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Nice girls' suppressed anger
koganbot
Jon Pareles says in today's NY Times ("She's a Little Bit Country, a Little Bit Angry") that Taylor Swift "has tapped the million-selling pop market for nice girls' suppressed anger." But one of the reasons Taylor's first single is still my favorite is that the anger is suggested without being explicit, so it's not the main emotion or the main story but it's there to bite you, should you notice it. She gets to have multiple emotions in a single glance.


Taylor Swift "Tim McGraw"

First time I wrote about it went like this:

let's just end with the song of the day for December 6, 2006, Taylor Swift's "Tim McGraw." The subject matter's been run into the ground (memories of first love, coming of age), but her words are exceptionally precise and evocative - no line in particular, just the way the details pile up: little black dress, box hidden under her bed, etc. "September saw a month of tears/And thanking God that you weren't here/To see me like that." Very skillful, makes not-quite-in-the-vernacular phrasing ("saw a month of tears") feel normal in context (ditto for "the moon like a spotlight on the lake"). She's canny in balancing wistfulness and self-assertion. She hopes that when the boy thinks of Tim McGraw he thinks of her favorite song. She leaves a letter on his doorstep to make sure he does.

Two weeks later I decided that I'd insufficiently asserted the self-assertion:

let's just end with the song of the day for December 19, 2006, Taylor Swift's "Tim McGraw," which I already did a couple of weeks ago, but the song keeps getting richer and richer the more I hear it. She uses the word "bittersweet," and she's not kidding. The first time she sings the chorus, "When you think Tim McGraw, I hope you think my favorite song," it means "I hope you have warm memories of me," but by song's end it also means "I hope I haunt you, fucker, the way you haunted me. Sincerely, your discarded girlfriend, Taylor." It doesn't abandon the first meaning, just layers another one on top.

But thinking I'd overplayed the anger, I wrote this on the comments thread to my country music ballot:

Best new lyrics I heard all year, I think. They balance so perfectly that anything I say probably overstates the mood one way or another; but in the first chorus when she goes "When you think Tim McGraw, I hope you think my favorite song" it's simply sweet, but by the third chorus those words carry hurt and bitterness and a whole expanse of sadness, and a hint of aggression, as well (as if to say, "may that song haunt you," though that overstates it) - while retaining the sweetness.

But no, that actually understates it. So I made another pass at the song in November '07 for the LVW, cutting and pasting my previous versions:

Taylor Swift "Tim McGraw": The subject matter's been run into the dirt (memories of first love, coming of age, though strangely enough, Taylor was probably about 15 when she and Liz Rose wrote it), but Taylor's words are exceptionally precise and evocative — no line in particular, just the way the details pile up: little black dress, box hidden under her bed, etc. "September saw a month of tears/And thanking God that you weren't here/To see me like that." Very skillful, makes not-quite-in-the-vernacular phrasing ("saw a month of tears") feel normal in context (ditto for "the moon like a spotlight on the lake"). Taylor is canny in balancing wistfulness and self-assertion. She hopes that when the boy thinks of Tim McGraw he thinks of her favorite song. She leaves a letter on his doorstep to make sure he does. She uses the word "bittersweet," and she's not kidding. The first time she sings the chorus it means "I hope you have warm memories of me," but by song's end it also means something like "I hope I haunt you, fucker, the way you haunted me. Sincerely, your discarded girlfriend, Taylor." But it's more subtle. It doesn't abandon the first meaning, the sweetness; it just layers a whole other expanse of sadness and anger on top.

Ambivalent memories of first love had become a country staple at least since the excellent Deana Carter's "Strawberry Wine" in 1996; "Strawberry Wine" is quite good, but notice how more nuanced and coherent and concise the words of "Tim McGraw" are. (Deana Carter is no slouch as a lyricist, but the words to "Strawberry Wine" aren't hers. Not that they're not fine words, they just get taken to school by "Tim McGraw.") You can see how the vid for "Strawberry Wine" is a prototype for the "Tim McGraw" vid, again the advantage going to Taylor.


Deana Carter "Strawberry Wine"