I just completed a road trip to Ohio and back with all three kids, my 7, 5 and 1 year old. My wife was not with me this trip, so I had to make sure I was prepared. Snacks accessible, DVDs on demand, USB chargers in every available port in my minivan for tablet/phone charging.
In my preparation regimen, naturally, I had to include a copy of Taylor Swift’s “1989” album. My 5 year old adores Taylor’s new album and I can’t complain either. If you listen to The Static Podcast, you’ll know that for a bunch of thirty something dudes, Robert, Jason and I are all pretty big TSwizzle fans.
On this road trip, we watched Wizard of Oz 4 times and the only music we listened to was 1989. This album seems to be universally loved, even by the friends I would least expect. Ryan Adams is even recording a song-by-song full cover of the album. But after about the 10th time listening to “Shake it Off,” I started to wonder what if…
What if this was not a Taylor Swift song? Would it be considered to be as good/respectable apart from Taylor Swift?
Let’s double down on this: What if “Shake it Off” was not released by Taylor Swift, but instead was released by Avril Lavigne?
Think about it. Put yourself in that head space. You could totally see Avril chanting “My ex man brought his new girlfriend…She’s like oh my gosh, I’m just gonna shake it/ To the fellas over there with the hella good here/ won’t you come on over baby we can shake shake shake…”
I posed the following question to the running group chat we have among the staff here at Static and Distortion: Assuming Shake it Off was exactly as it is currently, the only difference is it is sung by Avril Lavigne, not Taylor Swift, would it A.) Be equally regarded as a song and be heralded and respected as Avril’s comeback hit? or B.) Nobody would be talking about the song Shake it Off or Avril Lavigne for that matter.
I vote the latter.
This speaks more to perception of the artists involved. Avril Lavigne kinda did pop punk, then just regular pop, then apparently, that Hello Kitty song. (Thanks, Robert, for sharing that one. Sheesh.) Regardless of what Avril has accomplished in her career, it was all cheesy. I don’t think she’s ever been heralded as a great songwriter, singer, or person. Lately, she’s been known for marrying and now divorcing the Nickelback guy with the Jesus/Ramen Noodle hair.
Taylor, on the other hand, has always been a bit of an ingenue. She started writing really great songs at a very young age and caught people’s attention immediately. She’s grown with every album, both musically, in her personal style, and has literally grown up into a pretty charming young woman. She has truckloads of credibility and is pretty well respected inside the industry and by fans.
While Taylor is growing, getting smarter, covering a wider audience, Avril is perpetually stuck in that youthful, kinda punk, pop princess shtick she started in over a decade ago. That’s kind of a harsh comparison, but I think now is a good time to state for the record that I’m not knocking Avril Lavigne. She has her place in music and she means the world to her fans. And her fans would probably love it if she had written and recorded “Shake it Off” instead of Taylor. But I bet no one other than her fans would see it as so great.
So what does all of this mean? Avril is lame and Taylor is great? It’s not that simple. It’s all about the perception of the artists by their fans and the music consumers of the world at large and the artist’s place in it. If Avril released this song, it might get mild acknowledgement as being a “good” change in her career, but I suspect it would still be considered cheesy to a certain degree, given her history and career arc.
So is Shake it Off a cheesy song? Maybe. Probably. But not when TSwizzle sings it. In fact, I call Shake it Off as an instant classic. It will define 2014/2015 to lots of people and it will hold up over time.
Therefore, the greatness or cheesiness of a song greatly hinges on the credibility of the artist delivering the cheese to your ears.