I’m really disappointed with pop music critic, Ann Powers for some of her comments regarding Taylor Swift’s new single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” In the article, Taylor Swift, Princess of Punk? Powers insinuates feminism is largely a punk ideal, that punk is merely a “flavor” adopted by pop artists today, and completely disregards the importance of feminist punk of the 20th century and the Pussy Riot trials today.
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” as the title suggests, is from the narrative perspective of a young girl, presumably Taylor Swift, who refuses to reconcile her relationship with her ex-boyfriend because he is unable to commit, is finicky with his feelings, and constantly instigates fights. The sound is snappy, “in its stomping four-on-the-floor beat…clipped guitar strums…Valley Girl-style vocal asides, and a whistle-while-you-trash-him melodic hook.” As Powers describes, these elements give the song a sneeringly derisive tone, which is “pop-punk, like a Blink-182 song” and “embodies [the] conception of female defiance.”
Swift’s single is not punk lyrically, compositionally, or ideologically. And if Powers is using Blink-182 as the model for pop-punk, then I can definitely say Taylor Swift is not pop-punk. The focus of the song is about one person attempting to remain separated from her former partner, which is the opposite of punk music’s emphasis on community. Absent of any cultural radicalism or political message, the song is solely about self-fulfillment.
The narrator attains actualization by continuously telling her dense boyfriend that they aren’t getting back together because of his emotionally manipulative ways, which could be read as a metaphor of liberation from sexism and male oppression. All feminists don’t have to be Patti Smith. Punk may at times be feminist, but feminism doesn’t have to be punk.
Powers demonstrates other singers and genres that present a platform for other strong women to declare their independence. But just because Taylor Swift incorporates what Powers believes to be “punk” doesn’t make her punk. Calling pop artists punk completely disregards the genre. Those involved with punk’s culture are preoccupied with its image, and to mainstream punk as Max Martin did is speculative.
Swedish songwriter and producer Max Martin has worked with Brittney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry and recently Taylor Swift for “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Powers argues these women have consistent feminist messages and have placed such issues in the pop music world, which for the most part is true. However, Powers’ states Martin’s template for these women “specifically relies on the energy of punk,” which is debatable. Martin and these performing artists do tap into “punk’s historic refusal to play nice,” but there is an eclectic musical knowledge influencing these songs. There is also a varying degree in punk influence. I think Pink would prefer punk more than Taylor Swift would, and that punk influence is seen in her image and heard in her music. I know that sounds as if I’m contradicting myself, but Powers called Taylor Swift punk when she is not. I, however, am stating that someone may be punk-influenced. And Powers in a way refers to these women as punk-influenced pop artists as opposed to punk, but she does it in an insulting way when she states: “Punk is a great flavor enhancer, and in small doses, it adds a kick to pop.”
Powers makes rude statements throughout her piece. She says Swift’s song took “that quaint 20th century form of rebellion called punk…specifically the feminist punk [of] the late 1970s and…1990s” into the pop mainstream. Just as “flavor enhancer” disregards it as a genre, quaint diminishes the importance of punk due to its diverse connotations. It’s insulting that Powers equates actual feminist punk music to a word that can be read as “laughable, bizarre, and absurd.”
Powers’ most insulting statement compares Taylor Swift’s song to Pussy Riot’s trial: It’s “worth considering this counterpart when contemplating Swift’s latest move.” Swift’s sassy song about a break-up doesn’t hold a candle to the radical statements of Pussy Riot. Swift will make millions off her single; Pussy Riot will spend two years in prison for protesting the Orthodox Church’s support of Putin. Not that they should even be comparable, but if you’re going to construct a sentence relating the two, it should’ve read: it’s worth considering the feminist sentiment in Swift’s single when contemplating the unjust treatment towards Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich. Powers spends the whole time talking about how Swift is punk, but when actual feminist punk falls in her lap, she calls it a counterpart in comparison to Taylor Swift.
With the evidence Ann Powers provides, she’s making a different argument than the one she proposed. A better argument would have been that strong women in the music industry are unafraid to write songs speaking of their liberation, and they generally choose a platform such as popular music to get their message out there, or they are attracted to music genres such as punk whose roots are charged with strong socio-political messages. But just because these women may be influenced by punk music doesn’t make them punk. They’re simply strong women empowering and expressing themselves through music.