The Growth of an Artist and the Honest Vulnerability of Their Work

Okay, for the record, I never thought that I’d be writing a blog post about Taylor Swift. And yet, when I finished my homework and checked YouTube and saw that she dropped her new single after a three year hiatus, I was curious and then promptly shook.

(man, I didn’t think I’d use the word shook in a blog post either but let me explain)

I didn’t see this coming. I don’t follow Taylor closely and I don’t really know what she did during her three year hiatus, except that one lawsuit against that DJ. I think there was some beef between her and some others? Not sure.

It seems like this is the product of fermentation of what happened because the words are hard hitting and the song is extremely well crafted. And very unlike anything we’ve seen from her before. Sure, there were other angsty-style songs but this style is fresh and more relevant to today’s music, so maybe that’s what throws me off? But also, I was getting kind of K-Pop vibes? More than that, though, the atmosphere the song created is really well done like wow.

And the artwork for the lyric video further accentuates the beating heart of the song and the repetitive nature of the chorus gives a glimpse of someone who was pushed over the edge, crazy, maniacal, but going to get what she wants, what she thinks she deserves as vengeance. 

Considering Taylor’s debut material through Love Story to Speak Now to We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together to I Knew You Were Trouble to Shake It Off to Bad Blood, it’s been absolutely fascinating to see her music grow alongside her. Or, perhaps, expand and deepen is a better word? As she grew and as music shifted and expanded and spread and as she had more life experiences, naturally the music and lyrics changed. Look What You Made Me Do is such a drastic change from her beginnings but I don’t see it as a bad thing, I see it as an organic process. And, to a degree, it might also be a therapeutic necessary step for her to get things out of her system; after all, this new album is called Reputation and my guess is that it’ll be a reflection of how she got to where she is now, a moment of sharing what happened in those three years and also looking back at who she was. The most powerful part of the song for me was during the spoken part when she says “the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now…why? Cause she’s dead.”

(which then makes me think that did the old Taylor die naturally/because it was time to die or was it murder or did the new Taylor kill her, therefore it being suicide or are the old and new Taylors so different that they’re their own respective characters-)

Thinking of Taylor Swift’s growth also makes me think of Korean artists who have also grown, namely IU. IU started from very cutesy material to the classic IU sound like in Good Day and You and I and then went a bit retro with Red Shoes then went spunky/Alice in Wonderland with Twenty-Three then, finally (?), landed in a more personal and intimate album with Palette. Even though Twenty-Three and Palette are only two years apart, the direction and sense she has of herself is radically different; in Twenty-Three it feels like a maze made out of mirrors and IU isn’t sure of herself whereas in Palette, there’s less flashiness and a calmer, more sure sense of herself as an artist and person. And just like Taylor Swift, I think that these shifts were organic, especially as IU started to pen her own lyrics and take over more of the creative process rather than have songs given to her. Her trajectory is different than Taylor’s, of course, because they led very different lives. And that’s fine and ultimately, the wealth of their lives is the fuel for their music. 

*I do recommend listening even briefly to the IU songs just to see the contrast and also check out IU cause she’s great okay*

But then I also wonder about BTS. Now that a lot more people know about them because they won a Billboard Music Award, what’s left for them? Where to next? We’ve seen snippets of their aspirations to continually push onward with their “LOVE YOURSELF” video clips but I’m also curious music-wise where they will go next. But then there’s the additional awareness that in the conversation for their future, it’s not just the members partaking in it; there’s a whole creative team and the CEO of their company as well. So a part of me is aware that while BTS does have a voice in this, there’s also many other voices as well.

Which is why I’m so glad that for their WINGS album they each got to do solo material so that audiences could hear each distinct color and style per member. I personally want more of this. We got a bit more through V and Rapmon’s collaboration song 4AM and when I hear these songs that the members birthed themselves, I want more. There’s just such a sense of intimacy with songs like this, whereas for songs like Blood, Sweat, and Tears, it’s definitely a great song, but more like to dance with rather than feel a deep connection with.

(fun fact: I cried when I first heard this because it felt so comfortably vulnerable that something in me resonated with it really well)

I mean, Korean artists, and especially those who went through the rigorous training to be in an idol group, do have stories to tell. Being an idol is really hard and I’m curious and want music fuelled from then. Nowadays I’m really liking the voices of the members in ASTRO but not the music as much because I don’t think that’s necessarily what the members would create and I also don’t think it suits their voices well.

(this is one song I like and also I think that shows the members’ voices well without making them sound strained/sing high *in my humble opinion*)

But then, ASTRO is relatively new. They have stories to tell, but I don’t know if they want to (yet) or if they have the support within their entertainment company to do so. It’d be so cool if they had a Soundcloud and just posted their mini creations as they did their main music, but alas. SEVENTEEN does that, though, and BTS also uploads covers of songs they want to do, and in both cases I like it because we can see how a member would be as an individual, which hopefully as they age, they will be able to be.

(side note: so many k-pop groups are all caps lol, kind of an eye sore but eh)

This ended up being a very long ramble, whoops, but it also felt good. It follows the trajectory of a conversation I’d have with my friend Dani, quite frankly; somehow we end up circling back to Korean music and contrasting the two and wanting more from the present K-pop world, haha. But really, though, it is wonderful to see in general, regardless the language, artists being real with their music, being willing to let their life leak into their work and then (essentially) wear their heart on their sleeve- er, on their sound? To their audiences’ ear? Anyhow.

ONE MORE THING: I just remembered another Korean singer I admire for doing her own stuff: Jessica. She used to be in Girls’ Generation (I wrote about all that jazz here) but now she’s doing her own stuff and the ethereal quality in her music is just so her. The aesthetics of her music videos, the instrumentals, the melodies that work for her voice; it’s refreshing that although the break off from SNSD was rough, she is still creating and doing what I think is more true to herself as a person and an artist.

(recommendation: listen through all of My Decade, her most recent album. She built the album well and explored different styles and even pushed her singing with more bare songs like Love U)

(so many music videos haha, should I have given a heads up at the beginning of this post?)

I’m not sure how to end this post. I think I said everything I wanted to and I should probably end it before I think of something else.

But I think what I wrote up there sums it up quite well (I bolded it for my own reference too):

The wealth of life is fuel for creation.

The wealth of life (should be) fuel for creation. 

~ajc

 

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