Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”: The Platonic Ideal of a Terrible Pop Song?

A few weeks ago, a song came on the radio I hadn’t heard. It was terrible, but really catchy.

I found out later that it was, as you may have guessed based on the title of this article, Taylor Swift’s new opus, “Shake It Off”.

I have heard it many more times since then, and it has wormed its way deep into my brain. So let’s take a deep look at it, and possibly exorcise it from me in the process.

To start with, if you haven’t the heard this song, you clearly have a better choice in radio stations than I do. But here it is, in all its glory.

The whole point of the song is that people talk smack about Swift, but she doesn’t even care. She just shakes it off! She’s so good at not caring and shaking it off that she wrote and performed and released an entire song about it. Not even caring, at all.

What does she not care about? That’s how she starts off the song.

I stay out too late
Got nothing in my brain
That’s what people say, mmm-mmm
That’s what people say, mmm-mmm

I go on too many dates [chuckle]
But I can’t make ’em stay
At least that’s what people say, mmm-mmm
That’s what people say, mmm-mmm

I can’t speak to the first part of this, although this song does not help any argument that she has something in her brain. As to the second part though, going on dates and not being able to make the guy stay is the point of roughly all of her songs. She is famous because she dates guys, then the relationship ends, and then she releases a hit song or album about it. People don’t say this about you, Taylor. You say this about you. All the time.

But if this was just a song featuring a pop star who lacks self awareness, it would hardly be worth mentioning. Except for snide tweets. Still, 140 characters would be about the limit.

But no. We are about to get into the heart of this song’s infectious nature: the chorus.[1]

After asserting that her music lets her know everything will be all right, she gets right to shaking everything off.

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Heart-breakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

This song is a cavalcade of repetition, which is why it will never leave your brain. She repeats words ad infinitum. She repeats the same rhyme sound (the long ‘A’ sound) ad nauseum. And she repeats this chorus throughout the song.

I tried listening to the song just to count the number of times the chorus plays. I got to seventy-two before I realized my nose was bleeding and I was in a place where time and space melted together into non-Euclidean geometry.

I'm pretty sure the power of this song actually transcends time and space, and it went back and hit Salvador Dali full bore. He spent the rest of his life trying to produce the artwork that captured what this song did to him.

I’m pretty sure the power of this song actually transcends time and space, and it went back and hit Salvador Dali full bore. He spent the rest of his life trying to produce the artwork that captured what this song did to him.


I did a word count of “shake”–it appears 79 times in this song.[2] There’s no time-space disruption there. In a four-minute song, Taylor Swift somehow manages to say the word “shake” once every three seconds.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that she intentionally uses the word “fakers” too, obviously as those who fake, fake, fake, fake, fake. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone over the age of 8 use that word, but Swift is all about breaking down barriers.

We are already easily into what makes this song terrible, but Taylor is not content to be generically bad. She is an artist. She’s always raising the stakes.

After the first roughly 34 choruses, we get a quick break for some spoken word.

Hey, hey, hey
Just think while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world,
You could’ve been getting down to this… sick… beat.

And this really is spoken word, not rapping. There’s no rhythm or attempt to stick to a beat or anything like that. She just needs to take a quick break from repeating herself to drop some knowledge on us.

Which is what makes her decision to say “dirty, dirty cheats” so amazing. Calling them cheats isn’t enough. Calling them dirty cheats isn’t enough. They are dirty, dirty cheats. Don’t get down about them. But seriously, they are dirty-dirty, and no one should ever forget about it.

But okay, get down to “this sick beat” instead, which is presumably the beat of the song. Except that right after she exhorts everyone to get down to the sick beat, the music changes completely. And then she raps! Roughly ten seconds of Taylor Swift rapping is basically mana from heaven. Here’s what she raps:

My ex-man brought his new girlfriend
She’s like “Oh, my god!” but I’m just gonna shake.
And to the fella over there with the hella good hair
Won’t you come on over, baby? We can shake, shake, shake

You guys. This is basically the perfect rap. Everyone should stop rapping. The mountain has been climbed; the summit has been reached. Just… just stop trying. You’ll only embarrass yourself in comparison.

I mean, sure, while she’s in the middle of telling everyone to not care about exes and bad things, her ten seconds of rapping is all about her ex bringing a new girl to a party where she is.

