The Back Page: Backstreet Boys And Girls

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We’ve been had. OK, I’ve been had. I shouldn’t speak for you on this important point.

I bought Ryan Adams’ 1989 album in good faith. I’ve liked Adams since Whiskeytown. If he wanted to record and release a full album of Taylor Swift songs, then hell, I was willing to go along for the ride. Adams has been so good for so long, I felt like returning a favor to the guy.

After buying the album and listening to it a few times, I spent a little time online reading some of the reaction that was out there. One of the themes was a sort of feminist resentment to the whole project. The idea was that Swift didn’t need Adams to legitimize her as a songwriter, and that it was offensive for anyone to think he did.

Because I bought the Adams record on iTunes, I never really looked that hard at the credits. I should have. More to the point, those writing righteous feminist takedowns of Adams and his chauvinistic fans should have paid a little more attention to the credits. Because they have been had, too, and a lot more painfully than I was.

This whole thing is really indicative of what has happened to what we used to call music. So, maybe it’s fitting that Taylor Swift is selling millions of copies of her album. Fitting in the sense that if everything that sells is plastic, contrived shit, then the biggest-selling records should be the most plastic and the most contrived shit of all.

Maybe I should have known all about Taylor Swift and her “writing” process, but honestly, I didn’t. It’s funny, too, because I first wrote about this phenomenon years and years ago. I deplored it then and I deplore it now. I just wasn’t paying that much attention to Swift or the way she was being mass-marketed.

The key name here is Max Martin. It is the nom de merde of a Swedish producer whose real name is Karl Martin Sandberg. I first became aware of him when the teenagers in my family were listening to such pop dreck as Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. It was back then, around 2000, that I first wrote about Martin and his methods.

He writes and produces pop hits. That’s what he did then and that’s what he does now. He has written, co-written and/or produced hits for *NSYNC, Kelly Clarkson, Bon Jovi, Pink, Katy Perry and Maroon 5. There are more, but you get the idea. If you’re reading MAGNET because you’re interested in Real Music Alternatives, then Max Martin is the guy producing much of the music that we need alternatives to.

Well, it turns out that the great feminist heroine Taylor Swift “co-wrote” seven of the songs on 1989 with Max Martin. She co-wrote a couple with Ryan Tedder, who is the OneRepublic guy and another of these commercial producers. She co-wrote one with Imogen Heap.

There is exactly one song on the album for which Taylor Swift has a solo writing credit. I cannot say with any certainty that she actually sat down and wrote the song by herself, but she has the credit.

I really don’t care much about that, frankly. If it takes this Swedish hack to churn out the kind of crap that commercial radio will play, then fine. Go for it. It’s going to sound like the 90 percent of contemporary music that will cause me to change the station or turn the radio off immediately.

Except …

Here’s where I feel like I’ve been had. It’s safe to say that Ryan Adams knows full fucking well that those songs were cranked out by Max Martin at his Swedish sausage factory. And yet Adams recorded all the songs on 1989 and released them as a kind of tribute to Swift. And then he has done all kinds of interviews about his connections to the songs and his respect for Swift as a songwriter and, well, bullshit.

Let’s put it as straight as possible: Adams has perpetrated a gross betrayal of every one of his fans who fell for this scam. I know because I’m one of them. Never mind that he’s bringing in songwriting royalties for the guy who churned out “Since U Been Gone” and “I Kissed A Girl.”

But what’s worse is the way Swift has scammed her fans and constituents. These hung-up little brats who scoffed at Adams and his fellow chauvinists because they failed to acknowledge Swift’s talent until it was appropriated by a man? Sorry, but Max Martin and Shellback and Ryan Tedder are all similarly burdened by penises, even if their music doesn’t sound like it.

Taylor Swift as an overhyped pop artist? Fine. Taylor Swift as some feminist icon? Sorry.

We’re really through the looking glass here. Back in 1969 (the year, not the name of some album), Tammy Wynette was criticized by feminists because of her song “Stand By Your Man.” The thing is, Wynette actually wrote “Stand By Your Man” along with Billy Sherrill. She didn’t hire a couple of men to serve as her ventriloquists.

So, Wynette was vilified by feminists while Swift is being championed by feminists. That must make sense to someone.

Maybe Ryan Adams.

—Phil Sheridan