As much as her notoriety may make it easy to forget that Taylor Swift is a singer-songwriter of a generational caliber.
She’s always had an ear for a tune and a way with words that few musicians can match.
Our Song, for instance, was her first US number one.
It’s a classic teen love story until the last lines: “I took a pen /, And an old napkin / And I scribbled down our song.” It was written for a high school talent contest.
For someone who wasn’t old enough to vote, that’s an impressive display of compositional skill and self-assurance. As a result of her work, the Song’s lyrics have become a well-worn trope that features the artist prominently in the plot.
This Song’s one-note melody also serves as another of Taylor’s trademarks.
When she moves from country to pop, she tends to use more of these “static vocal lines,” where she sings at the same pitch for a long period.
Throughout the four songs she’s released before her new album, Reputation, which is out on Friday, you can hear it. Look What You Made Me Do, the album’s lead track is a perfect example of this technique in action.
Taylor Swift’s career success is based on her ability to connect with her fans. Even though she’s won ten Grammys, she recently hosted an album replay at her oceanfront Rhode Island estate for her devoted followers. During her senior year of high school, she traveled to Alabama with a fan, Whit Wright, to attend his prom. She frequently sends her Instagram fans handwritten notes and surprises gifts.
It’s part of the charm of songs that revolve around a single note. They aim to make her more approachable by replicating her speech patterns.
Because her lyrics are so conversational and easy to understand, it helps. Despite the Song’s poor title, “We’re never getting back together” makes perfect sense in Taylor’s teen-speak. There is a general idea that you’re hanging out with someone you know, talking about boys (and it’s virtually always about boys).
In the verses, Taylor most frequently employs this technique to give the melody a sense of mobility by adjusting the chords beneath her voice in the same way that moving a lamp around a room casts varied shadows.
An energy surge occurs when the choir leaps to a higher pitch, and the euphoria rises even further. In addition, she has a tendency for melodrama, which I’m not the first to point out.
Of course, these one-note melodies aren’t unique to Taylor. As one of Western music’s first recorded forms, Gregorian chant featured an unusually high degree of monotony.
A musicologist who studied one-note melodies explained that “a lot of that had to do with understanding the text—because this is a religious text, and they want people to understand the words that they’re singing.”
In his opinion, “that’s a crucial consideration in our present pop tunes,” he concluded. A lot of it may have to do with what you’re saying.
Remove the word “may” from the sentence. Taylor is adamant that we pay attention to what she has to say.
In 2014, she told Billboard, “I wouldn’t be a vocalist if I weren’t a songwriter.” To sign someone else’s words is not something I am interested in doing.