Do you remember that dumb “in bed” game? Don’t lie. You do. I know it’s supposed to be played with fortune cookies and I also know almost everyone only plays in reference to a 90210 episode. Ugh. Brandon.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about it in the context of this Taylor Swift article that inexplicably appears in the Wall Street Journal.
Read it here.
So the premise isn’t crazy. There’s an ongoing, ominous question about music sales, so who better to ask than one of the bestselling artists of her generation? Ask what’s going to happen. Ask what her fears for the future are. It’s a totally valid perspective for an article.
The problem, though, is that I’m not sure Taylor Swift sees the whole picture. She prefaces everything by saying that she’s not a pessimist, that she sees everything through her own perspective and that’s where she writes the article. Still fair enough.
Except for one thing. It seems like every sentence in her article is supposed to be followed by the phrase “like my music”. Let’s try it:
“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” ….like my music.
“However, some artists will be like finding ‘the one’. We will cherish every album they put out until they retire and we will play their music for our children and grandchildren.”….like my fans will with my album.
“I believe couples can stay in love for decades if they just continue to surprise each other, so why can't this love affair exist between an artist and their fans?”…like my fans and me?
I mean, look. It’s great that Taylor Swift has had such an epic career. I’m thrilled for her. But right now, she can’t conceive of what it’s like to be a middling artist who is making her/his music, and who sells 10 or 20 thousand copies. She can’t conceive of artists for whom that might even be doing well.
But it’s implicit in the writing of the article that if they just connected with the fans, like she does – if they wrote music that really shocked and surprised, like she does – if they just had faith that their music was worth something and they shouldn’t just give it away – faith like Taylor has – well then everything would work. Not for every artist – she acknowledges that people are buying fewer albums overall – but for the ones who are special enough. Good enough.
I mean, what can you say? Can you tell her that it’s not like this for most artists? “Well, maybe if their music connected with more people.” I mean, she’s not wrong, she’s just…myopic. A lot of people won’t have their music heard if they don’t give it away, to a film soundtrack or compilation – it might be their best chance. “I just wish they gave their music its true value.”
How do you respond?
I want Taylor swift to be right and she is, on one level. All of the things she says could be true for a certain artist. But they can’t possibly be for all of them, which is the problem with the music industry overall. It can’t be that way. And while I’m sure the Wall Street Journal is thrilled to know that autographs have fallen out of fashion in place of selfies with an artist, or that a director will cast the actress with more Twitter followers (sad but true), it doesn’t say much about album sales. It doesn’t show a path for anyone except Taylor Swift, you know?
It’s just…it’s a long way to fall. I assume that Taylor Swift knows that someday she’ll stop selling albums, and that then, if she needs money (celebrities never cease to amaze me this way) she can song-write or create Broadway shows or whatnot. But it’s a pretty rarefied position, and writing “I cannot believe how lucky I got, here’s what worked for me” would be a lot more honest and valid than assuming that everyone is going to be massively successful if they’re lucky enough to follow the Taylor Swift principles.
Attached: Taylor Swift out in NYC.