatable! -- comparison between a bright everyday sort of girl and that girl's hottie rival. Because Swift herself seems to have started as one and wound up the other, she demonstrates that you, the everyday sort of listener, might one day, too. As Swift notes in another song that should be on this list, the teen years are "life before you know who you're gonna be."

1. "You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter"

From "Mine"

A bubblegum masterpiece, "Mine" demonstrates that Taylor Swift (who wrote it) is at times a lyricist of great power -- and that, like Dolly before her, she's pure country, no matter how pop the backing track. Here, she balls together all three types of Taylor Swift love song into one, creating something rich and singular and more like life than any pop-music genre usually gets. She captures that first wild rush of love, the despair when that first rush doesn't last, and then something rare for a big radio hit: the hard work it takes for couples to keep that initial thrill alive -- and to find it again in each other when it threatens to ebb.

The lived-in detail of her writing here stands tall against anything country has ever produced. In one urgent, standout line -- "You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter" -- she thumbnails these characters, their relationship, a full family history, and the way young people who set out to avoid the mistakes of their parents wind up making a whole new set of mistakes -- reactionary ones.

It even hints at the generational conflict that might explain the loud-guitar ethos of country songs like this one: The boomers' rock music went too far, got too hedonistic, so young Nashville's will always be safer, more studied, and restrained -- the careful daughter of a careless man. But that careful daughter still feels the passions that made her father rebel, so nothing's going to sound like "Tim McGraw" again.

Not even Tim McGraw.

Runners up from "Mine":

"Braced myself for the goodbye/ 'Cause that's all I've ever known"

"We got bills to pay/ We got nothin' figured out"

"There's a drawer of my things at your place"

"You learn my secrets/ And you figure out why I'm guarded/You say we'll never make my parents' mistakes."


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