July 26, 2020 · 6:22 pm
When my journal article about Taylor Swift’s articulation of authorship during her transition from country to pop was held up in editorial for a lengthy period (a not uncommon occurrence in academic publishing), I thought it meant it was too late: in the time I was revising the article, Swift started an entire new album cycle with Lover, and when the article finally came out in March of this year she had just released her documentary Miss Americana on Netflix. I wrote a blog post reflecting on how my argument connected with those new developments, thinking that this would be the only necessary addendum until 2021, when Swift would (given past precedent) begin her next album cycle.
Needless to say, this all changed on Thursday, when Swift gave fans 16 hours to process the news that her next album cycle was starting at midnight with the release of folklore, her eighth studio album, recorded remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. While a music video for “Cardigan” effectively frames it as the “lead single,” there is none of what we expect from a traditional album release in 2020: no trickle of advance singles, no lyric video/music video staggering to game the charts, etc. But what buildup we got from Taylor was nonetheless instructive, designed to frame this record and a new songwriting collaboration—with The National’s Aaron Dessner—both within her previous music and as a new form of creative process reflecting our current circumstances. It’s the next chapter in what I wrote about, and needless to say I dropped everything to immerse myself in both the album and, more importantly, what it says about the idea of Taylor Swift as an artist.
There’s no doubt that Folklore will go down as a definitive media artifact of this pandemic, the first “major work” to be entirely produced and released in social isolation, but its relationship to Swift’s authorship is less clear. Although one could argue it is easily one of her most cohesive and uncompromising albums, Folklore is nonetheless defined by contradictions: intimate but impersonal, isolated but collaborative. The result is a record that, despite making no grabs at tabloid headlines or Billboard dominance, says a whole lot about how Taylor Swift considers her place within the music industry, and how it’s built around embracing those contradictions in order to retain the hard-fought appearance of controlling her own destiny.
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March 6, 2020 · 10:00 am
This week, I’m thrilled to say that Communication, Culture and Critique has published my article “From ‘Mine’ to ‘Ours’: Gendered Hierarchies of Authorship and the Limits of Taylor Swift’s Paratextual Feminism.”
This article analyzes paratextual strategies deployed by Taylor Swift in her transition from country to pop in the context of her articulation of her authorship as a female songwriter. This was a transition complicated by the gendered hierarchies of pop music, wherein male producers carry significant discursive weight. The article frames the “Voice Memos” included with her 2014 album 1989 as a form of paratextual feminism, reiterating the authenticity she developed as a country star and pushing back against claims her collaboration with male producers like Max Martin and Ryan Tedder threaten her autonomy as a female voice in the music industry. However, the article goes on to consider how these and other paratextual feminisms are inherently tied to neoliberal values of post-feminism, demonstrating that their potential as a gendered critique of the media industries is limited by the lack of actualization within Swift’s broader star text and industry practice.
The article—which is trapped behind the paywall of academic publishing, but if you’re interested reach out and I’ll do my best to get you access—was nearly six years in the making. It began with my observations during her 1989 album cycle in 2014, which I developed into a 2016 conference paper focused on the “Voice Memos” included with the deluxe version of that album. But the subsequent years—her controversial silence during and after the 2016 election, a tumultuous reputation album cycle—provided new context for that analysis, testing how the feminism of her efforts to assert her authorship of her own songs while collaborating with male producers during her transition to pop music failed to manifest within other areas of her career.
As the paper entered into the final stages of peer review last summer, Swift entered into her latest album cycle for Lover, and I spent a lot of time lamenting that I was past the point where I could address everything that was happening (a peril of scholarly publishing). I was never afraid that my argument wouldn’t be relevant, as all scholarship must ultimately “stop” at a certain point and create a foundation for further analysis. But a lot has happened in Swift’s career in the six months or so after the article finished the peer review process, and I want to take a bit of space here to identify a few instances where the article’s argument connects with the discourse surrounding Swift’s recent activity.
[NOTE: I have since added to this argument by taking into account Swift’s most recent album release, folklore.]
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Filed under Music
Tagged as Authorship, Big Machine, Feminism, Journal Article, Lover, Miss Americana, Music, Scooter Braun, Scott Borchetta, Taylor Swift, The Man, Voice Memos
August 1, 2014 · 4:07 pm
There’s a scene in Starz’s forthcoming documentary series The Chair—which debuts September 6, and which I previewed here—where director Shane Dawson and his producing partner Lauren Schnipper are discussing the rewriting of the script with their producer-at-large, Josh Shader, one of the only people in touch with both of the two productions being made from the same script by Dan Schoffer. It’s as tense a confrontation as you see in the first two episodes of the series, as Schnipper works to break down the writing credits of the still in-progress script that was heavily rewritten and noted by Dawson before being shipped back to Schoffer to take a final pass. Without saying it directly, her question is predicated on the likely results of a WGA arbitration hearing for the film, and Shader’s answer is—paraphrasing—that because they gave the option back to Schoffer to write the final version of the script, Dawson’s contributions will just be considered notes that happen when a director gets involved with a project, with Schoffer therefore retaining final, sole credit on the film.
