Musician Damon Albarn claimed in an LA Instances interview that singer/songwriter Taylor Swift didn’t write her personal songs. Taylor Swift does in truth write her personal songs and instructed Albarn so in no unsure phrases on Twitter. Her followers additionally identified, appropriately, that Albarn was being a sexist jerk, and plenty of of Swift’s collaborators identified that Albarn didn’t know what he was speaking about. Albarn apologized, saying he had been taken out of context, which he had not, actually. So he appeared doubly ridiculous.
A lot of the dialog round Albarn’s feedback has targeted, understandably, on the truth that Tayor Swift does in truth write her personal songs so WTF, Damon?
However it’s additionally price asking why songwriting is so necessary within the first place. What’s validating about songwriting? Why are artists who write songs imagined to be extra necessary, or extra worthwhile than those that don’t? The reply I believe is said to how gender and race and style are leveraged to confer vital acclaim on some (like Albarn) whereas dismissing others (like Swift.)
To begin, it’s price going again to the LA Instances interview to see how the subject of Swift’s songwriting got here up. Damon Albarn was speaking about his new solo album, and the way he’s going to play a few of the tunes on piano with a string part at Walt Disney Live performance Corridor. Albarn argues that doing a live performance on a piano is harder than doing a live performance with a rock band. Then he says that almost all musicians immediately are counting on “the sound and the angle.” As a fan of punk, I’m unsure what the issue with sound and angle is strictly, however in any case, the convo continued:
[Interviewer Mikael Wood] You assume quite a lot of trendy musicians are counting on sound and angle?
Albarn: Title me somebody who’s not.
She will not be to your style, however Taylor Swift is a wonderful songwriter.
She doesn’t write her personal songs.
In fact she does. Co-writes a few of them.
That doesn’t rely. I do know what co-writing is. Co-writing may be very completely different to writing. I’m not hating on anyone, I’m simply saying there’s a giant distinction between a songwriter and a songwriter who co-writes. Doesn’t imply that the result can’t be actually nice. And a few of the biggest singers — I imply, Ella Fitzgerald by no means wrote a track in her life.
It is an enchanting change as a result of it begins off as being in regards to the high quality of efficiency. Then Wooden switches up and makes it about songwriting. Albarn may at that time have stated he’s not speaking about songwriting (which he wasn’t.) However as a substitute, he doubles down, and insists that since he’s not that into Taylor Swift, she will’t be writing her personal songs, or is just a “co-writer” (Lennon/McCartney are very confused at this level.) Then he realizes he’s speaking via his posterior and tries to retreat by acknowledging that Ella Fitzgerald existed and was fairly cool.
Fitzgerald wasn’t alone, in fact. Lots of the biggest, most influential musicians in well-liked music weren’t prolific songwriters or didn’t write songs in any respect. Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Billie Vacation, Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, Diana Ross, are well-known for his or her singing, and composing songs solely sometimes if in any respect. After which there’s classical music, during which composers and performers are largely distinct teams. Does Albarn assume Yo-Yo Ma is one way or the other getting by on sound and angle?
Standard music was once extra like classical. There have been composers, like Gershwin, Cole Porter, Lieber/Stoller, Holland/Dozier/Holland. After which there have been the performers like Bing Crosby, Sarah Vaughan, the Coasters, the Supremes. For many of the early 20th century, nobody would have confused efficiency and songwriting as Wooden and Albarn do. The concept that musicians have been one way or the other lesser in the event that they weren’t additionally songwriters merely wouldn’t have made sense in an period of home musicians and canopy songs.
Within the early 60s, although, issues modified. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones additionally carried out covers. However they more and more additionally wrote their very own materials. They weren’t the primary performer/songwriters: Fat Waller, Jimmie Rodgers, Chuck Berry Woody Guthrie and on and on. However by advantage of maximum recognition, the massive three of rock created a brand new commonplace. Songwriters who have been simply songwriters retreated additional into the background, whereas singers who have been simply singers have been seen as much less severe, much less genius-like, much less genuine.
Amongst these much less genius-like performers have been lady teams like The Shirelles, who have been a significant affect on the Beatles. Additionally amongst them have been Dylan-influencing rural musicians of the 20s and 30s like these within the Anthology of American People Music, the place the songwriting credit have been generally unclear or doubtful.
The rise of the singer/songwriter was, then, partially a method to eclipse previous performers who have been much less white, much less male, and fewer prosperous by making a unique type of authenticity declare. The Beatles and the Stones have been British; Dylan was a Jewish child from Minneapolis. They have been enjoying music invented largely by Black and/or rural individuals. If authenticity meant being from the group whose music you have been enjoying, then they weren’t genuine. But when authenticity meant enjoying your personal songs written within the type of somebody you weren’t—then the massive rock bands have been the genuine factor.
The purpose right here isn’t that The Beatles have been inauthentic. The purpose isn’t that singer/songwriters like Howlin’ Wolf, Nina Simone, or Stevie Marvel are inauthentic. The purpose is that authenticity isn’t genuine. It’s a advertising instrument and a manner for critics and musicians to say a privileged relationship to fact, magnificence, and greatness. Nice singer/songwriters are nice, however we’ve determined they’re extra genuine than simply singers for specific historic and cultural causes which have little to do with high quality, quite a bit to do with fame and style, and perhaps one thing to do with racism and sexism.
As rock has pale and misplaced industrial floor to hip hop, electronica, and producer-heavy post-disco pop, the singer/songwriter has ceased to be a central focus of critics or audiences. A track with a visitor rapper, a pattern, and a crew of producers might need 5 or 6 songwriters listed, generally together with the primary artist and generally not. Many critics have acknowledged that bewailing that is foolish. If it took fifteen writers to create Beyoncé’s “Maintain Up,” solely one among whom is the singer, then we must always have extra songs with fifteen writers, I say. However some individuals—like Albarn, who doesn’t assume co-writing is actual writing—are nostalgic for that temporary period when individuals thought being Bob Dylan was the one true path to genuine creative high quality.
There are nonetheless actually pop singers who write the majority of their very own materials with solely a collaborator or two, like Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo. And they need to get credit score for that, as a result of artists ought to get credit score for the artwork they make. However Wooden and Albarn’s complicated dialog additionally exhibits why it’s well past time to cease conflating musical expertise or authenticity with a singer/songwriter mannequin that at all times minimized many nice performers for dangerous causes.
This publish was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.