On Taylor Swift And The Bizarre Rise Of The Lyric Video


Look what you made us do

Pop has always had a pretty laissez-faire attitude toward language. See: "lovely lady lumps," to "cakes left out in the rain," to "sex on fire," and things "crumbling like pastries." Where in some other genres, the songwriter is held up as a focal point of the music, his or her lyrics guiding the meaning, in pop, the role of the songwriter is a little more nebulous. People crease their foreheads at the idea of a song having a multitude of songwriters, and so there is often a disconnect between the singer and what’s being said. As a result, we can more readily forgive strange turns of phrase, shrouded as they are in other things. Hooks, melodies, choruses, production—these are the things we love about pop music, not so much the lyrics.

However, it feels as though the tide is shifting; with the emergence of the lyric video as an element of the release cycle, words are taking on more importance. The form has been gaining traction for a few years—this article from 2014 breaks it down nicely, showing that, amongst other things, Vevo increased the number of lyric videos in its library from fewer than 400 in 2012, to five times as many in 2014. There are economical reasons for this, with lyric videos being cheaper and quicker to produce than regular music videos. There’s also the argument that lyric videos are, in effect, replacing liner notes, but also, maybe we just care more now. In the past, we have been detached from our pop stars, worshipping them as unknowable idols. Now we are invested, engaged, and ready to find the meaning in everything. The lyric video plays into that. 

Now, before we start, it’s worth pointing out the elephant in the room: All lyric videos look like the Oompa Loompa interludes in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Whether it’s Ed Sheeran’s "Shape of You," all slick and psychedelic with lots of different visual references, or this new one for folk-punk troubadour Billy Bragg, which looks more like it’s been done quickly and on the cheap, they are all, essentially, colored words explaining that Violet Beauregarde has just turned into a blueberry. Bob Dylan’s "Subterranean Homesick Blues" has been cited as an early adopter of the form, but it only gives you certain words—sometimes the wrong ones even—so no, it’s definitely the Oompa Loompas. (To be clear: The defining influence on the visuals of pop music in 2017 are the Oompa Loompas. Can’t stress that enough.) 

But hey, is their function now all that different? With the Oompa Loompas, they were surmising and condensing a weird, slightly-macabre-for-a-kids-film narrative into a short skit, recapping what happened so we didn’t get lost in the story. In the case of Taylor Swift’s "Look What You Made Me Do," it’s the same thing. 

Taylor had to catch us up on the public acclaim she received in the wake of 1989, her beef with Katy Perry, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian, the backlash against her as a result of Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, and a whole thing with snakes. She could never come back with a song that was just “a song.” Nor could she put something out that touched on wider cultural issues, like Beyoncé did with Lemonade. That’s not who she is. The lyric video, then, is a perfect match for her brand of soap opera pop. Scrawled lyrics juxtaposed with loaded, Easter egg-laden visuals further invite us to read the music like a diary. In a recent VICE article—and also, in many other places—Taylor is referred to as “first and foremost, a businesswoman,” but that’s not true. Taylor is, first and foremost, a country singer, schooled in the “three-chords-and-the-truth” Gospel of Nashville. Her songs have always been autobiographical, or at least, we are always invited to read her songs as autobiographical. Not blessed with a phenomenal vocal range or, really, particularly inventive melodic structures, her songs stand or fall on their lyrics, not in their poetry, but literally the meaning that can be derived from them. 

This is interesting in terms of where art and culture are at as a whole right now. To use a phrase coined by British artists Luke Turner and Nastja Rönkkö, best known for collaborating with Shia Labeouf on #AllMyMovies and #Introductions, we have moved toward an era of metamodernism. In this BuzzFeed interview with Turner, metamodernism is summed up as “collapsing distance, rejecting the cool detachment of postmodernism and instead embracing emotion.” Turner goes on to describe the term, saying, “I think it’s just articulating what our generation intuitively understands, the cultural mode we’re existing in, that purely irony and deconstruction are no longer useful in moving forward. I would argue it’s the dominant mode in which artists of our generation are working today.” It’s in these parameters that the rise of the lyric video is best understood. 

