Taylor Swift’s Tiny Desk Concert, recorded a couple of weeks ago, was just posted by NPR yesterday. She performed three songs (“The Man”, “Lover”, and “Death By A Thousand Cuts”) off her new album, Lover, and her classic, “All Too Well” – you know, the one about Jake Gyllenhaal, which is considered by some to be her best song ever. “All Too Well” is the only Taylor Swift song to make Pitchfork’s list of the Top 200 songs of the 2010s. (I don’t agree with that but as I wrote when the list came out, the whole point of lists like these is to have arguments about it.)
During her Tiny Desk performance, Taylor talked about songwriting each of the tracks she was highlighting, giving the audience some insight into her creative process – in other words, the work behind her art. Which is not new for her. She often walks her fans through the creative process. During the rollout for reputation, she posted videos she had recorded of herself when she was songwriting, at the piano or collaborating with Jack Antonoff. And during 1989, she showed up for Recording Academy Listen Sessions, with an audience full of Grammy voters, to talk about making the album. I wrote about that back in October 2015 and I’m mentioning it now because she was actively campaigning for Grammys at that time, she wanted Album of the Year for 1989, she went out there and hustled for it, having been disappointed that Red did not win AOTY, and it paid off.
Same season, four years later, and here we are, with a new album delivered in time for Grammys 2020 consideration, and we’re four weeks away from the nominations announcement, and Taylor’s not at a Listening Session at the Recording Academy but at NPR, doing the Tiny Desk Concert. It’s not exactly as direct of a campaign pitch, but that’s definitely part of the motivation, and more in line with the vibe of how she’s promoted Lover overall – smaller venues, more intimate performances. This follows her recent musical guest appearance on SNL a couple of weeks ago where she delivered her best performances ever on the show and her best performances, up to that point, of this album cycle. It’s smart, and she’s always been smart when it comes to award strategy.
So I’m curious whether or not, now that she’s in campaign mode, whether she’s going to bury “ME!” and “You Need To Calm Down”, two of the three weakest songs on Lover, along with the first track, “I Forgot That You Existed”. That’s how most people were introduced to Lover – because she wanted to kick off the cycle with that uptempo, silly-ish vibe before settling into the soul of the album. Will it hurt her though?
Taylor talked a lot about making an album that was “sonically cohesive” when she was campaigning for 1989 because that was the feedback she’d been given on Red. But Lover is sonically cohesive without “ME!”, “You Need To Calm Down”, and “I Forgot That You Existed”. In order to get around that, she’ll need to lean in hard on the other, much stronger, songs – which is exactly what she’s been doing the last few weeks.