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Jun. 18 2010 - 6:03 pm | 574 views | 0 recommendations | 10 comments

Is Taylor Swift such a great songwriter?

NEW YORK - JUNE 17: (L-R) Honorees Leonard Coh...

Swift and the big guns: Cohen (left) and Martin Bandier of the Songwriters Hall of Fame

At 20, Taylor Swift already seems to have done it all. If she has an early draft of her bucket list, I can’t imagine what would be on it — at least as far as her career is concerned.

Score hit singles? Done. Record multiplatinum albums? Done. Crossover to movies? Done. (Though Valentine’s Day is no Lady Sings the Blues, or Moonstruck.) Host Saturday Night Live? Done. (Hey, it only took Betty White 88 years!) Share a stage with Kanye West? Done. Be romantically linked to John Mayer, Taylor Lautner and a Jonas Brother and get tons of free publicity for it. Done, done and done. Earlier this year, she even won the Album of the Year Grammy Award for Fearless,  her second album. That’s a prize many legends wait a lifetime to earn (see 2009’s co-winner, Robert Plant) – and often never do (see Bruce Springsteen). To Swift’s credit, she seemed to totally grasp the gravity of the situation, the enormity of the moment, during her acceptance speech.

Now this. Last night the Songwriters Hall of Fame paid tribute to Paul Simon and Phil Collins, while inducting Leonard Cohen, Bob Marley, Laura Nyro and Jackie DeShannon, among others. All are completely deserving honorees, give or take a Phil Collins, who is already in the Hall of Fame and was further accoladed with the Johnny Mercer Award. As much as I love “Take Me Home” and “I Missed Again,” I’m not sure if either Collins hit, or any Collins hit, has been as timeless and/or influential as Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (recipient of  the Towering Song Award), Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” Nyro’s “Eli’s Coming” or DeShannon’s “Bette Davis Eyes,” but they were well crafted — and they were huge. Swift, meanwhile, was given the Hal David Starlight Award, which honors promising young writers.

Think about this for a moment. Not only does Swift get to share an evening with Simon and Cohen, but she gets an award named after the man who wrote a string of classic pop singles, including “I Say a Little Prayer,” “This Guy’s in Love With You,” and the Oscar-winning “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” with Burt Bacharach. Does she deserve it? Consider this:

She wears high heels, I wear sneakers/She’s Cheer Captain, and I’m on the bleachers/Dreaming about the day when you wake up and find/That what you’re looking for has been here the whole time.”

That’s a snippet from Swift’s signature song (so far), “You Belong With Me.” To these ears, it’s not exactly “The Sounds of Silence,” a Simon & Garfunkel classic that became a hit when Simon was only about four years older than Swift is now, but as an example of modern songwriting, those lyrics are significant for two reasons. First, not only do they speak to girls of a certain age, the ones who hold Swift up as a role model, someone to admire and aspire to, but for older folks like myself, they contain eloquent and universal enough sentiments to make us go, “Oh, yeah. I’ve been there, too.” Well said.

The other reason is because in a genre where few of the biggest stars, especially the women, write their own material, it’s nice to see a rising superstar who doesn’t have to depend on the kindness — and talent — of strangers for her biggest hits. Whether anything Swift has done will have the staying power of “Jolene” or “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton (to name one of the few trailblazing female singer-songwriters in country), or even Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!,” remains to be seen. But at least now she has something else to work toward.


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  1. collapse expand

    Question: Did Debbie Gibson — who, I believe, was the youngest person to ever produce, write and record a No. 1 record — ever receive such accolades? When was the last time that someone so young in their career was so honored?

    • collapse expand

      Yes, at the time Debbie was the youngest. Though I can’t imagine who would have broken the record, I’m not sure it still holds. Keep in mind that for all Debbie’s success, she was never embraced by the industry the way Taylor has been. She was more an audience favorite than a critical or industry favorite. As for the age thing, I can’t think of anyone who had been so honored before reaching legal drinking age. Even Stevie Wonder didn’t really become Stevie Wonder until he was in his 20s.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    Swift is obviously a very appealing media and industry darling, which trumps merit as a rule these days. And maybe because successful young recording artists that actually write their own songs are so rare that that the Hall was in a pinch for an honoree. I’m not sure what my point is other than the bar has been raised for Swift beyond what she can reasonably accomplish if her output to date is any indication. And I like her. I hope she has the strength and independence to be genuine as she matures.

  3. collapse expand

    “The Sounds of Silence” is not the right comparison. You should be looking at “The Lone Teen Ranger,” which Simon recorded under the name Jerry Landis when he was about the same age as Taylor Swift.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZ-EOO1hpiQ

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Simon#Early_life_and_career

    I don’t know Swift’s songs well enough to pass judgment one way or the other.

  4. collapse expand

    Because her soundalike Lisa Loeb had glasses and a little less strength of metabolism?

    Swift is a product from the Matrix, not an artist. If she really, really has the ability to write all those wonderfully disposable songs, AND sing/guitar them, AND be thin, what’s to diss?

  5. collapse expand

    Taylor Swift, NO. Period. End of Story. She was a media sensation, and did not desire or earn her way in. It was a way for the media companies to exploit you money. Period. Come on Paul Simon, LAURA NYRO.

    Really??

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