The Swiftboating Of Taylor

In the wake of Taylor Swift’s disastrous performance at the Grammy Awards last month a few reactions were entirely predictable:

1. The blogosphere would be electric with condemnations of Ms. Swift. It was.

2. Bob Lefsetz would be immediate with a reaction in his Lefsetz Letter (, a blog widely read and commented upon by veteran music business insiders (musicians, technicians and business people alike) who mostly cheer on its author, a former music business attorney, as he gleefully eviscerates the major labels for being the architects of their own despair and points out what he feels artists are and are not doing right in trying to work around the music biz apparatus. As many of his correspondents have pointed out, on any given day Lefsetz sounds out of his mind, out of touch, terminally bitter and/or visionary. One thing for sure: Lefsetz is not afraid of the bold stroke. In Ms. Swift's case, he duly castigated her woeful, tuneless duet with Stevie Nicks and then declared her washed up, comparing her self-destruction with that of Billy Squier, whose career Lefsetz claims was sunk when the musician appeared in a late '80s video wearing a pink tank top.

3. The New York Times would follow up with a loving, there-there apologia for Ms. Swift, citing technical problems in the artist's monitor mix as the cause of her wayward search for the right note. It did, and also took a gratuitous shot at Ms. Nicks for having "vocal problems of her own," although it appears Ms. Nicks's was thrown off her game by trying to harmonize with someone singing in no known key.

4. Scott Borchetta, the CEO of Ms. Swift's label, Big Machine Records, would issue a spirited defense of his artist, as he did and properly so, given the intense incoming fire strafing the company's mealticket. Calling Ms. Swift "the best communicator we've got" (to quote the robber who was dispatched early on by Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force, "Who is we, sucka?"), Mr. Borchetta pointed out the inevitability of anyone having a bad night but arguing for critics missing the larger point of the artist's success: "She is the voice of this generation. She speaks directly to her fans and they speak directly back to her." He too cited technical problems-"a volume problem in the ear"-for undermining the performance, then returned to bashing critics for "doing the classic thing that critics do of building something up and then wanting to tear it down." (Presumably the NY Times is exempt from this diatribe.) He also invited anyone who hasn't seen Ms. Swift in concert to attend a show as his guest. Since this publication cannot even wrangle a Taylor Swift CD for review, we may take up Mr. Borchetta on his offer so we can judge for ourselves.

Well, Mr. Borchetta and other Swift defenders are right: anyone can have a bad night. But this argument would be more effective if Ms. Swift had not tanked a performance on Saturday Night Live last year. However, the Lefstez notion that Taylor Swift’s career is over is baloney—pure Swiftboating, you might say—and Mr. Borchetta is right on the money (literally and figuratively) in pointing out the generational bond between artist and contemporaries. Her many millions of coming-of-age fans are not abandoning ship any time soon, as her next album will likely prove. (In passing, let us note how, after viewing The Who’s so-so halftime performance at the Super Bowl, Mr. Lefsetz declared classic rock “dead,” which proclamation produced an almost equal number of “right on!” and profane “WTF, you grumpy old crank???” reader responses. His dismissals of Ms. Swift, Mr. Squier and the Who, or rather classic rock, were really small potatoes compared to his vicious, unwarranted broadsides against U.S. Olympian Lindsey Vonn. See (

Last we looked the world has not stopped turning, Taylor Swift is doing fine (by all accounts her post-Grammys tour of Australia was a roaring success) and Billy Squier is quite active on the road and elsewhere (his website reports October 2009 sales data showing him with the #2 highest selling song for Guitar Hero 5, “The Stroke,” the #11 song with “Everybody Wants You,” and the Billy Squier Pack at #3—all of which is very good for someone whose career ended about twenty years ago, according to some sources). As far as this publication is concerned, we wish Ms. Swift well but will continue to explore the unfolding wonders of Melody Gardot’s music. At 25 only five years older than Ms. Swift, Ms. Gardot offers a more compelling personal story, a lyrical touch revealing an understanding of love and heartbreak worthy of one with far more life experience in matters of the heart, and a compelling musical intellect informing her unerring instinct for blending classic pop, jazz and a hint of Latin into an intoxicating musical brew. She’s built to last. But that’s us. Now Scott, about those tickets… –-David McGee

Melody Gardot, ‘Baby, I’m a Fool,’ Sept. 25, 2009, on the Norwegian/Swedish talk show Skavlan. Kenneth Pendergast on guitar, Charles Staab on drums.

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