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A Totally Serious Analysis of Taylor Swift’s Genre-Defying 8 Seconds of Static, ‘Track 3’

3 minute read

Searching for a sound they hadn’t heard before, Canadian fans of Taylor Swift accidentally sent her 1989 song “Track 3” — eight seconds of white noise that went on sale after an iTunes glitch — to the top of the online store’s charts. Many listeners were frustrated to learn that they had spent $1.29 on what seems like absolutely nothing. But lest they forget, Taylor Swift is an artist, not some manufactured pop product. Her more difficult works, like this one, require several listens before their thematic complexity and genre-defying soundscapes can be fully appreciated.

“Track 3” is perhaps her most ambitious track yet. Drawing inspiration from Trent Reznor and that new television she still hasn’t quite figured out how to work since she moved to New York, “Track 3” demonstrates Swift’s willingness to shed her squeaky-clean pop image and move her sound to a darker, industrial and more experimental direction. In other words, “Track 3” is a sign that 1989 will be the Yeezus of her career, and her “Bound 2” moment isn’t far away.

Speculating about the subject of Taylor Swift lyrics is popular among both fans and the media, but it’s clear from the way the static begins around a second in — representing the calm before the storm, obviously — that “Track 3” is also about a tumultuous relationship. Swift cuts the static at the six-second mark to suggest that she has emerged from the storm unscathed, but don’t be fooled by the pop star’s clever lyrical ploy here — we know from the following track, “Out of the Woods,” that Taylor Swift’s relationship status and geographical relationship to said woods are both murky. In fact, the static on “Track 3” may symbolize that Taylor is stuck in the woods right now and is desperately trying to walkie-talkie her way into safe shelter. Does anybody know where Taylor Swift is right now? Is she in danger? Does she need any help?

According to Taylor Swift’s Instagram account, the real “Track 3” includes the lyrics, “I heard that you’ve been out and about with some other girl.” Those words don’t contradict the interpretation that this “Track 3” is about Taylor Swift trying to cut through the static and seek closure about an ambiguous breakup — perhaps from an ex who has blocked her calls and moved on with “some other girl” while Swift keeps leaving cryptic polaroids all over his apartment. Given the empowering nature of “Shake It Off,” though, the opposite is far more likely: Taylor is hung up and tired of waiting on a dude who’s now using new lady friends to make her jealous or get her attention. Sorry, she cannot hear you, bro, she’s kinda busy.

A Photographic History of Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift Being BFFs

Ed Sheeran -  At Madison Square Garden Arena - November 1, 2013
Ed Sheeran poses with Taylor Swift backstage before his sold-out show at Madison Square Garden Arena on November 1, 2013 in New York City. Anna Webber—Getty Images
Taylor Swift's RED Tour - London, England - 2/1/14
Taylor Swift was joined on stage by Ed Sheeran as she kicked off the European leg of her blockbuster The RED Tour with the first of five sold-out shows at London's O2 Arena, playing to a capacity crowd of more than 15,500 fans, on February 1, 2014 in London, England.Gareth Cattermole—TAS/Getty Images
Ed Sheeran -  At Madison Square Garden Arena - November 1, 2013
Taylor Swift joins Ed Sheeran on stage at his sold-out show at Madison Square Garden Arena on November 1, 2013 in New York City. Anna Webber—Getty Images
56th GRAMMY Awards - Backstage And Audience
Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift attend the 56th GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on January 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, Ca.Kevin Mazur—WireImage/Getty Images
2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter - Inside
Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran attend the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted on March 2, 2014 in West Hollywood, Ca.Kevin Mazur—WireImage/Getty Images
Taylor Swift RED Tour - Detroit, Michigan
Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran perform onstage at the first of 13 North American stadium dates on The RED Tour at Ford Field in front of a sold-out crowd of more than 48,000 fans on May 4, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.Christopher Polk—TAS/Getty Images
Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran
Singers Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran perform together at Z100's Jingle Ball 2012 at Madison Square Garden on Friday Dec. 7, 2012 in New York City.Evan Agostini—Invision/AP
Taylor Swift's RED Tour - Nashville - 9/21/2013
Ed Sheeran made a special surprise appearance onstage during the finale of the North American portion of Taylor Swift's RED tour. The show played to a crowd of more than 14,000 fans on the final night of three sold-out hometown shows at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on September 21, 2013. Larry Busacca—TAS/Getty Images

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Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com