Tuesday, 10 November 2009

You Belong With Me: Greatest Pop Song of the Decade?

You're on the phone with your girlfriend, She's upset
She's going off about something that you said
She doesnt get your humour like I do

I'm in the room, its a typical Tuesday night
I'm listening to the kind of music she doesnt like
And she'll never know your story like I do

But she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts
She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers
Dreaming bout the day when you'll wake up and find
That what you're lookin for has been here the whole time

If you could see that I'm the one who understands you
Been here all along so why can't you see?
You belong with me
You belong with me

Walkin the streets with you in your worn out jeans
I cant help thinking this is how it ought to be
Laughing on the park bench thinkin to myself
Hey isnt this easy?

And you've got a smile that could light up this whole town
I havent seen it in awhile, since she brought you down
You say you find I know you better than that
Hey, Whatcha doing with a girl like that?

She wears high heels, I wear sneakers
She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers
Dreaming bout the day when you'll wake up and find
That what you're looking for has been here the whole time

If you could see that I'm the one who understands you
Been here all along so why can't you see?
You belong with me

Standin by, waiting at your back door
All this time how could you not know that?
You belong with me
You belong with me

Oh I remember you driving to my house in the middle of the night
I'm the one who makes you laugh when you know you're about to cry
I know your favorite songs and you tell me about your dreams
I think I know where you belong. I think I know it's with me.

Can't you see that I'm the one who understand you?
Been here all along so why can't you see?
You belong with me

Standing by or waiting at your back door
All this time how could you not know that
You belong with me
You belong with me

Have you ever thought just maybe
You belong with me
You belong with me

The greatest gift of pop music is the ability of a song to transport the listener to a specific time and place, and to capture a specific emotion. Or indeed to summarise every thought and emotion that’s been swelling up inside you, and perfectly place into three and a half minutes of utter perfection. Such is the case with You Belong With Me

Its simple premise is entirely universal. Taylor loves her friend who is dating another girl who may or may not be the right one for him. Taylor is pining away for her friend who refuses to see what she does. This is classic Unresolved Sexual Tension (URST) popularized by a series of teen melodramas I have come to know and love. What makes the song so special though is the evocative detail throughout.

Pop Critic Jonathon Bradley neatly captures songs greatness by describing Taylor’s great gift for a sense of time and place:

Swift’s songwriting talent is nothing short of incredible. Though it seems to be effortlessly constructed, You Belong With Me is loaded with precise but lightly drawn observations, capturing great depths of character and motivation in a few lines. Her approach is diaristic; the song starts on “a typical Tuesday night,” which means little except that Swift seems to have a fixation with Tuesdays; in Forever and Always, she describes meeting a boy on “I believe it was a Tuesday.” The repetition across her oeuvre of these motifs (she is also fond of kissing in the rain) suits the obsessive close reading of relationship turmoil at the heart of nearly all her songs.

On this particular typical Tuesday, she’s hanging out in her crush’s bedroom while he argues on the phone with his girlfriend. It’s so natural you could miss how perfectly revealing it is: who else but a high school boy would force his guest to hang around listening to his relationship’s dirty laundry? Later on, Swift captures the giddy thrill of spending time with someone you adore with a few offhand remarks about “worn out jeans” and an amazed sigh of “hey, isn’t this easy?” But I fear the title and the (adorable) video get it wrong: The boy in question does not actually belong with Swift. Listen to her audible inhalation at 2:47, when her breath catches in her throat before she piles on the reasons her object of affection should be with her — Taylor knows his favorite songs, his dreams — delivering them in a rushed, too-insistent torrent, in case he should dare interrupt her with the horrible truth that love is not a legality to be argued in a courtroom, and each certainty of which Swift has convinced herself probably means nothing at all. This is the sound of a girl fighting against the gradual realization that she’s stuck in the friend zone, but it’s also the work of a truly impressive

Its more than a standard love triangle, this is a battle for heart disguised with a sweet melody. We see the story unfold from Taylor’s perspective, the heartbreak, the longing, the obsession. We can all identify with that. But it’s the couplet of /She wears high heels, I wear sneakers/ She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers/ Dreaming bout the day when you'll wake up and find/That what you're looking for has been here the whole time/ that packs the emotional wallop. Despite the fact that Taylor Swift is probably the most popular artist in the world today, she is the outsider and she is looking for validation. This turns the whole song on its head.

Chart pop of this decade has relied on female artists taking on a position of power. From Christina Aguilera to Pink, to Britney Spears songs have mostly been about the female carving out their place in the world as a form of empowerment. Rarely do they play the role of the outsider unless it is in a sexually submissive sense. Critics have argued that You Belong With Me creates a situation which suggests that it is okay to pine, and to wait, and to dream, and to wish for the unattainable. Why is this a bad thing?

You Belong With Me should stand in the pantheon of great pop music. It is arguably the greatest song of its kind of the decade. Strip away the persona of Taylor Swift's celebrity and its possible to liken her to the great singer songwriters of yesteryear. You Belong With Me not only captures the feelings of millions of others in the past, present and future, but it sounds if the song could have been written by me alone in my bedroom late at night. The essence of pop music is to make the exceeding complicated deceptively simple. Taylor Swift makes me wish I was a great songwriter, and while I lack her extraordinary talent I’m more than happy for her musical prowess to help me along my own fractured emotional journey.

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