Like Shania Twain before her, Taylor Swift has always walked a fine line between country and pop. On her new single, the wordy “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, the 22-year-old finally throws the banjo out the window for good and aims for her big Dolly Parton “Here You Come Again” pop moment.
With Max Martin and his cohort Shellback in tow, Taylor channels Avril Lavigne over a synthetic concoction of bubblegum acoustics and crunchy drums. Max & Shellback are masters of the hook-song, and the duo certainly deliver the goods here with an anthemic sing-a-long chorus that was clearly designed with radio in mind. With that said, it’s still got nothing on the plucky instrumental hook from Max & Shellback’s first country diva collaboration, Carrie Underwood’s “Quitter”.
Lyrically, Tay-Tay’s back on the topic of boys again, but this time there’s some cheeky playfulness to her delivery. “Never Ever” isn’t another self-pitying tale of heartbreak, and the melancholy undercurrent present in most of her country-pop hits is gone. That’s not exactly a good thing. While it’s nice to see Taylor not playing the victim card and trying to have a little fun in one of her breakup songs for once, the whole thing feels a little vapid, juvenile, and even boring at times.
Taylor’s sophomore album Fearless brought you back to your school days and reminded you what it was like to fall in love for the first time, while Speak Now and her recent contribution to The Hunger Games soundtrack contained more depth than was expected and showed that America’s Sweetheart was capable of more than just teen melodrama. “Never Ever” does neither. It’s soulless, and while still enjoyable in a completely innocuous way, it’s a big step back artistically (commercially, not so much). With its blatantly Taylor-esque title and tongue-in-cheek indie dissing, it’d be nice to call “Never Ever” both a self-parody and a clever dig at the critics who label Swift’s shtick one-note, but it’s not that smart. It’s all about getting a hit on the Hot 100 and reeling in the pop fans who recoil at even the faintest hint of country music–nothing more, and nothing less.
Taylor’s always been deceptively calculated, but it’s never been as shamelessly obvious as it is now. She’s temporarily traded the heart behind her music in for a good time, and she’s gotten the raw end of the deal. If she sold her soul for “That Don’t Impress Me Much” or even “Party in the U.S.A.” I could understand, but “Never Ever” is miles away from the perfection of those pop gems.
Still, there’s some fun to be had in “Never Ever…” if you look really, really hard, and it’s still superior to 90% of today’s radio-fodder (although, that’s not exactly hard to achieve). Plus, can you imagine if Taylor hadn’t released this song? We’d all be complaining about what a stupid move it was not to release such a surefire smash as Red‘s lead single, even though the rest of the album will most-likely contain much better, albeit less hit-worthy material.
Some will love this, some won’t notice it until the radio’s raped them with it, and others, like myself, will just wait for the album to arrive. That’s where all the good stuff’s (hopefully) gonna be.