"Shake It Off" is basic. And that's okay.
It didn’t seem possible, but Taylor Swift is getting even more Vanilla Coke. Last night, T-Swift disavowed her country roots and announced she was putting out an all-pop album, beginning with the single “Shake It Off.”
In some ways, “Shake It Off” is classic Taylor. Her whole persona is that of an awkward high school nerd (“she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers“) who happened to make it big by crying on her guitar. Never mind that she’s beautiful and one of six women in the entire world that can pull off red lipstick.
Every girl can relate to Taylor: she falls in love—hard; she gets her heart broken; she has a sleepover with her girlfriends and regains confidence; she becomes strong and independent; she falls in love again. Rinse and repeat. In short, “We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time.“
“Shake It Off” was pulled out of the empowerment part of that cycle: this time the tune shakes off all the haters’ insults. But the song also attempts to make her even more mainstream. She’s not even a little bit country: she’s the dictionary definition of pop star. What can we expect from a new T-Swift album? Think the sonic version of drinking a pumpkin spice latte in Uggs while watching Sex and the City.
We saw this coming two years ago with “22.” In fact, loving Taylor Swift and the song “22” is a large portion of BuzzFeed’s “How Basic Are You?” quiz, as is Diet Coke—for which Swift is the spokesperson! (For the uninitiated, someone who is basic is cliché, conformist and predictable without any sense of irony. Here’s a great explainer.) But Red tenuously held on to some folksy roots. That and her adorable awkwardness kept her from being Katy Perry.
Now Swift is pulling an anti-Miley Cyrus. Sure, they are both re-appropriating twerking in a way that some of their critics have said is racist. But Cyrus shakes her (less than curvy) booty to try to be rebellious. In “Shake It Off” Swift looks like she contemplates doing the same for a second and then laughs. That’s not her. She’s never going to sing about doing Molly or straddle anything naked. And she’s not going to differentiate herself with country music either. Instead she’s naming her album 1989, in honor of the year she was born because nostalgia is pretty basic too.
She called the album a “rebirth” in the livestream announcing its release date (October 27, in case you were wondering), but the only thing new about it so far is that this single sounds like it could have just as easily come from Ariana Grande or any other Nickelodeon star. During the Q&A portion of the livestream Swift said, “All of what I decide to do on albums is based on what I think you will like.” And since her fans are tweens, they like basic things.
It’s not particularly interesting. But it’s catchy. And, oh, will it sell.
There’s a reason Ariana Grande is topping the charts right now. Sure, being unique can be profitable: Miley Cyrus totally changes her image and has a hit with Bangerz; Beyoncé drops a surprise album and breaks the Internet. But it’s also a risk: the common reaction to Lorde’s refreshing candidness has been “she’ll grow out of it”; and even though Kanye West’s Yeezus, an album that dared fans to like something strange and completely different from his earlier work, was critically acclaimed, it didn’t sell all that well (by Kanye standards).
Pumpkin Spice Lattes, on the other hand, will always sell. And that’s okay because pumpkin flavored things are delicious, and I’ve already listened to “Shake It Off” a dozen times.