It’s a moment of some tension. Schoffer gives a talking head discussing how Dawson’s claim to credit is an overreach, but as relative first-timers in the context of film production Schnipper and Dawson are mainly just looking for clarification on what to expect moving forward, which seems reasonable. Credit is complicated, as Schnipper notes when she contrasts Dawson’s process (rewriting/notes and then sending the script back to the writer) and fellow filmmaker Anna Martemucci’s greater control over the script to her film. Whereas Dawson effectively rehired Schoffer to rewrite his own script, Martemucci took the job herself, with the documentary following her completion of the script heading into production. And so this foreshadows what may appear as part of the documentary, which is a likely arbitration hearing for her film, the result of which will determine the writing credits for Hollidaysburg when it debuts in theaters and on Starz this fall.
It will be a rare case where we’ll potentially have a lot of very clear information about the arguments made before an arbitration hearing, beyond simply knowing the result (A “Story by” credit for the original writer, a shared writing credit, etc.). In most cases, there isn’t a documentary film crew following every stage of the production, and there aren’t two concurrent projects that let you draw a direct comparison between the two. There’s just an end result and bits of pieces of production history, as is the case with this weekend’s Guardians of the Galaxy (which I “reviewed” on Letterboxd if you’re looking for more thoughts on the film). The film’s script is credited to James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, although the two never worked together on the film. In a lengthy—and fascinating—Buzzfeed profile on Perlman, as well as in numerous Q&As and features she’s done in the past week, it’s revealed she worked as part of the Marvel Writing Program, an incubator in which writers were brought in to help develop Marvel properties into potential franchises. Over a two-year period, she worked on adapting the Guardians of the Galaxy series into a workable film franchise, including choosing the roster, plotting out the story, and then completing further writing work during a six-month freelance period once it was clear Marvel was serious about that project.
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September 16, 2013 · 8:00 pm
Earlier today, HBO announced it was picking up Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers; this wasn’t a surprising pickup given the talent involved, but what was a bit more surprising was that the series is not being produced in-house at HBO.
Although HBO has been developing drama projects through other studios for a while now—always through big-name producers like Lindelof, or Shawn Ryan, or Ryan Murphy, or J.J. Abrams who are under overall deals with studios like Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Television, or 20th Century Fox—it was still a surprise to see a press release show up in my inbox from Warner Bros. Television about an HBO show. The Leftovers is the first such show to be ordered to series, and thus the first in what is likely to be a string of new HBO shows that they don’t fully own (although as was noted on Twitter, Time Warner owns HBO, so this remains in the corporate family).
It’s not uncharted territory for HBO (who co-produced Sex & the City with Warner Bros., and who entered a similar deal with ABC for Stephen Merchant’s Hello Ladies due to their overall deal with co-writers Stupnitsky/Eisenberg), but it’s a reversal of their more recent policy of owning shows they air and also the opposite of what’s happening in basic cable. At the same time AMC is shying away from working with studios like Lionsgate or Sony Pictures Television in the wake of disputes with those producers on Mad Men and Breaking Bad, HBO is reopening its doors to other studios, an interesting shift that privileges an emerging trend in development while—potentially—de-emphasizing a focus on distribution central to the HBO model.
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June 5, 2011 · 10:47 pm
“The Pointy End”
June 5th, 2011
“Written by George R.R. Martin”
The credits for Game of Thrones has always read “Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss,” but the question of authorship has always been considerably more complicated. The fact is that this is very clearly George R.R. Martin’s world, and George R.R. Martin’s characters, and even George R.R. Martin’s story – while we can certainly argue that Benioff and Weiss have taken certain liberties, adding scenes and shifting character allegiances, it has not utterly transformed Martin’s vision. And yet, at the same time, we can’t say that this is Martin’s show, as he was ancillary to the myriad of decisions which move beyond the initial creation to the execution and design. A Song of Ice and Fire may be his story, but Game of Thrones is not his television show, and there’s an odd shared ownership of Westeros that has been evident throughout the season.
I say evident, mind you, and not problematic. The scenes that have been added have been strong, and the decisions made have been mostly logical if not necessarily ideal in every instance (or for every fan). However, here you have an instance where the person doing the adaptation is Martin himself, given a chance to return to key moments and characters and tell the same story all over again. And yet, he’s now working within someone else’s show even when he’s working within his own story, an intriguing scenario that I thought going in might make for an intriguing case study.
However, there’s honestly nothing to really see here: while this is a very strong outing, and maintains the momentum from last week’s episode quite brilliantly even as it hits the fast forward button on the narrative action (and thus risks missing key pieces of the puzzle), I don’t think we see some sort of crisis of authorship. Martin’s return coincides with the period where exposition goes out the window, and where major story events are starting to take shape. It is a period where characters are making decisions instead of pondering them, and where key themes are beginning to filter throughout the storylines at a rapid pace, and so any authorship is swallowed up by the sheer presence of the realm and those outside its borders who threaten it.
In other words, it’s just as Martin intended it, and thus as Benioff and Weiss intended it as well.
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Filed under Game of Thrones
Tagged as Analysis, Arya, Authorship, Bran, Catelyn, Cersei, D.B. Weiss, Dany, David Benioff, Dothraki, Entertainment, Episode 8, George R.R. Martin, Greatjon, HBO, Hodor, Joffrey, Jon Snow, Narrative, Ned Stark, Pacing, Point of View, Review, Robb, Sansa, Season 1, Ser Barristan Selmy, Shagga, Syrio, Television, The Pointy End, The Wall, Time, TV, Tyrion, Varys, Westeros, Wights, Zombies