By foregrounding the lyrics of a song, particularly when the song is first released, you are foregrounding the author, and I would argue also defining the author as the singer, thereby ignoring the frankly very boring debate around how many songwriters appear on a particular track. Given that audiences consume music, all art, now in a hyper-engaged way, this opens up a dialogue of meaning and interpretation. By aligning this to the kind of visual language the internet is fluent in—memes, emojis, etc.—the meaning is bolstered further, and the text becomes richer. Where post-modernism killed the author, metamodernism has resurrected it. To borrow again from Turner: “In a metamodern world I compare the author to Schrödinger's cat... simultaneously dead and alive.” 

While this kind of artistic environment is exactly what allows pop stars like Swift to thrive, it also raises the stakes even higher. One thing Swift has been criticized for is an apparent refusal to become engaged in American politics, her stance seen as a tacit endorsement of Donald Trump. Some have argued that the stance is a business decision, but surely Taylor is far too big to suffer the same fate that the Dixie Chicks did when they spoke out against George Bush in 2003, effectively ostracizing themselves from the mainstream country scene. Where her contemporaries have at the very least spoken out against Trump, and in the cases of a huge amount of hip-hop, hewn their work with a sharper, political edge, Taylor hasn’t allowed world events to throw off the narrative of her output. In a metamodern world, this refusal to engage isn’t good enough—your silence becomes filled in by your audience. The consequence of drawing attention to what’s being said is that we also see exactly what’s not being said. 

Photos by Joe Maher/Getty Images, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TIME

Must have been pretty awkward

Taylor Swift and Sophie Turner were guests on the U.K.'s The Graham Norton Show together, which must have been awkward for Turner's husband, Joe Jonas, seeing as he also happens to be Swift's ex. I wonder if his name came up?

The interview doesn't come out until Friday night, but promotional photos show the two sharing a couch. Swift is making an appearance to perform her new single, "ME!" while Turner is promoting her new film, X- Men: Dark Phoenix. But it seems necessary for the two to be asked about Jonas.

Swift was just on the Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month, where she brought up the fact that she felt bad for putting Jonas "on blast" on DeGeneres' show back in 2008 by telling the audience that he broke up with her in a record-setting short phone call. But, according to Swift, she and Jonas are chill now, since it happened pretty long ago, which means she's probably already hung out with Turner and maybe even gossiped about him with her.

We can only hope that they get the chance to spill some tea on television.

Screenshot via YouTube, Photo Courtesy of HBO

"That's! His! Auntie!"

Leslie Jones has rewatched the Game of Thrones finale with a beer in hand, Seth Meyers at her side, and a full camera crew ready to take in all her glorious reactions. Spoilers ahead, but, if you haven't watched last week's episode already, that's kind of on you at this point.

When Jon Snow started to make out with Daenerys, also known as his aunt, only to stab her through the chest moments later, it was emotional whiplash for everyone watching. And, Jones' reactions—both from her first and second viewing—sum it all perfectly.

"That's! His! Auntie! [gagging noises]," Jones says before making an aside about calling the police if her uncle ever tried to do the same. But then the knife goes in, and Jones screams. "Did you see that?!" Jones asks, "Yeah bitch, that's a knife in you." Meyers points out the funniest part of all: "Why are you so upset about someone kissing their aunt but totally fine with someone killing their aunt?" Jones replies, "Because that bitch needed to go," and, well, same.

Other highlights from the comedians' rewatch include comparing Dany's victory speech to a bad improv gig, predicting that their dogs would have less of a reaction to their deaths than Drogon did to his mother's, and more.

Watch all of Jones' reactions from this Late Night clip below.

Game of Jones: Leslie Jones and Seth Watch Game of Thrones' Series Finale


These lyrics are a lot

Robbie Tripp, aka Curvy Wife Guy, is back with a music video, titled "Chubby Sexy," starring his wife and a trio of models. In it, Tripp raps about his bold choice to find women with an average body size attractive.

