Big Machine Records
Like it or not, Taylor Swift is apparently the confessional female singer/songwriter of her generation. Articles breathlessly describe the "revealing" nature of her work, and report statements she's made like "I continue to write music about my life and my life is always changing" as if no-one had tried such a thing before. And with her third album Speak Now, there's more attention than ever being paid to what she's confessing. Which is entirely predictable: Her life now includes plenty of famous names, including allegedly faithless Disney star Joe Jonas, Twilight heartthrob Taylor Lautner, and tabloid fixture John Mayer. Although Swift is coy in interviews, she leaves plenty of clues as to the identities of her subjects, and never denies that these are the men she's singing about, making listening to Speak Now more like reading an extremely emotional issue of Us Weekly than taking in a new, soon-to-be-hit album.
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Of course, celebrities writing about celebrities is a long-standing tradition. So are attempts to figure out exactly who is the target of each song. Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" was released in 1972; Simon was still releasing "clues" about it early this year, and all we know is that it's not about Mick Jagger, it might be partly about Warren Beatty, and Simon says it has nothing to do with a "David" despite reported confirmation from her representatives that it does. Joni Mitchell attached names to her songs only intermittently; "Willy" is pretty much explicitly about Graham Nash, but according to the biography Girls Like Us, she told one friend that "A Case of You" was about Leonard Cohen, and another that it was about James Taylor. Tori Amos's fans are still trying to figure out the exact nature of her relationship with Trent Reznor, based on a handful of lyrical references and the fact that they seemed close in the mid-90s. Sure, you'll get an occasional Fleetwood Mac, whose Rumors deliberately played with their well-known break-ups and changing alliances.
But Swift makes detecting the identities of her subjects remarkably easy. The girl who once proclaimed that "every single one of the guys that I've written songs about has been tracked down on MySpace by my fans" is including names, professions, and ages in her lyrics, seemingly to ensure that her subjects can be hunted down like dogs, potentially by the media, which participates ever more eagerly in the game of Find the Dirty Laundry. Swift's closest contemporary, in terms of willingness to specify her subjects, might just be (speaking of Trent Reznor) Courtney Love.