And Taylor, sweetie, if you want people to not question your choices when it comes to dating, to not think you go on too many dates but can’t make them stay, maybe be more selective than going for the guy with the hella good hair. I’m not sure how big a factor that should be when picking out a potential date, but I’m quite sure it shouldn’t be the only factor.

Her turn as a rap goddess over, Taylor goes back to telling everyone how much she’s just going to shake it off.

So that’s the song! Remarkable atrociousness in such varied ways. It’s endlessly repetitious to make it catchy. It completely lacks self-awareness. It contradicts itself. It stops itself for a spoken word bit before a rap bit with a completely different melody. I don’t know if it’s parodying itself in the middle of the song, or if it’s all sincere, or what’s going on, but I cannot get enough.

And then there’s the music video. I knew after I’d heard this song a couple times that the video would have to be amazing. There were some fears deep in the dark part of my mind that warned it could just be boring, that it could be a major disappointment. But I knew better.

It does not disappoint.

If you haven’t seen the video–first off, what is wrong with you? It’s right up at the top there!–it features Swift in a variety of dance settings, because the music’s just in her, telling her it’s going to be all right, helping her to shake it off, shake it off.[3] It’s phenomenal.

Thankfully, we have the internet, so we have animated gifs to bring the magic home!

Let me point out that these are not even taken out of context. Each of Swift’s dances are just a second or two long. So it’s not like these gifs just captured an awkward moment in the middle of otherwise fine performances. This is entirely representative of what is presented in the official music video.

It starts off pretty tame, actually. She’s in these groups–first ballerinas, then breakdancers–just being sort of there, generically, doing basic moves and such. But about 30 seconds in, the magic begins, as Swift decides to teach the ballerinas how to ballerine like you mean it.

ballerine-FOR-REALThis is what we’re in for the rest of the video. Taylor Swift is going to show those dirty, dirty, dirty cheats what’s up.

ballerine-LIKE-A-BOSSBy acting like a complete lunatic. There’s no rhyme or reason to the moves she does. They don’t even really fit into the group that she’s with at any particular time. For instance, here’s Swift with a group of people who would clearly only dance the robot, very definitively not dancing the robot.

not-at-all-the-robotEarlier in the song, in one of the verses when she refutes people talking about her, she lets us know about her dancing.

I’m dancing on my own (dancing on my own)
I make the moves up as I go (moves up as I go)
And that’s what they don’t know, mmm-mmm
that’s what they don’t know, mmm-mmm

We know, sweetie. We know.

there-is-no-interpretationWe also have to ask: is this video exploiting women?

OH-MY-GOSH-BOOTYYes, I’m pretty sure it is.

so-exploitiveBut there is one dance that gets me. It is an Olympic-level performance that should earn Swift ALL THE GOLDS.

ribbon-dance-for-ALL-THE-GOLD-MEDALS
I mean, that’s the brunt of it. There are other dances and ridiculous parts, but this captures what it’s about. (But seriously, I didn’t even show you breakdancing Taylor, or cheerleader Taylor, or finger-dancing Taylor, or like 90 more ballerina Taylors.) (Ok, one more ballerina Taylor.[4])

REAL-BALLERINAS-PLAY-THE-FLUTE-DAMMITBest song ever. Best music video ever. Just give her all the awards forever.

1. The CDC should drop all investigation into Ebola and focus on this.
2. Courtesy AZLyrics.com–this is seriously real.
3. I, I, I shake it off, I shake it off
4. I would pay SO MUCH MONEY to see a remake of Black Swan starring Taylor Swift.

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2 thoughts on “Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”: The Platonic Ideal of a Terrible Pop Song?

  1. oh, she is SO going to write a song about you if she sees this. I would pay money to ensure she saw this post. But not as much as you would to see her in Black Swan… that’s just…. creepy.

    Like

    • First of all, are you kidding me? I’d love to have a hit song about me, even if it is 4 minutes of bashing me. I’d be curious to find out what four words she’d choose to rip me apart. Second of all, are you kidding me? Black Swan with Taylor Swift, as shown in this video, would turn the movie from a psycho-drama about the tortures of pushing yourself beyond your limits to a macabre comedy about pushing yourself beyond limits that don’t exist. It would be performance art to the highest degree.

      Like

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