The video begins with a series of statements laid over some pool water: "Curves are the new high fashion," "Chubby is the new sexy," "We Out Here." Tripp posits that these queens deserve an anthem, which they do. What they do not deserve is this Cursed Song. As he lists all the names he knows to call them by (thick, thicc, and BBW), one model (who I really, really hope was paid well) squirts some lotion down her cleavage, and Tripp begins dancing.

"My girl chubby sexy/ Call her bonita gordita," Tripp states in his chorus, before going on to compare "big booty meat" to the peach emoji. Another thing he mentions is that his wife can't find a belt that fits her waist, and that's why he calls her James and the Giant Peach. He then tries to dab. Here are some of the other Cursed highlights from his, uh, verses:

Got those Khaleesi curves/ Knows how to dragon slay
She like a dude that's woke/ We like a girl that's weighty
Some say a chubby girl that's risky/ But they ain't met a curvy girl that's frisky
Imma dunk that donk like I'm Andrew Wiggins.
Thick like an Amazon/ Built like Big Ben.

Tripp says one thing in the video that I couldn't agree more with: "She don't need a man." No, she does not. Please run. If you must, watch the entire video, below. Or send it to your nemesis!

Robbie Tripp - Chubby Sexy (Official Music Video)

Asset 7
Photo by Emma McIntyre / Getty Images.

See the promo here

It was bound to happen. The Kadashians and Jenners have committed themselves to letting the cameras roll on their lives, for better or for worse. So if you thought that the Jordyn Woods and Tristan Thompson cheating scandal was off limits, you thought wrong. The trailer for Sunday's episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians was just released, and it involves the famous family working through the fallout of what happened when Woods went to a party at Thompson's house.

The teaser includes the infamous clip of Khloé Kardashian screaming "LIAAAARRRRRR." It's still not explicitly clear who prompted that strong response. She could be responding to Thompson, who clearly isn't always honest. Or she could be reacting to Woods account of the events on Red Table Talk. But the most revealing moment comes when we see Kylie Jenner—who was Woods' best friend before all of this happened—react for the first time.

In a heart-to-heart conversation, momager Kris Jenner says, "For you and Jordyn, it's like a divorce." Kylie only offers this in response: "She fucked up." Based on Woods' version of events—which I'm inclined to believeThompson is the one who fucked up. Still, I'm hoping for some kind of reconciliation between the two longtime friends. Perhaps we'll have to wait until next season for that.

Check out the promo video below.

Photo by Michael Gottschalk/Getty Images for Topshop Topman

We'll miss you

According to Business Insider, Topshop will close multiple Topshop and Topman locations in a step to avoid bankruptcy, including all 11 of its U.S. stores. In total, 23 stores will be shuttered globally.

This decision follows Topshop's recent filing for bankruptcy in the U.S., and a string of controversies surrounding the chairman of Topshop and Topman, Sir Philip Green. Last year, Green was investigated for sexual assaulting and racially abusing employees. Business Insider notes that though the brand thought it would fare much better in the States, it has not grown as quickly here as it expected. This is likely due to the successes of less expensive U.K.-based online retailers like ASOS.

Topshop stores first arrived here in 2009, and were met with crowds and excitement—for a time. The brand's dwindling success in the U.S. and declining revenue globally has been chalked up to a "challenging retail environment, changing consumer habits, and increased online competition," according to Ian Grabiner, the CEO of Topshop's parent company, Arcadia Group.

Arcadia Group is also submitting a restructuring plan for approval, which would involve negotiating lower rents for its shops and cutting pensions for employees in half. These proposals have not gone into effect yet. Grabiner said that the restructure and closings are a "tough but necessary decision for the business."

If you live in the U.S., you'll still be able to shop from the retailer online and at its wholesalers, such as Nordstrom—but it won't be the same as stepping into its stores.