Song: ‘Blank Space’
Artist: Taylor Swift
US chart peak: 1
Release date: November 10, 2014
Writers: Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback
Producers: Max Martin, Shellback
Quintessential Max moment: The fact the chorus is a two tiered thing of absolute splendour
Video synopsis: A fly-on-the-wall documentary?
“I don’t feel there is any injustice when people expand beyond my music and speculate on who certain songs might be about. I’ve never named names, so I feel like I still have a sense of power over what people say—even if that isn’t true, and even if I don’t have any power over what people say about me. The fact that I’ve never confirmed who those songs are about makes me feel like there is still one card I’m holding. So if you’re going to look at your life and say, “I get to play sold-out football stadiums all over the world. I get to call up my favourite artists and ask them to perform with me, and most of the time they say yes. I get to be on the cover of this magazine”—this is all because I write songs about my own life. So I would feel a little strange complaining about how it’s covered.”
Taylor Swift, GQ, October 15 2015
Taylor Swift’s relationship to her own identity, its public perception and how it’s consumed is becoming increasingly complex. When ‘Blank Space’ arrived towards the end of 2014, complete with a video depicting her as a sort of crazed and massively controlling nightmare, the satire was writ large. People got the joke because it seemed ludicrous to think of Taylor Swift in any other way than someone who had been unfairly demonised for writing about her previous relationships. Things have changed a bit since then. I’m not saying she goes about standing on horses (imagine) or smashing up cars with golf clubs while crying, or that she shouldn’t write about her exes when every other bugger does, but the song and video’s general air of extreme caricature has been deflated by the goings on in recent months. Also, implicit in this, are the ‘Easter eggs’ she leaves in said songs, some of which are just massive bloody Easter eggs (naming a song ‘Dear John’ when you’ve recently gone through a very public break up with John Mayer, for example. Or that thing with Jake Gyllenhaal’s scarf that everyone worked out in about a minute). Satire only really works when it’s an exaggeration, or if the character in question isn’t one you’ve helped manipulate into existence in the first place.
Here’s another quote from that GQ article: “Some of the things I write about on a song like ‘Blank Space’ are satire. You take your creative license and create things that are larger than life. You can write things like I get drunk on jealousy but you’ll come back each time you leave, ’cause darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream. That is not my approach to relationships. But is it cool to write the narrative of a girl who’s crazy but seductive but glamorous but nuts but manipulative? That was the character I felt the media had written for me, and for a long time I felt hurt by it. I took it personally. But as time went by, I realized it was kind of hilarious.”
Increasingly, as I’ve just shown, it’s pretty difficult to separate Taylor’s songs from the context they were released in. It’s how she likes it, hence that quote at the top from her GQ cover. It’s a bit of a shame because the chatter around her is starting to drown out the music, which on ‘1989’ was mainly top notch let’s be honest. ‘Blank Space’ is a brilliant single and undeniable catnip for radio, fusing Lorde’s icy minimalism with Max’s widescreen melodies to create a singalong anthem that works on so many levels. It’s also full of incredible lines, each one hooking itself further into your subconscious. There’s “Darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”, also “boys only want love if it’s torture” and obviously the whole “got a long list of ex-lovers” being misinterpreted as “all the lonely Starbucks lovers” just added another layer of public intrigue. There are also some amazing little production moments dotted throughout; firstly, I’m a big fan of the way the almost robotic verses are softened during the second half of the chorus by the introduction of some soft acoustic guitar. Or the lovely little “oh oh oh” ad-lib bit at the 2:31 mark. Using a pen click noise just before the “…and I’ll write your name” is also genius.
So, yeah, I don’t know. You want to strip away the extraneous stuff but it all feels so entwined that it’s getting harder and harder to do.
“A nuanced sense of humour does not translate on a general scale and I knew that going in. I knew some people would hear ‘Blank Space’ and say, See, we were right about her. And at that point, I just figure if you don’t get the joke, you don’t deserve to get the joke.”
Taylor Swift, GQ, October 15 2015