This week 24-year old pop superstar and New York Global Ambassador Taylor Swift dropped 1989, her highly anticipated fifth studio album. I like it. It is a great album. Catchy, polished, well-crafted song writing. I’ve been listening to it a lot.
There’s a ton of good stuff here. “Blank Space,” “Style,” “All You Had to Do Was Stay,” are the best kind of earworms. Even “Shake it Off” is infectious (like Ebola, according to one friend). And “New Romantics” ends the record on a strong note. Nearly every song is a pop music banger.
But really I just want to talk about this album opener, “Welcome to New York.”
This song is absolutely grating.
It is but one more addition to a long list of paeans to the Big Apple. It instantly recalls New York’s last great anthem (which is already a half-decade old). Of course I’m talking about Jay Z’s 2009 hit, “Empire State of Mind.” The first time I heard it I detested it. It was mawkish and cloying, faux-inspirational. Grantland’s Alex Pappademas put it best:
It’s Jay’s sentimental streak teaming up with his bottomless cynicism to beat you over the head with a foam Yankees no. 1 finger full of silver dollars. It’s not a song, it’s a Statue of Liberty keychain, a double-decker bus tour of famous crack spots that ends at Magnolia Cupcakes, a silver shovel throwing dirt on a mass grave full of poor people.
It’s almost as if he knew he’d be performing it at the World Series as he wrote it. But somehow I came around on “Empire.” Maybe because it’s catchy. And maybe because even though this song is basically a tourism board approved jingle, it does have subversive references to stash spots, drug dealing and at least acknowledges that everything isn’t all good in the city and hey, McDonald’s!
And while Jay hits you with a cynical radio jab, Taylor commits her own act of violence here. Though her weapon of choice is a sledgehammer of naive optimism whacking you flush on your right temple. No one doubts Taylor’s sincerity. It’s not hard to imagine Swift fresh off her plane from Nashville, hopping in her
cab limo and finishing writing this song before the end of her ride from JFK to her new apartment down in TriBeCa.
And melody-wise, the song isn’t half bad. But really, the rub comes at the chorus:
Welcome to New York
Welcome to New York
It’s been waiting for you!
This is a lie. New York most certainly has not been waiting for you. In fact, New York City does not give a single solitary fuck if you come there or not. New York does not care about you. It was there (and great) hundreds of years before you and it will likely be there (and great) long after your bones are resting in the cold hard ground. I moved from New York 18 months ago and so far I haven’t received one phone call from New York asking me to come back because it misses me.
Presuming that New York has been waiting for you is like me crashing a party at Beyonce’s house and then apologizing to everyone there for being late.
This song is practically unrecognizable to a rapidly increasing size of New York’s population. It certainly isn’t recognizable to me. This is not Chinatown Bus music. This is not broken radiator music. This is not fifth floor walk-up music. This is not rent court music. It’s not even empty out your savings account to cover your broker fee because your student loan money hasn’t come in yet music. No, this is post-Sex and the City, pre-Great Recession music.
It’s not the New York of the overeducated and underemployed. If that’s the New York you’re looking for, you want Awkwafina’s “NYC Bitche$,” the anti- “Welcome to New York.”
No, “Welcome to New York” is a romantic song devoid of any allusion to struggle. Since its release last week a lot of writers and creative types have panned it, which isn’t surprising. Because if anyone knows what it’s like to struggle in New York City, it’s a writer or creative type. But this song isn’t for them. It was penned by someone who’s moved there after already experiencing wild success; someone who’s sold over 30 million albums worldwide and stands to earn $64 million in 2014, alone.
But no matter how much I hate this song, we all know how this ends. In ten years, you’ll hear it playing over a montage from Central Park West, the 100 million dollar grossing rom-com starring a rehabilitated Amanda Bynes. And then Swift plays it to a sold out Citi Field when the Mets make the World Series.
Of course I’m kidding. The Mets will never make the World Series. Then again, anything is possible in Taylor Swift’s New York.